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On Location

The sounds of 'Lincoln,' 'Django' and 'Skyfall'

January 31, 2013|By Cristy Lytal
  • Tommy Lee Jones as Republican Representative Thaddeus Stevens in director Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln."
Tommy Lee Jones as Republican Representative Thaddeus Stevens in director… (DreamWorks II )

Thanks to this year's Oscar nominees for sound editing and sound mixing, filmgoers got an earful of the 38th U.S. Congress, so-called Mandingo fighting and James Bond's Aston Martin DB5. Sound editors design, collect or create the sounds heard in a film; sound mixers blend the elements of dialogue, sound effects and score into a movie's finished soundtrack. We talk to a few about what got them excited about their films.

Sound mixer Gary Rydstrom, nominated with Andy Nelson and Ronald Judkins for "Lincoln":

"I love the House of Representatives scenes. In the sound world, one of the hard things to do — it's hard to cut and hard to mix — is crowds. So there's a liveliness to the debate in the House in these scenes. And that's because of the sound of the voices in this big space, the sound of the crowds reacting to what's said, and the sound of them all getting up from their seats and clapping or pounding their feet or chanting. And what I'm most proud of are those scenes, because they feel like you're really there.

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"Also, sometimes the hardest things are quiet moments because every little thing stands out. And so one of my other favorite moments is an emotional moment where Lincoln goes to an army hospital and has his son waiting outside. And the son sees some soldiers wheeling a wheelbarrow full of severed limbs, and there's the sound of this wheelbarrow going up the wood ramp, and then the limbs being dumped into a ditch. You even hear the dripping of the blood from the wheelbarrow as it goes up the ramp. So it's the little details."

Sound editor Wylie Stateman, nominated for "Django Unchained":

"Quentin Tarantino is actually looking to paint with blood and paint with sound. He is an audio enthusiast of the highest order, starting first with music and those rhythms and ending with what can be shocking punctuation sound-wise. So the gun battles, the shocking moments of gore, these are things that Quentin wants to suggest sonically in a way that makes them more satisfying and more abstract. 'Django' attempts to be abstract from giddyap to whoa, from beginning to end.

"We were really looking for this analog, natural, acoustical sound for many different aspects of the film — the gunshots, the whip cracks, even some of the yelling and screaming. And for that, we camped out. I slept in a pickup truck for a week gathering sounds in Death Valley. And when that wasn't producing everything we wanted, we went into Utah to Zion National Park. And then when that didn't produce what we wanted, we went all the way to Monument Valley, which is in that Four Corners area, where they shot a lot of classic westerns. Because of the sheer rock vertical faces of 1,000 feet or more, we could get multiple echoes and things. Monument Valley produced the most interesting acoustical recordings that we made."

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Sound editors Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers, nominated for "Skyfall":

Karen Baker Landers: "From a sound perspective, Sam Mendes was really less concerned about realism than he was how the sound moved him or affected him emotionally. We used water and the sounds of crashing waves to bring us into the scene on the beach with the lovemaking. They were real waves, but we manipulated them. Do you know how a wave has a swell and then a crash, and on the crash, there's a lot of whitewater? We'd clean up all that whitewater noise and then, basically, we spaced each wave out identically, which is not natural. And through editorial and mix, we made a really rhythmic, hypnotic sound that is just left of center of reality."

Per Hallberg: "I will pick a very simple, short moment that, every time, sends chills up my spine: the reveal of the DB5. Bond pulls up the garage door, and we visually see the car for the first time, and we get a little piece of the classic Bond theme, and then we hear that very specific engine sound from the car as it starts up and drives out of the garage. That 15 seconds, 20 seconds of the movie just grabs me every single time. And that's not about just our work — it's a combination of music, picture and sound."

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