How 'Baby Driver' Struck the "Right Balance" of Sounds to Create Car-Chase Drama

10:00 AM 12/13/2017

by Carolyn Giardina

Editing and mixing pros behind 'Dunkirk' and 'Blade Runner 2049' also share their process of creating the chaos of war and a dystopian L.A.: "Every element of sound in the mix has a pulse, a pace and a purpose."

BABY DRIVER -  Still 7  - H 2017
Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

Sound editing and sound mixing are two separate categories in the Oscar race, but many laypeople would quickly admit that they don't exactly know the difference. "I understand how some people would be confused by the two as the lines can be very hard to distinguish," admits Julian Slater, who served as supervising sound editor, designer and rerecording mixer on Baby Driver. Sound pros often reach for metaphors, such as cooking, to explain the difference: Sound editing could be likened to preparing the ingredients, and mixing is when everything comes together to prepare the dish. Pros from three films reveal their recipes for awards-contending sound.

  • Baby Driver

    For Edgar Wright's bank robbery action film starring Ansel Elgort, the 35 songs featured were as much a part of the story as the main characters.

    For Slater, "each sound effect had to be vetted to work both musically and cinematically." For example, to incorporate the car skids so that they became part of the music, Slater and his team had to pitch and edit them way beyond what one would normally do. "However, what you are left with may sound great musically but just not believable from a cinematic point of view," he adds. "Both of these boxes had to be checked for that particular sound effect to make it into the movie. When it came to the mix, we then had to figure out the right balance of all these sounds so that it felt like a continuous piece of music."

    The movie's sound is heard through the perspective of getaway driver Baby (Elgort), who constantly listens to music to drown out his tinnitus. "We wanted the audience to have the same auditory experience that he was having, good and bad," says Slater. "When he's listening to the music he loves, we envelop the audience in the soundtrack." To have the audience experience tinnitus, the team portrayed the sound in a variety of ways, from held strings in Steven Price's score to a set of high tonal frequencies. "As Baby gets more stressed, the tinnitus increases."

  • Dunkirk

    "We wanted the movie to be as alarming and shocking and unexpected as it would have been being present at that event," says supervising sound editor Richard King of Christopher Nolan's World War II epic, set at the chaotic 1940 evacuation of the French beach. It was especially challenging to create the sounds of the Stuka dive bombers, since most were destroyed during the war. After careful research, "we built one and recorded it in the desert," says King. "But we needed it to sound intense and piercing, so we had to add a lot of distortion to make it more frightening and menacing."

    Says rerecording mixer Gary Rizzo, "Identifying and presenting the literal sense of warfare is quite different than communicating a subjective sense of fear and an inherent survival instinct." In extreme circumstances where peril kicks in, he explains, the body quickly goes into sensory overload and the brain attempts to modify and transition into an emotional protective state by presenting an altered sense of perception. "Sometimes you hold your breath. Sometimes you're hyperventilating," he adds. "The mix illuminates not only the beginning or end point of these varying emotional states but rather the journey through the complicated transitions. Every element of sound in the mix has a pulse, a pace and a purpose in presenting these transitions."

  • Blade Runner 2049

    To realize Denis Villeneuve's dystopian future, the team had to be mindful of the sounds of the 1982 original film while also creating something fresh. For 2049 Los Angeles, supervising sound editor Mark Mangini worked with sound designer Theo Green and the rest of the sound editing team to make the audience feel "immersed in sound because it creates this sense of oppression," he says. "You just couldn't escape people and advertisements."

    Most of the work started with acoustic recordings, catching real sounds that then would then be manipulated in the studio. "Probably most significant was rain," says Mangini.

    They also had to bring to life K's (Ryan Gosling) Spinner, a flying cop car whose engine sounds included a native Australian bullhorn. In contrast, Wallace's (Jared Leto) office had to be more Zen, an effect that was achieved by using elements like wind chimes.

    Of the mix, Ron Bartlett, rerecording mixer with Doug Hemphill, says that L.A. was designed to be "a polyglot of languages. Many layers of different cultures all overlapping to create a real planned chaos from Russian advertisements to Asian vending machines and a plethora of mixed languages in the street. In the background we added train announcements, talking billboards, street walkers and, of course, the classic Blade Runner rain."