The Key Role of Sound Teams in Animated Features

THR talks with the sound pros behind 'Anomalisa,' 'Inside Out,' 'The Peanuts Movie' and 'Shaun the Sheep Movie.'
'Shaun the Sheep'

Animated features offer a unique challenge for sound teams in that everything has to be created, and, of course, every story has its own individual requirements.

For Anomalisa, that included creating the unsettled feeling of protagonist Michael. For Inside Out, it meant creating an entire world inside young Riley's head. For The Peanuts Movie, the challenge was to faithfully adapt the iconic world of Charles Schulz. And in the case of Shaun the Sheep Movie — a story told without dialogue — it was to create the story and emotions without a single word. Here, members of the sound teams discuss their work.

Anomalisa (Paramount/Starburn Industries)

In the stop-motion production, motivational speaker Michael sees everyone in his world as the same until he meets Lisa. To tell the story, the filmmakers used the same face on all of the characters (except Michael and Lisa) to underscore Michael's unsettled feeling, which also was supported by the sound team, not just in the voice of actor Tom Noonan (who voices "everyman") but with the turbulence on the airplane or in the noisy cab ride during which Michael is being interrupted by his driver’s chatter. “It helps tell the story that Michael is not in a comfortable place,” said Christopher Aud, supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer.

“Another challenge was creating a track that didn’t overshadow the handmade quality of the stop-motion animation,” said supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer Aaron Glascock. “Instead of doing all the work on Foley stages we opted to be in real environments and locations and recorded Foley using production style mics. That brought some extra noise and nuance to the sound — slightly imperfect and infusing sense of reality.”

Inside Out (Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)

The story takes place partly in the real world and partly in the mind of young Riley, where she is managed by emotions including Joy and Sadness. Director Pete Docter “wanted a establish a sound for what it’s like to be in Riley mind — to feel like womb, serene and warm — a world where thing can be abstract," explained sound designer Ren Klyce.

"The challenge was to make the two worlds cut back and forth in a way that sounded natural, but feel different,” he said, explaining that the film was mixed in native Dolby Atmos. "So anything in Riley’s mind was widely in the surrounds and the ceiling. The real world would be more flat, almost monophonic."

“Pete also wanted to explore what memories sounded like," Klyce continued. "It was a fun blank canvas to explore. The memory balls had musical sounds that worked with Michael Giacchino’s score. [Memories in] the memory dump were faded and muted.”

The Peanuts Movie (Fox/Blue Sky Studios)

The filmmakers went to great lengths to ensure that the look, feel and sound of The Peanuts Movie stayed true to the globally recognized work of Charles Schulz. “We wanted to be as faithful as we could to sound of the early Peanuts specials,” says supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer Randy Thom. “The challenge was coming up with a vocabulary of ‘cartoony’ sounds that fit within the peanut frame of reference — the boings and other sound that evoke another age of storytelling.”

Some were new sounds and others were borrowed from the Charles Schulz archives. The cartoonist’s son and the film’s writer/producer, Craig Schulz, happens to own a World War I era plane, and that was used for the Red Baron sequences. “You actually hear his plane in the movie. He flew it for us, and we recorded it doing acrobatics. He made sure we kept it as authentic as possible,” Thom says. “Since the movie takes place in an unidentified time period, we also recorded vehicles that didn’t have any particular time stamp.”

Shaun the Sheep Movie (Lionsgate/Aardman Animations)

“In many ways Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot films were our role model to convey the nuance of emotions in oohs, aahs, grunts, groans and the like,” says sound designer and rerecording mixer Adrian Rhodes of bringing the emotions of the stop-motion characters to life without a single word. “There was, of course, deference to human, sheep, dog or other ancestry with woofs and baas, but we never hid away from the obvious pretense of real people and actors mumbling and making sheep and dog noises; if the vocal had the right emotion then it worked. This is so much part of the charm of the film and the skill of the many performers and crew members who gave us thousands of vocally emotive sounds to edit and create a unique (non) language that helps shape the personalities of the characters as they travel through the story."

“We were very careful how we used sound and sound effects to 'land' the characters in their world, to give the models the detail and weight that brings them to life so that the audience unthinkingly takes for granted and never questions that our models do not live and breathe.”