'Noah' Sound Editor/Mixer on Creating Rain, Animals and the Ark's Soundscape

Deluxe Mix Theater - H 2014
Courtesy of Deluxe

To create a soundscape of wind, rain and animals that were carried on the arc in director Darren Aronofsky's Noah, the sound team -- led by supervising sound editor/sound designer/re-recording mixer, Craig Henighan, and re-recording mixer Skip Lievsay -- was the first to use Deluxe New York's new mixing theater, which is equipped with Dolby's immersive sound format Atmos.

"I really felt the atmosphere side of the movie would be enhanced with the Atmos," Henighan told The Hollywood Reporter. "We used it for every showpiece in the movie."

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Brooklyn-based Aronofsky had wanted to use Deluxe New York's recently completed mixing theater, but a caveat was that the director also aimed to do an Atmos mix, and no mixing room in New York had this capability. To accommodate the project, Deluxe worked quickly with Dolby to install Atmos in late December, allowing the team to begin work on Noah in early January as the first high-profile feature to be mixed in the theater.

Atmos effectively accommodates up to 128 individual channels played in an auditorium with speakers positioned overhead across the ceiling as well as around the sides. Henighan related that the early part of Noah required a lot of wind and the sense of open space, using the overhead and side speakers.

These speakers were again used to produce the immersive feel of the rain; many elements were recorded to create this experience. "There was a big rainy season in New York. We recorded old abandoned houses; we did recordings from barns -- inside and outside. … We also built a 4x8 mini wooden ark in my backyard. We did fake rain with sprinklers and a fire hose, and we'd record drips and things for close-ups. So between the natural rain and stuff we recorded for close-ups, we were able to manufacturer rain from all sorts of angles and perspectives. Then we recorded an old wooden tall ship in Uruguay, and I was able to build these creeky sounds and the idea of a big moving arc."

Each deck of the arc had to be treated separately. "The birds were on the top deck, where you would hear more of the rain. The middle deck was where the snakes and reptiles stayed. The bottom deck was for the mammals, which theoretically was below water so it had more of a rumble and a deeper sound and less direct rain. For that deck, we also recorded different animals such as horses sleeping; we also recorded people sleeping in clinics and were able to manipulate that."

Deluxe opened its mixing theater to fill what it saw as a need for such facilities in New York. It's also the first in the city with Atmos and is one of roughly 55 mixing rooms worldwide that accommodates the format. "Given that Darren is a New York-based director, given that Paramount has a huge tax credit to stay in New York, and it's a New York crew, the Deluxe room was really the only choice," said Henighan.

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He and Lievsay are no strangers to Atmos. Lievsay won an Oscar earlier this month for Gravity, which was mixed in the format, while Henighan used it for Chasing Mavericks, the 2012 film about the life of surfer Jay Moriarity.

"My hope is that down the road Atmos becomes a de facto format," Henighan said. "It's new technology, and to get everyone on board right away is a difficult thing. The obvious movies are the big action movies, but [working on Noah] I actually had more fun with the atmosphere in terms of subtlety and space. Noah was perfect for that. You had the big loud sequences, but it was in the quiet stuff where the format really shined."

He added that it's also still an early stage for the workflow and versioning. "On Noah we mixed in Atmos and then converted to 7.1.  Dolby has tried to make that as seamless as possible. … But there are still differences where you have to bounce back and forth. The delivery is a big thing."

Upcoming Atmos titles include Disney and Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1), Paramount's Transformers: Age of Extinction (June 27), and Warner Bros.' Edge of Tomorrow (June 6).

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