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This year’s nominees for the Academy Award for best sound mixing — the Oscar for those artists who both record sound live during filming and then later mix it with all other sound elements including effects and music during postproduction — created a broad range of work.
And that includes a couple of “How’d they do that?” moments in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which gave 1977 Star Wars-era voices to two digitally created characters.
In order to resurrect the late Peter Cushing’s character Grand Moff Tarkin, actor Guy Henry played the performance-captured role on set. “The majority of what you hear is Guy Henry; we didn’t have to manipulate it that much,” says Christopher Scarabosio, who is nominated alongside David Parker and Stuart Wilson for the film. “We did an occasional pitch change, but we relied very heavily on his original performance.”
Then there’s the movie’s final line — the one word, “hope”— delivered by a digital version of Carrie Fisher in her signature role as the young Princess Leia. In order to take moviegoers back in time to when the young princess was making her first appearance in the Star Wars saga, Scarabosio says, “I found reel-to-reel tapes in our archives and a machine to play them back.” They included original takes of Fisher, voicing the line, “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.” Then, says Scarabosio, it was just a matter of “picking the performance.”
The musical La La Land had its own challenges that involved getting clean recordings because much of the singing was recorded live on set — including Emma Stone’s big “Audition” solo. Some numbers, including the film’s opening, the freeway-set song-and-dance extravaganza “Another Day of Sun,” were recorded separately, while others — such as “Someone in the Crowd,” sung by Stone’s Mia and her roommates as they head out for a night on the town — were partly live and partly separate recordings.
“City of Stars,” the number that Gosling sings on a pier at dusk, was the toughest logistically, says production sound mixer Steve A. Morrow, who’s nominated with Andy Nelson and Ai-Ling Lee. “Because we see 360 degrees, we had to run playback [to play the music for the actors] from the shore, and we had 5,000 feet of cable for a hidden transmitter. We had a handheld speaker and battery on our Steadicam operator.”
And then, all of that had to be blended together — with transitions in and out of musical numbers — in the final mix.
Sound performed a different function in the sci-fi drama Arrival. “We wanted to convey the strangeness of these visitors coming,” explains Bernard Gariepy Strobl, who is nominated with Claude La Haye. “And we are so close to Louise Banks [Amy Adams] visually, so there was a strong motivation to keep it focused on her point of view.
“The idea was to keep the hexapods as natural sounding as possible,” he continues. “The movement of the hexapods came from rocks and ice, but the idea in the mix was not to hear rocks and ice. It was to give the sounds the hugeness, the impression that the ground was shaking.”
While Arrival looked to the future, Hacksaw Ridge looked back to the past, re-creating the bloody assaults on the cliffs on Okinawa to tell the story of heroic World War II combat medic Desmond Doss. The movie’s extended battle sequence “was shot with prop guns and artificial explosions, so the entire battle had to be created from scratch,” says Kevin O’Connell, who is nominated alongside Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace.
The work involved the use of hundreds of explosions, rifle shots and the like. To get the desired emotional response when several men in a foxhole suddenly are surprised by Japanese soldiers, director Mel Gibson jumped into the middle of the fray. “We gave Mel a mic,” recalls O’Connell, “and he yelled into it the way he wanted, and we used that in all 56 speakers — it scared us!”
(By the way, for those of you playing along at home, O’Connell now is tied with La La Land’s Nelson for the most nominations in the sound mixing category — both have 21. But Nelson has won twice, for Saving Private Ryan and Les Miserables. Which leaves O’Connell with the bittersweet distinction of most sound mixing noms without a win.)
Finally, there was the challenge of a much more contemporary battlefield in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Michael Bay’s minute-by-minute account of the attack on the U.S. ambassador’s residence and CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. Greg P. Russell, a 17-time Oscar nominee, is nominated with Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth. “Michael was emphatic about being true to the story,” says Russell. “Authenticity and accuracy were of the upmost importance. We wanted to put you there, with them, as wave after wave of insurgents came. It had to be gritty, real and emotional.”
This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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