“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” – Exclusive Interview with Sound Designer Andy Kennedy
” Harry Potter and the Order if the Phoenix” materializes into theaters July 11th. Helping to make all those spells sound “wicked” is sound supervisor James Mather. This the fifth Potter flick, is Mather’s first enrollment into Hogwarts. Joining an alumni that includes Randy Thom and David Evans, Mather enters a great pedigree of Muggle free sound soups. Sound designers James Boyle and Andy Kennedy join along in the editorial rebellion both of which worked on “Batman Begins” my favorite of the franchise. Mixing took place in London at De Lane Lea’s Soho post production facilities, with Re-recording mixers Doug Cooper, Mark Taylor, and Mike Prestwood Smith. The trio comes off a big last year with their work on “Casino Royale” and “Children of Men”. Production sound’s spell was cast by Stuart Wilson, his first Potter film as well. Wilson shot production on another film I am really excited to see later this year, “Eastern Promises”. Composer Nicholas Hooper handled scoring duties. Another Potter “first year”, Hooper is the third composer to helm a film in the series. A great little preview of the soundtrack can be heard HERE.
I have been getting a lot of comments recently about the inclusion of “sound designers” in my posts. Initially I decided to only include the supervisors, mixers, and composers because it was relatively easy to consistently find info on those craftsmen for every film. As momentum and interest has grown for the blog , I am going to be more mindful about posting about designers, too. Their role is important. Still, I am more then aware there are countless others that I still don’t include who are paramount to a soundtrack’s quality. I will eventually be able to include more info on their specific disciplines and I wanted to thank all of them for the hard work and dedication that has made my day job possible! With that said, on to the fun! I just wanted to thank Sound Designer Andy Kennedy for this brief Q and A! I know he must feel like he’s working in “the stone age” currently, so I appreciate his time.
DS: Designing Sound: First off, what stage did the movie final in @ De Lane Lea?
Andy Kennedy: The Mix schedule for ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ took place at studio one at De Lane Lea London. Pre-dubbing from the end of march till mid April and the Final mix over four weeks from mid April till 13th ‘ish of May 2007. The foreign versions (27) continued right through June. A generous schedule even by blockbuster standards.
DS: As sound designer on the film, what were your duties?
AK: I started on the picture September 18th 2006 at the Leavesden Studios were all the Potter films have been filmed – most of the big key scenes for the end of the movie still had not been shot at this stage and I started working on early animatics and previs sequences. James Mather the supervising sound editor thought I would be a good choice for sound designer as I have worked on the previous 3 ‘Potter’ movies on effects. This was an opportunity for an all british sound crew to rise to the challenge. Aside from the first film – Harry Potter II, III, IV Have always been headed by American supervisors and designers. David Yates the director had only made one previous feature film and his other work was mainly in television, so I guess he felt more comfortable dealing with James and myself ! He proved to be a discerning director with clear views on how the movie should sound. James and I tried to get as many recordings as possible – I nearly got blown up during a fireworks recording session with special ‘attempts’ department that went a bit astray – We also recorded Glass bowls shattering for a scene that had yet to be shot and existed in only previs form. 2nd Unit effects shoots were recorded extensively – A Tesla machine and high powered hoses were recorded during a visual effects session and Impulse responses from the sets were collected. I worked on designs for the fireworks or Thestrals which we could get the director to check on in the evening after shooting finished for the day or I would fold down 5.1 sounds to stereo mixes for Mark Day the editor to include in his assemble cut for David to listen too during editing. This soundtrack evolved over quiet a while and David Yates made time in his busy schedule to be involved in the audio process all the way.
DS: With more and more spell casting in these films, what motivates the sound design?
AK: Before we moved to De Lane Lea in Soho, London in November we did a mini mix for the head of Warner Brothers when he visited the studio at Levesden. I had to ‘temp’ up some wand effects for the scene where harry ‘teaches’ other students defensive spells. This proved invaluable in getting a sense of what David ‘didn’t’ like. He had a problem with explosive or dynamic elements and wanted to use ‘natural’ sounds (the term organic was used but I really don’t like it!) He wanted to turn down the Thunderous elements in favor of warped water and feed back blips with a touch of airy whoosh. I did try to create a wand language based on familiar styles of sounds from the other movies, but if the director wants you to make an original sounds with no bearing on what’s gone before you have to follow his lead! Alfonso Cuaron on HP III had the same desire to have wands sounds completely different to the other two films and got a very individual soundtrack. The kids spells during Harry’s classes start with Neville making a blunder of his spell and the wand spins and vanishes into the mirrored wall – This change very little from my first layout but essentially it had a comic firework feel about it but the rest of the spells within this section went through many forms. The warped water I made on my old Synclavier and the feedback wumpfs, built by James Boyle my co-sound designer, for the adult wands during the dual in the atrium. I felt there should be a sonic connection between the two scenes even if it’s subtle one. The airy whooshes came from light steam jets phased with a couple of other sweeteners added or deducted during the final mix dependent on completed visuals.
DS: What was your favorite sound design moment in the film?
AK: The room of requirement door forming was a glutinous – rocky – wooden – metal morph combo. It was more abstract on our temp version but in the end David preferred a quieter and more natural sound so we added Foley dust grains and metal to fit the CG image and favored the ‘real’ elements more. Grimmuld Place was also fun but I think the sub-harmonic element got a bit overdone. I also really liked the effects James Boyle designed in the wand battle with Dumbledor and Voldermort. A very cool power suck to a pin head of silence and blast back wumpf which shatters all the windows of the ministry. This sequence was outstanding and the only section in the movie without music so it gave a chance to let the sound effects rip.
DS: Many different crews and directors have worked on these films. Is consistency an issue? What established sounds did you guys have to use and what sounds were due for an update?
AK: Each of the Potter films retreads familiar sonic themes, fortunately this one didn’t have the proverbial Quidditch match which incidentally we have always used the sound designs from HP I made by Martin Cantwell for the Snitch, Qwaffles and Bludgers. Broom sounds have been a common reacquiring sound effect and I think each time we try NOT to make them sound like jets but under the barrage of complex orchestral music they color up like A10 fighter jets. Randy Thom established the Pheonix sound in HP II and it makes a brief fleeting appearance in HP V and the producers were keen to reprise this sound. Richard Beggs created a tonal bell sound for the ‘Lumos’ constant illumination from the wands in HP III. I took this and ‘Pure Pitched’ it down so it did interesting things against the slow’d Glass Harmonica / Water-phone background sounds in the Hall of prophecy.
DS: Have you ever worked in the States? Are there any differences in work-flow or technique from across the pond?
AK: I haven’t worked in the united states – It’s difficult for us Europeans to work on a movie in the US without a green card or union ticket! Although I have had the privilege of working with excellent technicians from the US on movies over here. Randy Thom and Dennis Leonard came here to do HP II and IV and we had a fantastic time on both movies. We proudly won an MPSE award for ‘The Goblet of fire’ for Best Sound Editing in Feature Film: Foreign. Nearly all the sound designers/fx editors are working 5.1 over here. I’ve been plying my trade this way since working with Randy and Dennis on ‘Chamber of Secrets’ and developed a common Busing I-O within pro-tools with other sound crews in the UK over the 5 years since. So when I did ‘Goblet of fire’ again with Randy and Dennis, the technique had developed were it was possible to keep every piece of automation on the effects from temp to final mix using the ‘virtual’ method. Mike Prestwood Smith has refined the technique for dialog premixes ‘in the box’ and works from his home ‘Liondubbs studio’ in Somerset and has pre-dubbed some great films this way (‘Flight 93 – Constant Gardener – Casino Royal and of course Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix’) James Mather and myself with Mike and Mark Taylor our effects mixer, decided to go for a total virtual mixing method for the film before our first temp. So from the start in post and during the mixing all parts of the soundtrack were kept virtual: Production dialogue with ADR – Crowd – Backgrounds with foley and sound design and hard effects where then played back from five pro tools rigs. Three D commands and two command 8’s were used for internal balancing within pro tools during the mix – The VCA faders in the pro tools 7.2 software provided overall bus output control which made it conformable during changes for visual effects and re-cuts during mixing. We were completely flexible during the whole editing, design and final mix process and we never conformed any ‘stems’ because there weren’t any! So I am proud to say our team of audio wizards produced a fantastic end result and at the cutting edge of muggle technology.
DS: When I go see movies like these I get so excited about working in sound. I love hearing all the unique and interesting work the crews cook up. What excites you about your job?
AK: I have always thought I was lucky to be doing a job that I enjoy – So many people in this world just work to earn the money to live and loath the daily grind of a regular job that they hate. Sometimes in our line of work, we moan and groan about this ‘budget’ and that ‘time-frame’ but, some how in the end we get the job done and strive for excellence and satisfaction in our craft. Occasionally we receive recognition for the late nights and long hours in the form of trophies or awards – None the less I am always amazed at mixes, how producers and directors suddenly become experts in sound and rarely appreciate the guidance or advice of the people in the room who do this all day, year in, year out.
It makes me laugh when we get notes like: ‘make the door louder at 320ft’ at he first temp mix and at the review we get: at ‘320ft make the door quieter so we can hear the dialouge line’ but I suppose it’s now part of the course to be able to change everything at a whim or a even the click of a mouse. On a final note I would like to thank the whole sound team on ‘Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix’ for being wonderful people work with and making the whole creative experience so pleasurable.