How 'Jurassic World,' 'Mad Max' Were Shaped by Their Sound Pros

10:00 AM 12/17/2015

by Carolyn Giardina

Sound editors and mixers for 'The Big Short,' 'The Revenant' and 'Spectre' also explain the editing processes for the Oscar contenders. Says 'Revenant' rerecording mixer Randy Thom: "I used real bear recordings."

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

There are two sound catego­ries recognized at the Oscars: mixing and editing. If you're not sure what these mean, here's a handy culinary analogy: The sound editors prepare (record) all of the ingredients (individual sounds), and then the mixers select just the right amount of each ingredient and combine them to cook the dish. Here's what some of these sonic chefs were up to this year.

  • Jurassic World


    Courtesy of Universal Pictures

    Supervising sound editor and sound designer Al Nelson says the goal of Jurassic World was to honor the approach of Jurassic Park, while some parts needed to be new and different. "We did use original sounds for the T. rex reveal and some of the raptor vocals, so the new Indominus rex needed to work in concert with those vocals," he says, noting that they used elements from those original dinosaurs, with some new animal vocalizations including pigs, monkeys and a beluga whale. "I also heard terrifying sounds of fennec foxes on the Internet, and that was one of the great sounds, the erratic squeal. … We didn't want to top the T. rex, but do something different," he adds, noting that the sound team also consulted with Gary Rydstrom, who won Oscars for best sound and best sound effects editing on Jurassic Park.

  • The Big Short


    'The Big Short,' Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    The rule for sound on The Big Short — the story of the financial pros who predicted the housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s — was that there were no rules. "The film, in its storytelling, didn't follow conventions — and the sound had to match," says rerecording mixer Anna Behlmer. "The first scene has Ryan Gosling speaking to the audience, looking directly at the camera. He is explaining mortgage bonds as he walks through the bank where they were first created in the early '70s. The bankers don't see him or react to his presence; we play the scene as if they are all ghosts, their voices in reverb. The suspension of reality is used throughout the film, and the sound had to facilitate that."

  • Mad Max: Fury Road

    Warner Bros.

    Courtesy of Warner Bros.

    "We felt the vehicles were characters in the story," says supervising sound editor Mark Mangini of creating the sound for George Miller's postapocalyptic road war. "We'd add animal sounds to the vehicles — to make them feel like living things." The main war rig, for instance, was imagined as a sort of Moby Dick, pursued by Immortan Joe, the film's Ahab. "We used whale vocalizations as part of the kit of sound. When a harpoon hit the rig, you would hear the whale groan." Supervising sound editor Scott Hecker adds that the rig's sounds were predominantly based on bears. "When it was aggressive, we embellished the engine sound with aggressive bear sounds, and for quieter moments we had a gentle growl."

  • The Revenant


    The film's bear, explains supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer Randy Thom, needed a range of emotions: nurturing, vicious, curious, injured. "You end up using sounds from a variety of sources because you can almost never get one animal to cover all of these emotional notes," he says. "I used real bear recordings — bear vocalizing and breathing. I also had to use horse vocalization and breathing for the period when the bear is injured. I did have some recordings of a sick horse that had respiratory problems. I would also include bear vocalizations every third or fourth breath, reassuring us that it is the same bear. With creature vocalizations, very often the breathing is as important, and sometimes more important, as the vocalizations. Timing is also critical — every breath and vocalization was customized for this movie." Thom admits that his own voice also was used for the bear "in a couple of places where I was having trouble making a transition."

  • Spectre


    'Spectre,' Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures

    For an elaborate Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, "the atmosphere, the place, the size and scale were all designed to allow music to pull the audience through the sequence — thousands of people celebrating throughout the city while Tom Newman's music acts as a sonic thread taking the audience and Bond from one location to another as the camera follows him into the center of Mexico City," says rerecording mixer Scott Millan. "Getting the festival to feel organic, and play as a backdrop to the 'cat and mouse' foot chase scene was challenging enough, and then we transition into the helicopter interior fight sequence, where the real stunt pilot did things that a helicopter is not supposed to be able to do … but did, and over a crowd of thousands. It's a classic James Bond opening."