'Jungle Book,' 'Deepwater Horizon' and 'Sully' Sound Pros Talk About Production Challenges

Sonic artists describe how viewers were placed on the Deepwater Horizon rig, aboard an Airbus as it made a harrowing landing in the Hudson River, and in an Indian jungle that didn’t exist.
Courtesy of Disney
'The Jungle Book'

Visual effects can put a viewer anywhere, but to truly sell the illusion, there also needs to be a skilled sound team to make sure that everything you hear is as believable as what you see. Below, sonic artists describe how viewers were placed on the Deepwater Horizon rig, aboard an Airbus as it made a harrowing landing in the Hudson River, and in an Indian jungle that didn’t exist.

Disney’s The Jungle Book was a virtual production shot entirely on a bluescreen stage in Los Angeles.

The result is a film that's entirely photo-real CG with the exception of Mowgli (played by Neel Sethi) and the small bit of set on which he stood. That meant that every sound — from Mowgli stepping on a twig to the rustling of leaves in the trees — had to be created by the sound team.

“There was absolutely no production sound, short of the dialogue when they shot onstage,” explains supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer Christopher Boyes. “I had to look at it as an animated film, for which you have to provide everything from fur moving to the entire tapestry of the jungle — and the images were so lifelike that the sound had to match.

"We decided the best approach was to reach out to naturalists and sound recordists who had documented the Indian jungle," he says of how they focused on details and realism. "We reached out to documentary filmmakers and even went back to years of BBC recordings. Bird vocals, for instance, had to be species that were unique to the Indian jungle, not random birds."

Plus, in that jungle, creatures had to talk. "They had to have an animalistic and human side and feel very organic," says Boyes. "It couldn’t just be a talking animal movie; it has to have believability."

For Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg’s account of the 2010 oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, “our goal was always to involve the ear of the audience in the characters and how involved, difficult and engaging the mission of oil exploration can become,” says sound designer Wylie Stateman, adding that research included the examination of rig procedures that were featured in the story. “After all, the story of the Deepwater Horizon is not so much one of only destruction but of the many participants putting life, career and integrity on the line in pursuit of hard-to-reach sources of energy."

The sound team, he says, wanted to create “hold-your-breath tension and a feeling of documentary-like immersion. It’s technical, noisy, messy, yet highly coordinated work. Danger lurks everywhere — even with how the environment and machinery sound. All pressure sounds, the fire, the twisting metal and explosions, were developed post-shooting. The alarms, radio and PA announcements were interpreted to enhance confusion and disorientation."

For Sully, director Clint Eastwood had to tell the story of the "Miracle on the Hudson" — the Jan. 15, 2009, event when Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger guided his disabled Airbus into New York’s Hudson River, saving all 155 lives on board.

"The initial impact of the Airbus hitting the water was made from a combination of recordings of a large metal shipping container being dropped into a body of water from various heights, that resulted in not only a massive splash but also provided us with a weighty metallic thud,” explains supervising sound editor Ålan Robert Murray.

“Combining these processed recordings with tidal wave impacts, large wave hits on sea walls and concussive metal crashes gave us the desired effect of not only the weight of the airplane but also the speed of the impact. The resulting wake and rooster tail of the skidding plane were made from a scarab speedboat speeding by and cutting the engine before passing the microphone area, fire hose sprays, and a pontoon plane skidding across the water.”

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