Oscars: Secrets Behind the Sounds on 4 Contenders

Peter Mountain
'Into the Woods'

Rain-tossed arks, falling trees and James Brown, live at the Apollo: Experts behind the noises reveal how they did it

This story first appeared in the Jan 9. issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.


In an ironic twist, Hurricane Sandy interrupted the filming of Noah, so sound editor/designer/mixer Craig Henighan incorporated the sound of the storm into the $125 million production. "You would hear the rain differently on each deck," explains Henighan, adding that the team recorded the sound of water hitting different types of wood. "I also built a 4-by-8-foot mini ark for close-up sounds, getting the rain to drip through it in different fashions."

Authenticity was the top priority for sound designer/re-recording mixer Paul Ottosson when creating the sounds of the tanks in the movie. "We went to a lot of trouble to record the real thing," he says, including recording an actual Sherman tank and Tiger tank. The guns were said to make a whistling sound when fired, so Ottosson taped toy whistles onto a Frisbee and let it fly. "When it would spin around, it would whistle and I'd record it. The Frisbee travels slow -- I could use the sound to cover the long shots."

For the musical performances in the James Brown biopic, the sound team used mostly original tracks of Brown, found through archival research. "We tried to adhere to the story, so if Brown was at the Apollo Theater in the scene, we used a recording from the Apollo," says re-recording mixer Scott Millan. Many of the original Brown performances were recorded live. Adds Millan, "We tried to maximize the sonic presentation as if you were there, engaging the audience with that style and enthusiasm."

The sound team on the movie, which opened Christmas Day, literally toppled some trees to capture the sounds of trees falling in the movie's forest. Discovering that several mature trees were being culled in the San Bernardino National Forest, "we selected a couple that were more than 100 feet tall and placed 18 mics around the area," says supervising sound editor Blake Leyh. "An arborist was using a chain saw, which created too much noise, so for the last section, they sawed by hand so that it was more quiet for the recording."