How Sound Pros on 'Ad Astra,' 'Avengers: Endgame' and 'Rocketman' Created "Glorious But Grounded" Scenes

10:30 AM 12/14/2019

by Carolyn Giardina

Top sound mixers and editors share secrets behind key moments in their films.

'Rocketman'
'Rocketman'
Gavin Bond/Paramount Pictures
  • 'Ad Astra'

    Fox

    Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    Supervising sound editor, designer and rerecording mixer Gary Rydstrom explains that the sound editing and mixing teams for the space-set Ad Astra blended realism with subliminal sounds. "It's a father-son story and it's very internal," Skywalker Sound's seven-time Oscar winner says, noting that the team took Tommy Lee Jones' dialogue from later in the movie, looped it and turned it into sound effects. "So in the very beginning, when we see Brad Pitt, we're actually hearing bits of dialogue from the future of the movie."

    "One of the major motifs of the movie, which was designed into it by [director] James Gray, was the use of silence," Rydstrom continues. "When you were inside the spacecraft, you hear all these rattles and engine stuff, and we cut outside and there's nothing because there's no atmosphere on the moon. The lunar rover chase was really fun. We decided the only thing you would hear were things that would come through the microphones in Brad Pitt's helmet. The sound effects are almost all distortion and feedback."

  • 'Avengers: Endgame'

    Disney/Marvel

    Courtesy of Marvel Studios

    "We had 22 films' worth of material already established. [The Marvel characters'] weapons or their technology already had a familiar sound that we expanded on," says Skywalker Sound's sound designer Nia Hansen of creating the climactic battle between Thanos and the Avengers. "I think a lot of scenes in Endgame, and that one in particular, if you close your eyes, you can still follow the action that's going on from the sound. Clarity was really important. Not trying to cover everything, but guiding the audience with sound to where your eyes should go in such a busy visual scene."

    "The portal moment was mostly a music-heavy feeling, because the one thing I think Marvel does really great is they give all their characters their due time," adds Skywalker rerecording mixer Juan Peralta. "They let all those characters bring those emotions to the viewers, so when that music kicks in and the portals open and everyone comes out, by that point I think the whole crowd is going crazy."

  • 'Rocketman'

    Paramount

    Gavin Bond/Paramount Pictures

    "Rocketman is really quite unique in the way it plays as a fantasy and a musical," says rerecording mixer Mike Prestwood Smith of the Elton John biopic. "The lines are really blurred." The film's title song begins with John (Taron Egerton, who provided his own vocals) singing underwater after trying to drown himself in his pool. As he sings, the sound steadily changes with his environment, as he is then transported in an ambulance to an arena stage. "He walks out onto this stage with 100,000 people and it's kind of the apex emotionally," explains Smith. "There's a beautiful juxtaposition of a man who is both lonely and adored. There are huge choral elements as well as actual raw crowd elements. Musically we're very wide: There's a huge orchestra, there's him playing his piano, there's the accompaniment onstage. [This was about] getting that all to feel dynamic and glorious, but at the same time grounded."

    This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.