'The BFG': Skywalker's Gary Rydstrom Reveals the Sounds Behind the Movie's Snozzcumbers and Whizzpoppers

“The BFG catches dreams, so we had to figure out what that would mean to give them a sound and a personality."
Courtesy of Storyteller Distributuion Co.
'The BFG'

What do dreams sound like?

That — along with everything from Snozzcumbers (foul-tasting vegetables) to Whizzpoppers (exhuberant flatulence) — were the key challenges faced by director Steven Spielberg's longtime collaborators on the sound team behind Disney’s The BFG, which opens this weekend.

The film is based on the Roald Dahl classic about a young girl, played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill, and a giant, portrayed by Academy Award winner Mark Rylance, who introduces her to Giant Country. “The whole movie has a storybook feel, even the non-giant world feels like a storybook version of reality. But the biggest difference is scale. We tried to emphasize the scale difference between what Sophie and her world was like and what the giant world was like,” says Skywalker Sound’s seven-time Oscar winner Gary Rydstrom, supervising sound designer and rerecording mixer on The BFG. “For instance, the first time you hear BFG approaching the London orphanage to take Sophie, his footsteps have a weight to them that comes from editing the sound of sonic booms from aircrafts breaking the sound barrier — we gave a deep weightiness to them so he seems scary.”

Rydstrom and the core sound team, including rerecording mixer Andy Nelson, supervising sound editor Richard Hymns and production sound mixer Ronald Judkins, all have a long history of working with Spielberg.

“He's very trusting about what we do, but he takes particular interest in things that are new and key to the movie," says Rydstrom. "For this movie, he wanted to talk about the dreams. We talked about that upfront more than anything else. He wanted them to be tangible, real things. The beauty of the movie is that dreams are physical things flying through the world.

“The BFG catches dreams, so we had to figure out what that would mean to give them a sound and a personality," Rydstrom continues, adding that additional sound designer and rerecording mixer Christopher Scarabosio also worked heavily on the sound of the dreams. “Spielberg himself had a lot of ideas, for instance to hum like a bumblebee but have vocalizations based on whether they were happy or sad or scary. We recorded a lot of kids playing, laughing, and various things that could sound like the humming of a dream that’s flying around. The dreams in the movie were spilt from happy to nightmares. The nightmares were electrical and snappy and awful, and happy dreams were ‘hummy’ and pleasant and playful.”

Spielberg also wanted to discuss how they planned to create “what the book and movie delicately calls Whizzpoppers, which are the farts that the giants make,” Rydstrom adds. “How many times in your career do you get to do fart jokes? … We got to a point where they were very cartoony, that made Spielberg happy and laugh.

“To record it, we bought weather balloons and inflated them; we basically made big whoopie cushions. And we’d lean on them like a bean bag chair.”

Other sounds included that of the giant chopping the Snozzcumber.

“He doesn’t use a knife, but what looks like a snow plow; everything is scaled up," says Rydstrom. "We had fun with the utensils. We recorded a machine with a massive blade that cuts steel, for the impact of the snow plow. [And for Snozzcumber] a lot of what we recorded was vegetables from the store that looked like they were past their peak, and we spent a day chopping them up and sticking our hands in them.”

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