'Lucy': How Sound Design Helped Unlock the Brain

Luc Besson's Lucy — which topped the North American box office this past weekend with a $44 million debut — features Scarlett Johansson as a woman who, accidentally caught in dangerous circumstances involving drugs, gains access to the full potential of her brain.

The visuals include CG images to show the inside of Lucy's brain as it transforms, as well as many images reflecting periods of evolution. This gave sound designer Shannon Mills of Skywalker Sound a wide creative canvas.

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"The whole movie is full of challenging sounds," Mills told The Hollywood Reporter. "Luc was interested in how evolution would come into play with how people come to use 100 percent of their brain."

Among the most challenging scenes were those where the images follow a drug traveling through Lucy's brain. "Luc had this idea that there might be echoes of memories, so we put in things that she might have experienced in her life, evoking the notion that we are passing though her memories. People talking and sound we heard earlier in the film would fly by. That was difficult to do and make it sound natural," Mills said.

To create these sounds, the team recorded household items such as liquid foam, as well as animals. "We recorded some geese that were used when [the camera moves through] cells and veins," Mills said.

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Close-ups of Johansson's eye as she blinked was also intended to echo evolution. "We tried to hide [the sound of] different steps of evolution — reptilian, aquatic, human — without being too overt."

[SPOILER ALERT] Lucy's final transformation, when she reaches 100 percent of her brain's use, features what effectively looks like a living, thick fluid transforming into a supercomputer. "The sound was a mix of digital and organic components," said Mills, who since completing Lucy is working on Disney's upcoming animated Big Hero 6. "We worked closely with Luc. We wanted the sound to somewhat remind you of a computer but also sound alive and organic."

The sound team on Lucy included supervising sound editor Guillaume Bouchateau, and recording mixers David Parker of Skywalker, Matthieu Dallaporta and Didier Lozahic.

A version of Lucy featuring Dolby Atmos immersive sound is available at supported theaters.

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA