How ‘Elvis,’ ‘Good Night Oppy’ and ‘Thirteen Lives’ Used Sound Design to Heighten Their Cinematic Worlds

How ‘Elvis,’ ‘Good Night Oppy’ and ‘Thirteen Lives’ Used Sound Design to Heighten Their Cinematic Worlds

Goodnight Oppy

PRIME VIDEO

The Mars rover Opportunity in Prime Video’s feature documentary Good Night Oppy

The Mars rover Opportunity in Prime Video’s feature documentary Good Night Oppy.

Courtesy of AMAZON

Industrial Light & Magic created the large Mars sequences in CG for the feature documentary on NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Exploration Rover Opportunity. Mark Mangini, the supervising sound editor/designer, was tasked to create the sound effects of the rover. He says, “We wanted Oppy to be somewhat anthropomorphic.” “The engineers set the mast-cam’s head at the height of an average person and used the cameras to capture images stereoscopically, just like human eyes. Oppy didn’t want to sound silly or chatty like other sci-fi robots.” He chose to rely on the sounds that the rover could make, which included sounds at JPL. Mangini adds, “The cheat was in the way I organized them.” “I [incorporated] sounds from computer disk drives ‘chattering’, and modulated them using my own voice.

He says that the biggest sound design challenge was creating the sound of Oppy suffering from ‘arthritis’. “As Oppy aged, the many sandstorms took their toll on every moving part, embedding sand into every orifice.” The team “injected sand into Earth-bound mechanical things like bicycle gears and door hinges to approximate the sound of grit and sand scraping across metal surfaces.” He continues, “These sounds were then added to the existing servo motors and mechanicals.”

Mangini claims that NASA provided the first sound recordings of Mars sent from Perseverance to help create the sound of the red planet. He then incorporated these sounds into the doc.

Elvis

WARNER BROS.

Baz Luhrmann’s musical drama is complete without Elvis’ singing. The film first depicts the performer as a young boy in Mississippi, then follows his rise to fame and some of his most classic performances up until his death in 1977. Early tests with Austin Butler, the actor who played the role of the eponymous music legend, led to the realization that he would be the filmmakers’ “secret weapon”. This allowed the team to mix his vocal performances with those by Elvis Presley. Wayne Pashley, sound editor, designer, and rerecording mixer, recalls that the first live test was “amazing.” Baz and the entire team realized that Austin needed to perform every song live after a long day of testing on set. Then, we would mix and match Elvis and Austin’s channeled performance.

Pashley says that the sound team used both playback and live recording. Butler’s performances were captured using vintage microphones from each era. He says that Austin was allowed to perform all the breaths and grunts in a controlled ADR recording environment.

In the end, Luhrmann chose to use Butler’s performance in its entirety for songs from the 1950s, then a mix of Elvis Presley’s original recordings with Butler through the 1960s and 1970s (decades in which the quality of the original recordings improved).

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

NETFLIX

The eponymous wooden boy in Netflix’s Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.

The eponymous wooden boy in Netflix’s Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.

Courtesy of Netflix

Scott Gershin, sound editor, designer, and rerecording mixer, had one goal: to give each character a “sonic signature”. However, in animation, everything you hear must be designed to support the drama. It began with a lot wood, including maple, mahogany, and rosewood guitar woods as well as Foley work, library sounds, and Foley work. He says, “If we only stayed in wood, it only gave one dimension to the vocabulary and Pinocchio. We added little squeaks and other sounds to the mix. We wanted to capture the essence of his movement with a mix of metal squeaks, rubber squeaks, and many other types of wood.

Gershin cites the moment in which Pinocchio was introduced as an example. “Pinocchio is at the beginning as a ‘thing’, a creature, just like any other. We wanted him to feel like he could just collapse at any moment. He was very creaky and loose-sounding. Pinocchio’s vulnerability was something we wanted to show, even later in [film]. There were also times when Pinocchio was stubborn and would cross his [arms]. To feel like, “I don’t want that,” “

The more aggressive Dogfish, a whale-like animal, was a mixture of sounds from various animals, including cats and rhinos, paired with Gershin’s vocalizations to support the story.

Thirteen Lives

MGM/PRIME VIDEO

Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Viggo Mortensen in Prime Video’s Thirteen Lives.

Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Viggo Mortensen in Prime Video’s Thirteen Lives.

Vince Valitutti / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Ron Howard’s film about the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue in Thailand was all about immersion. “After early discussions, Ron and I knew that we had to give the water in caves a strong identity. Oliver Tarney, the supervising sound editor/designer, says water is the antagonist of the film. It is keeping the boys captive and preventing them from reaching the rescuers. We wanted to give divers a real sense of how difficult it was to navigate cramped, flooded cave systems. We remained focused on two main parameters: the decreased frequencies of sound underwater and the difficulty of identifying the source of a sound while submerged. It is difficult to know where sound is coming in this dark environment. This creates tension and claustrophobia.

“His vocalizations were then added to Colin’s diving scenes.” “His vocalizations were then added to Colin’s diving scenes.”

Scenes outside the cave were made possible by elements such as vehicles, crowds, and heavy rain.

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

Read More