A sound job with great taste, Ratatouille scurried into theaters June 29th. Sound supervision was cooked up by Randy Thom and Micheal Silvers. No strangers to animated film sound this is their second Pixar film together, winning the very first sound editing Oscar for an animated film in 2004 for The Incredibles. Thom mixed the show along side Zodiac re-recording mixer Michael Semanick. Semanick won an Oscar during his LOTR fellowship and with 2005’s Kong. Original dialog recording credit went to Doc Kane who has three Oscar nominations for his duties on Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Incredibles. Kane, a ever busy and distinguished ADR mixer in his own right, works out of ADR B on Disney’s Burbank lot. Michael Giacchino another The Incredibles alum, composed the music for the film. Giacchino is an established television composer and has been busy on Lost and Ailas as well as writing the music for Gary Rydstrom’s directorial debut Lifted, the Oscar nominated animated short is playing before screenings of Ratatouille this Friday.
Thanks to Randy Thom for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions!
DS: Details are an important way for audiences to invest in an animated film, what sound details are you most are proud of in this one?
RT: I don’t know if details are more important in an animated film than in a live action film, but there are lots of details in Ratatouille I’m proud of, to name a couple… The wind blowing through the underground drain pipes during Remy’s wild ride was an accidental discovery, and I think it works in a very “musical” way in the sequence. The gas fire in the oven that almost burns Remy alive was made from about a hundred gas stove “flame ups” cross-faded with each other.
DS: Since these films have such a long production schedule, do you find yourself working differently on them appose to live-action features?
RT: I tend to work on an animated film I’m supervising in several parcels of time. I’ll have some initial meetings with the Director, talking mostly about fairly broad areas of overall style and a few specifics, usually when the film is still entirely in storyboards. There’s a tendency on some animated films to fill every moment with dialog since in the early stages of work there isn’t much music or sound effects to play with. Sometimes I’ll encourage the Director to open up some space here and there that music and effects can later occupy in a useful way. No need to do that on a Brad Bird film because he’s so sophisticated about that part of the work. After the initial meeting I’ll go away and mull that over for a few weeks, during which time I’ll spend a few days making some speculative sounds, but I’ll also be spending time working on other films. After a few weeks I’ll play some of those spec sounds for the director in “sync” with the boards in order to get some more specific directions about what the Director thinks is working, and what isn’t. I’ll usually do another big chunk of work leading up to a temp mix for a test screening of the film followed by another hiatus. Then a few weeks or a couple of months later we’ll work for another six weeks or so that will include more design of specific sounds, the premix, and the final mix.
DS: When in sound editorial, how much do you premix before the stage?
RT: We’re tending to do more and more “mixing” during the sound effects editing process. By mixing I mean adjusting relative levels of sounds, basic panning, reverb and eq. It’s all kept virtual. In the final we’re usually mixing from essentially the same ProTools sessions the editors were building.
DS: The Foley requirement for these films must be intensive, is more supervision during the Foley shoot helpful or needed? Is there any unique Foley you have to cover that you wouldn’t in a live-action feature?
RT: The Foley for an animated film isn’t necessarily any more complex or intense than the Foley for a live action film. In general, the process of designing, editing, and mixing an animated film is remarkably similar in most ways to doing a typical big budget live action film.
DS: Working again with composer Michael Giacchino, do you guys converse early about cues and where FX and Music are competing?
RT: Well, Brad Bird (the Director) did most of the coordinating of music and sound effects on Ratatouille. I’ll usually suggest a couple of places where I’m hoping the score will be sparsely orchestrated enough to allow key sound effects to be heard. I’ll also usually point out a couple of places where I think music should rule the day. Lots of directors are so insecure about their films that they want sound effects and music to cover the same ground all the time. On the other hand, a few directors, like Brad, are courageous enough to make a decision about which department should be the main one carrying the baton in a given sequence. There is a widespread myth, mainly popular among young inexperienced directors, that a great action sequence has to be fully orchestrated with both music and sound effects at all times. I completely disagree. The action sequences I admire, and the ones that tend to stand the test of time, are the ones where music clearly dominates in some areas, and sound effects clearly dominate in others.
DS: I read somewhere you got your start @ skywalker sound by writing an essay to Walter Murch?
RT: It’s not how I got my start at Skywalker, but it’s how I got my start in movie sound. I called Walter out of the blue one day when I was trying to break into the film biz, and he invited me to come watch him and Ben Burtt mix a stereo version of American Graffiti, which had been released in mono originally. At the end of the day he asked me to write an essay about what I had seen and heard. He liked what I wrote, and hired me to work on the next project he was doing… Apocalypse Now. I hadn’t gone to film school, but Apocalypse was as good a film school as I could ever have hoped to attend. The post-production crew was a wonderful mix of young wild-eyed kids and veterans. Each group energized the other, and it’s one of the reasons that movie has such a landmark track. Brad Bird, by the way, is a huge fan of Apocalypse, and we often talk about it when we’re working on his films.
When Apocalypse Now was finished Ben Burtt asked me to work on The Empire Strikes Back, and that was my introduction to Skywalker.
As a last note I want to say that I’m extremely proud of the Skywalker Sound team that produced the Ratatouille track. Michael Silvers, my co-supervisor, and I want to thank the amazing Skywalker crew that pulled it all together.