Oscar Contenders Sound Off on Sound Mixing, Sound Editing

THR talks to the editors and mixers from "Transformers 3," "Cars 2," "Puss in Boots," "Rango" and "Adventures of Tintin."
© Paramount Pictures
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

While the categories are not new, numerous Oscar contenders admit there are still questions about the difference between sound mixing and sound editing.

Greg P. Russell, supervising rerecording mixer on Transformers: Dark of the Moon, likens sound editing to the process of pulling together all of the ingredients in a recipe. “The editors record and prepare all of the sounds for the movie,” Russell said, noting that this includes the sounds recorded during production as well as separately recorded sound.

The sounds are then handed over to the mixers — the chefs, if you will — who will use these ingredients to “prepare the meal.” Or in this case, create the soundtrack.

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For examples of the work of sound editors, Tom Myers, supervising sound editor/sound designer, related that the team on Cars 2 worked to collect sounds that would give each vehicle its own, unique voice.

He said John Lasseter wanted Finn McMissile — a James Bond-like car voiced by Michael Caine — to sound “high tech, but ‘60s high tech.” So the team recorded sounds from devices such as old cameras “with motors and clicks.”

For the sound of a more modern car, Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), the team recorded more cutting-edge technology that is used today.

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Puss in Boots supervising sound editor/sound designer Richard King said he approached that animated film as if it were a live-action movie. “Creating a realistic sense of place and time and environment, that was our main goal,” he said.

As part of that effort, the team recorded cats — lots of different cats, in different situations — to give the mixers a wide palette from which to work. “The character switches back and forth between being his debonair Puss in Boots self and being a kitty cat that chases lights on the ground and laps milk," King said. "That is a big comedic beat.”

On sound mixing — when these sound “ingredients” come together — Russell said, “Clarity is key. Definition, detail and dynamics are my primary philosophy when it comes to a well-balanced soundtrack.”

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Citing the Chicago battle in the third Transformers film, he said, “The accuracy of the mix is crucial to the sense that you are right in the middle of the movie because the sounds are traveling around you in a way that you feel immersed in the film. With thousands of pans, we are moving the sound (i.e. of missles) across the screen or front to back. … Music is a very strong emotional player in that sequence, yet all of the details make for a beautiful textural sonic experience.”

Sound rerecording mixer Christopher Boyes noted that his philosophy was different on two of his latest projects, Rango and The Adventures of Tintin.

Early in Rango, he noted, the title chameleon is catapulted out of a terrarium and into the middle of the dessert. “Inside the terrarium, it is almost like a stage play, very simplistic," Boyes said. " Then this orderly world goes into absolute chaos. It is a deliberate use of sound to distinguish our character and the effect the environment is having on him — gritty, dry and overt.

“In real stark contrast to the dry world of Rango, Tintin is propelling us through a comedic landscape,” he adds, describing Tintin’s final chase sequence as “a classic Indiana Jones chase. It is driven by John Williams' score, and sound effects play a supporting role. Sound and music support the fun and high-paced nature of the chase.”