Earlier this year, in my pre-Oscars piece delving into the difference between Sound Editing and Mixing (assisted by a dude who knows a hell a lot more than me), I peppered the article with embedded videos from the great website Soundworks Collection. The site functions in association with Mix Magazine, a variety of college programs, and the very familial Hollywood sound industry itself to produce excellent short videos concisely examining the thought-processes and special challenges that face the sound teams of various Hollywood films. They’re extremely accessible for film fans no matter what level of familiarity they have with sound, and are a great way to engage with and learn more about the process of film audio.
Now that we are over halfway through 2010 and barreling through the summer film season (lackluster as it has often been), Soundworks has amassed a number of interesting new pieces, including videos focusing on two of the most enthusiastically praised films of the year (if you’re not writing for the NY Press and too busy ripping podcasters to pieces); Inception and Toy Story 3.
The Inception piece in particular is great as it actually shows you layers of the Pro Tools session in sync with a few shots from the film (the dream disintegration sequence), breaking down the enormous amount of detail that goes into every sonic moment. Notice that there are elements that, once mixed into the final track, are almost muted, working at a subliminal level. To paraphrase the enchanting Mr. Plinkett… you don’t hear it, but your brain does.
That Nolan is dedicated to his soundtrack has been increasingly evident in his films and, I believe, it’s one of the ways Nolan’s makes his films feel like HUGE experiences that leave the viewer with the impression they’ve seen something that is important. His care for sound starts on set; he has a reputation (touched on in the video) for protecting his production track as much as possible. The Dark Knight is rumored to have an impressively minuscule number of re-recorded lines- an impressive feat when filming with the loudest cameras ever invented by man. Actors love this, the post-production sound team loves this, and the audience (whether they actively know it or not) loves this. Nolan has also been lucky to get some of the best sound support in the industry, be it Zimmer’s most interesting music in years or the wonderful hard effects work featured in his films- the violent snapping of Tesla’s frightening device, the squelching rubber of the Tumbler, or the Batpod’s infinitely accelerating shepherd tone engine (an idea that was apparently Nolan’s, along with the brave absence of score for most of the climactic automotive chase sequence in The Dark Knight).
I’ve noticed dozens of people mentioning that a second or third theatrical viewing of Inception is inevitable for them, and I would invite each one them to take special care in noticing the detail of the soundscape. Nolan doesn’t just employ sounds to make his dream imagery bolder, he includes it in the storytelling process itself. What you’re hearing at any given moment in Inception could be cluing you into the film’s secrets. In fact, I would go so far as to say that sound gives us one of our biggest clues for deciphering the movie’s ultimate mystery.
Creating a genuine dream-like experience in a film is a difficult feat. You can throw weird shit at the screen all you want, but it’s the subtleties that convince viewers and there is no better way to accomplish this than to engage the sense that is the most direct conduit to the unconscious mind. While Nolan is dazzling you with the jaw-dropping imagery on a massive screen, he’s secretly sending in Zimmer and his post-production sound crew through your ears to the backdoor of the mind, planting ideas, feelings, and impressions without you ever knowing. Film sound is inception.
Story 3 is notable for highlighting the film’s push towards 7.1
mixing to match the extra dimensionality of Pixar’s use of 3D.
Finally, I wanted to put the spotlight on the following piece that focuses on foley work. Hecker has done foley on hundreds of films, and is as pro as they come. I can say from experience that while it’s a lot of fun to do, walking good foley is no joke and takes a trained eye, with an understanding of the crafts of acting and picture-editing. Like animation, you get very little for free in sound, and foley is instrumental in filling in the unnatural gaps in a manufactured soundtrack, as well bolstering the texture of those out-in-front hard effects. Give it a look…
Pieces for How To Train Your Dragon and Alice In Wonderland (with Salt coming friday) join pieces from last year for Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Terminator, Star Trek, Transformers, Where The Wild Things Are, and more.
Dig through and explore the videos. Every film fan should strive to be learning more about cinema’s other 50%.