How 'Despicable Me 3' Sound Editors Made Custom Effects for Dru's Villainous Vehicle

Despicable Me 3 Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Universal Studios

The process involved using a blow torch and a propane tank to record sounds.

In animation, there's no production sound. That means everything must be created by the sound team. And each project has its own set of requirements.

For instance, Warner Animation Group’s The Lego Batman Movie was approached as it if were live-action. “We wanted it to sound like a huge action-adventure film, incorporating our plastic Lego characters into that real-world style,” says supervising sound editor and designer Wayne Pashley.

“We spent a lot of time recording Lego, Duplo and many other plastic props, all varying weights, utilizing the plastic world to enhance the comedy when required," he explains. "Because we wanted the characters to be based in reality, we had more scope to use real sound effects this time around. In the case of the Batwing, its signature sound was built from a variety of jet engines, mixed with a high-speed Formula One car.”

Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me 3 needed a different type of vehicle, for Gru’s twin brother, Dru, complete with hot rod sounds. “We got a blow torch … and a propane tank. There were flames two feet long coming out of this. We waved it around and created custom flame effects,” says supervising sound editor Dennis Leonard, adding that he did this in the parking lot at Skywalker Ranch. “We picked a day that there weren’t a lot of people around."

Adds Leonard, “[The vehicle] also has a ‘corkscrew’ device that digs into the ground and the car turns into a boat. The part that digs into the ground is an elevator motor, pitched up and running a samurai sword against another metal object, then making it repetitive.”

The sounds of skeleton bones were also in demand this year. In the Land of the Dead in Pixar’s Coco, the deceased are skeletons, and the sound of bones involved what supervising sound editor, designer and rerecording mixer Christopher Boyes describes as a sort of “bone orchestra.”

“I didn’t want them to be clattery, as that would compete with the dialogue. It had to integrate into the tracks in a way that feels natural and organic,” he says. “I went into a barn and built a huge mobile of real bones, wood blocks, petrified wood and musical instruments with whistles. Then I’d ‘play’ them to see if I could get interesting combinations. It was about a set of bone interacting.”

Meanwhile in GKIDS’ The Breadwinner, 11-year-old Parvana tells a story to her sibling about a dilapidated horse with clattering bones. "I wanted something playful but not comedic, as [director Nora Twomey] was very specific that nothing sound ‘cartoony,'” says sound designer J.R. Fountain. “The two things I came up with were a bag of seashells and some large pieces of bamboo that I cut into different lengths for different pitches. I strung each of them up with fishing wire and played them like wind chimes. In the end the bamboo won. … The seashells weren’t a waste, either, as they matched perfectly for the sound of his chattering teeth. [His voice was] a combination of actual horse grunts and my own voice for the more emotive expressions.”

Based on Dav Pilkey’s children's books, DreamWorks Animation’s Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, required a giant toilet.

“It becomes a gigantic monster; it had to sound menacing and huge — and the tone had to be fun,” explains supervising sound editor, designer and rerecording mixer Michael Babcock. “My 11-year-old and I went to Home Depot and bought a toilet. I took it to a quiet room and recorded the seat going up and down, flushing. I ended up cracking and destroying it. We also tried to replicate some of the Hanna Barbera sound effects; [for instance] I recorded toilet plungers. If you start with organic sounds and manipulate them, then tend to stay organic.”

DWA’s The Boss Baby contains a scene during which young Tim runs into his yard, with Boss Baby and his recruits in hot pursuit.

“We started to play it from the perspective of the kids,” explains sound designer and rerecording mixer Paul Ottosson. “Their toys had to be amped up versions of the toys; it became like a life-and-death chase for the kids. We recorded an immense amount of toys. We found them on eBay, Amazon and at antique dealers.”

For Pixar’s Cars 3, the team recorded a demolition derby held in Sonora, California.

“Twenty cars go in, and then it’s last car standing wins,” relates supervising sound editor, designer and rerecording mixer Tom Myers. “It’s muddy and the cars are sliding around and trying to knock each other out. Then the sound design and editing is how to tell the story that the picture is giving us. The director [Brian Fee] wanted it to be fun, [as though] the cars were enjoying themselves.”