How 'Shape of Water' Sound Pros Found the Fish-Man's Voice

11:00 AM 2/26/2018

by Carolyn Giardina

High-pitched gasping, chirping birds and even a whale cry are part of the vocalizations, as nominated sound editors and mixers on films including 'Baby Driver,' 'Blade Runner 2049,' 'Dunkirk' and 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' reveal how they brought intensity.

'Baby Driver,' 'The Shape of Water' and 'Dunkirk'
'Baby Driver,' 'The Shape of Water' and 'Dunkirk'

  • Baby Driver

    'Baby Driver'
    'Baby Driver'
    Wilson Webb/Sony Pictures

    Baby (Ansel Elgort) faces off with thug Buddy (Jon Hamm) and the police — all while listening to Barry White's "Never Gonna Give You Up." To create the tension, sound mixing and editing nominee Julian Slater says that "in addition to being syncopated to the music, trucks rumble past, food blenders whizz higher as the tension builds. Cars passing outside turn into trucks with a lower rumble to them to give a sense of impending menace." They "wanted the track to always play as loud as possible in the mix, as Baby's listening to it on his ear buds, but we still need to hear the dialogue and sound design."

     
  • Blade Runner 2049

    'Blade Runner 2049'
    'Blade Runner 2049'
    Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.

    In a rooftop scene, Joi, a holographic character, is set free from her projector for the first time. "We created little fizzes and digital glitches as each raindrop touches her hands and she 'feels' them for the first time," says Mark Mangini (sound editing). They also added in the background public address announcements "in a soothing Korean voice." Doug Hemphill (sound mixing) adds that it was mixed "so sound changes from a cold, wet rain to a romantic, delicate rain. Just when it seems like the best onscreen kiss of all time is about to happen, K is interrupted. The rain then becomes hard and cold again."

     
  • Dunkirk

    'Dunkirk'
    'Dunkirk'
    Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

    For the scene when the hospital ship is sinking into the sea as German planes circle overhead, "we tried to create a cacophony of sound that put us in that moment," says Richard King, nominated for sound editing. There were no Stukas [German planes] left for him to record, but there was newsreel footage. "I reverse engineered them based on the photography and recorded them." The intention of the mix, says Gary A. Rizzo, was "to make the audience feel as afraid as those soldiers were. This ship is dying as it's sinking, and you hear the desperate cries of the soldiers."

  • The Shape of Water

    'The Shape of Water'
    'The Shape of Water'
    Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    Elisa brings a record player to visit the caged creature, whose vocalizations were the key sound editing challenge. "We approached it much more from an emotional perspective rather than relying on animal sounds," says Nathan Robitaille (sound editing), who used his voice as well as Guillermo del Toro's voice. He also blended high-pitched gasping, chirping birds and even a whale cry. As Elisa sneaks into the lab, adds Christian Cooke (sound mixing), "we wanted to heighten the tension by playing the sounds a bit more surreal, slowly raising certain sounds as we get closer to the creature's enclosure."

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

    'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
    'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
    Courtesy of Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    Kylo Ren and Rey share a unique connection, and director Rian Johnson "wanted it to feel like they were connecting over the vastness of the galaxy," says Ren Klyce (sound editing and mixing). "It was really important to Rian that their voices somehow felt organic and that they were approaching you from a great distance." Getting the right sound involved a lot of experimen­tation. "And there's many layers. We found this wonderful sound that was like the big echo in a church, but then we'd flip it around backwards so it was coming at you then going away."

    This story first appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.