Sound editors give Aronofsky a special award + interview round-up with the sound editors and designers of Noah

Sound editors give Aronofsky a special award + interview round-up with the sound editors and designers of Noah December 22, 2014

NOAHSound plays a key role in Darren Aronofsky’s films, and Noah is no exception. From the sudden silences (one of which highlights Ila’s sobbing after Noah announces his plans for her child) to the unexpected sound effects (such as a giant breath shutting the door to the Ark after Noah stumbles inside), Noah relies on its sound design as much as it does on its strong visuals and its edgy, provocative script.

So it makes sense that the Motion Picture Sound Editors announced today that they will be giving Aronofsky a special award at the Golden Reel Awards on February 15.

This does not necessarily mean that Noah is a shoo-in for any of the more competitive awards, either at the Golden Reel Awards or at the Oscars. Recall how Exodus: Gods and Kings was left off the Academy’s shortlist for the visual-effects award even though the Visual Effects Society is giving director Ridley Scott a lifetime achievement award at its next awards ceremony on February 4. But it’s a nice nod just the same.

The news of Aronofsky’s award reminds me that I’ve been sitting on a few interviews with Noah’s sound-design crew that I haven’t posted yet. So let’s post them now!

First, The Hollywood Reporter talked to supervising sound editor Craig Henighan and re-recording mixer Skip Lievsay about the fact that Deluxe New York actually built a new mixing theatre, capable of working in Dolby Atmos, just for Noah:

Atmos effectively accommodates up to 128 individual channels played in an auditorium with speakers positioned overhead across the ceiling as well as around the sides. Henighan related that the early part of Noah required a lot of wind and the sense of open space, using the overhead and side speakers. . . .

Each deck of the arc had to be treated separately. “The birds were on the top deck, where you would hear more of the rain. The middle deck was where the snakes and reptiles stayed. The bottom deck was for the mammals, which theoretically was below water so it had more of a rumble and a deeper sound and less direct rain. For that deck, we also recorded different animals such as horses sleeping; we also recorded people sleeping in clinics and were able to manipulate that.” . . .

“My hope is that down the road Atmos becomes a de facto format,” Henighan said. “It’s new technology, and to get everyone on board right away is a difficult thing. The obvious movies are the big action movies, but [working on Noah] I actually had more fun with the atmosphere in terms of subtlety and space. Noah was perfect for that. You had the big loud sequences, but it was in the quiet stuff where the format really shined.” also spoke to Henighan about the challenges he faced:

What kinds of processing?

The trouble with rain is that it becomes like white noise very quickly, so you look for specific rain sounds: rain on wood, rain on grass, rain on trees, rain on cement, rain on mud — the list can go on and on and on. It takes a lot of listening, a lot of EQ’ing, sort of pitching sounds as you lay them up. You could record the best-sounding rain in the world, but in context with music, dialog, the sounds of the ark and the animals, it has to read as rain. You can tell pretty quickly if it turns into hissy white noise.

The main thing was how to make the ark feel it like it was raining constantly, but still hear the rain, have it be interesting. You don’t want it to be annoying, but you don’t want people to forget it’s there, either. Darren was very, very focused on wanting to kind of drive people crazy with hearing the rain, no matter where you were in the ark. That’s the psychology of it. When the rain stops, it’s a relief for the characters, but also for the people in the theater.

What were some of the other things you were thinking about as you tried to make the sounds as specific as possible?

The ark is a three-level ship. On the top floor, you have the birds, so you hear more rain there. The mid-level deck is for the snakes and other reptiles, so hear less rain, and still less rain in the bottom level where the mammals are — but as you go between the levels, you hear ambient shifts in certain areas.

Down below, in the bowels so to speak, you hear heavier sounds: the sounds of the boat under water. In the mid level, you’re hearing more splashing, because you’re closer to where the rain is meeting the surface of the water, and the water is hitting the side of the ark. Even though you’re hearing a lot more rain on the top level, you can still hear some of that splashing, too — but you hear it directly, rather than through the walls of the ark.

That was the sort of sonic geography that we used for the sonic environments for the water, but there was also the creaking of the wood of the ark, and the dripping, and the sounds of the animals. They were sleeping, but for example, a lot of birds don’t make a lot of noise when they sleep — obviously other than doves and birds who do make those kinds of sounds, but we had to figure out how to get a sense of birds sleeping without cooing. We had to come up with other kinds of language for sleeping reptiles, too, to give the feeling that they were living creatures.

Beyond just the animals, we wanted to give the sense that the ark itself was alive.

Finally, Designing Sound hosted a Google Hangout with Henighan and sound effects editor Coll Anderson, in which they talked about making forest sounds without birds and bugs, creating sounds that reflected the different personalities of the Watchers, and (at the 1:05:55 mark) coming up with “a God breath” at the last minute:

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