Sound Designer & Cacophony

The actor’s dialogue is to a movie but a cricket’s chirp in the night sounds of the forest. Surrounding them is a symphony of sound effects and music composition to queue and pace each scene. This is about the people behind the sound effects. In cinema parlance cacophony is defined as noise, jangle, racket, discord; a mishmash of sounds.

Anyone who watched the Christopher Nolan film masterpiece, Inception, appreciates the nuances of sound contained in it. Along with the visually stunning imagery is the foley, a film-industry term for sound effects that accentuate throughout the movie. This post appeared in Wired Magazine on June 22, 2010 and describes the means by which Richard King and his team acquired sound effects to be used in Inception.

Sound Designer Richard King won an Oscar for “Master and Commander” and “The Dark Knight”, and was nominated for his work on “War of the Worlds”. While Nolan was filming “Inception” in Paris and Tokyo, King “trekked to So. California’s deserts, mountains, and airbases to record a cache of tire screeches, revving engines, and gunshots for the film’s action setpieces.”

Richard King can summon thunder, trigger gunshots, and deploy the throaty growl of the Batmobile all at the touch of a button. As an Oscar-winning sound designer who worked on War of the Worlds, Master and Commander, and The Dark Knight, King is the man behind the biggest bangs at the box office.1 And now he’s teaming up again with director Christopher Nolan to create the rumbles, crackles, and blasts for Inception, the Dark Knight director’s new techno-thriller.

On the surface, the story is a showdown between a cadre of corporate spies (including Leonardo DiCaprio) and their marks. But beneath the frenzied car chases, gunfights, and fisticuffs lies a thematic twist and King’s biggest challenge — the Inception spooks steal their intel by entering the minds of others. In Nolan’s vision of the mind, surreal cityscapes have malleable physics, so King had to craft sounds to suit the director’s uncanny visuals.

For the film’s ultimate symphony of havoc — heard when an unhinged locomotive smashes through LA traffic (above) — King recorded isolated freight trains barreling through the Mojave Desert. “Starting with real acoustics gets audiences to believe in what’s happening onscreen — even when it’s a complete illusion,” King says. Back in the studio, he amped up things even more by lowering the pitch, enhancing the train’s mechanical grinding, and incorporating the metallic crunch of car collisions. “I wanted to create this incredibly scary, heavy, huge-sounding machine running free of its usual physics,” he says. Sounds loud.

Do you get the feeling that sound engineers are a bit different from other film contributors in their ways of acquiring the tools of their trade? You’re right; their expertise is vital to bring the juice that excites us aurally while the screen is painted with imagery. In the following Vimeo production “SoundWorks Collection: The Sound of Inception” we get a close-in look at a day in the Sound Engineer’s life of gathering cacophony for a film.

SoundWorks Collection: The Sound of Inception from Michael Coleman on Vimeo.

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