“Monster’s vs. Aliens” went to war in theaters March 27th. Though, on screen Dreamworks Animation introduced audiences to a new cast of characters, behind the scenes boasted a familiar band of sound craftsmen. Following their work on last year’s “Kung Fu Panda”, re-recording mixers and Dreamworks Animation darlings Andy Nelson and Anna Behlmer once again rolled their chairs up to the Neve DFC console on the Howard Hawks stage at fox to go to work. Arriving to the stage with edited sounds in hand were supervisors Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl(also “Kung Fu Panda” carry-overs). Original dialog recording was handled by multiple mixers including Michael Miller and Roy Latham. Disney Studio’s Doc Kane had this to say about the important role he and other original dialog mixers have in the animation process back in November 2006 Mix Magazine.
ON DOING ADR FOR ANIMATED FEATURES
Doc Kane: “It’s actually harder for the actors because it’s done so far in advance and they’re not working to picture. Usually, they’re just handed a sketch of what the character’s going to look like. The animation directors can give them their thoughts on where they think the character is going, but they still have to come up with their own original ideas and voice, and I don’t know how they do it.
“From our standpoint, with animated films we don’t have to worry about matching [production tracks], so we can use the mics we want. Normally, it stays to two microphones: a U87 and the Neumann TLM 170. If we get a little too esoteric and they end up having to grab the actor in Jamaica or some little funky town in the Midwest, 99 percent of the time they’re going to have a U87.”
Another product of Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Studios, Henry Jackman got his first full fledged composer credit on the film. I wanted to thank sound designer and Erik Aadahl (pictured below with his beloved Neumann 191 and along side the bugle wielding sound supervisor Ethan Van der Ryn ) for taking time out of his busy schedule for the following Q and A.
Designing Sound: When asked about his work on “Ratatouille” Randy Thom dubbed the term “rat (point of view)” in which sounds were exaggerated to accentuate the size of the main character in relation to his surroundings. In “MvA” you have characters that are much larger than they’re surroundings; How was sound used to emphasize their size?
Erik Aadahl: Sound is a great tool for conveying size, weight and dimension. Ginormica is nearly fifty feet tall. Her footsteps needed weight and power, yet because of the elegance of her movements the sounds still needed to seem athletic and agile. We did not want her to sound like clumsy ol’ Godzilla when she walked (we’d save that for Insectosaurus). One of our editors, John Marquis figured out what a giant rubber sneaker would actually sound like, which became her motif throughout the movie.
There’s a fun scene in the beginning of the film where Ginormica wakes up in monster prison. Though she is enormous, we decided to play her a lot smaller for the sequence, making her more vulnerable and apprehensive. To shrink her sonically we featured the vast reverberant metal cavern she wanders into, playing up the massive heavy metal mechanics of the hatches she passes through to get deeper into the facility.
Insectosaurus dwarfs even Ginormica, so his movements and vocals needed to feel the biggest. When recording sounds for the show, we unintentionally overloaded some takes of a hand slamming against an old television set. When slowed, they sounded huge and explosive, like somebody dropping a giant boulder that reminded me of the delicious fat sound of analog tape saturation. That accident gave birth to Insecto’s footsteps.
Galaxar’s giant alien robot was the biggest character of all. There’s a fun scene where we can hear him stomping around Market Street in downtown San Francisco, his footsteps and motors reverberating around the city streets. Sometimes to get the biggest sounds, one needs to closely record small sounds. That was the case with our giant robot, whose feet are washer/dryer door slams, slowed down and bass enhanced. The animators gave us a great little opportunity in that sequence, visually featuring the vibrating glass of skyscraper windows. Adding the small sound of rattling glass helped sell the size of our distant giant enemy as much as his big concussive feet.
Contrasted to those three, the rest of our characters were all based on small sounds. Dr. Cockroach’s antenna clicks are from a wristwatch. Much of B.O.B. was pudding in effects editor P.K. Hooker’s mouth. In fact, P.K. did a little too much recording and got himself ill. And Link was wet flipper flaps performed by maestro foley artist Dan O’Connell.
DS: Though fantastical in its own right, working on “Transformers” had you cutting real-life military weaponry and vehicles. In “MvA” was there direction on adding a comedic or “animated” flair to the military based battles? Were there any other real-world objects in the film where you enjoyed using a little come
EA: “Transformers” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” both feature robots and hi-tech science fiction-type technology. But we made a very conscious effort to keep the sonic universes separate, so “MvA” had its own unique sound that was distinct.
We took a lot of license in “MvA’s” military scenes, trying to balance the intensity of the action with comedic sounds. We had to remind ourselves that the movie needed to be kid-friendly and not too intense for young ears. This meant playing up musical and humorous sounds. For rockets we featured musical piccolo pete whistles. For bullets hitting the enemy robot we featured bloopy force field zaps. Comic moments like an off-screen sound of our robot swallowing bullets after the President yells, “Eat lead!” helped relieve some tension. We also cleared some space for music to help play up the comedy when musically referencing Close Encounters and E.T.
We also took license replacing real-world things with totally different sounds. The helicopters in Area 51 were designed using slicing whooshes from a studio badge on a string. We cut together each badge “slice” a thousand times in a quick rhythm to make their blade chops.
DS: A good foley stage is essential for covering the most specific feet, props, and movement. How else was the stage on “MvA” utilized to create any source sounds or specific FX that were difficult to design in editorial alone?
EA: We always dedicate some time on the foley stage for recording wild effects. We shoot those at a sampling rate of 192 kHz, so we can take them back to the shop and manipulate them easily. Foley Artist Dan O’Connell is very quick and creative, and we played around and experimented and came up with concepts fairly quickly. We recorded sounds for the basic food-groups in the movie: monster sounds (goop for B.O.B., wet flipper flops and slaps for Link, segmented arthropod joint moves for Cockroach, fur and claw snaps for Insectosaurus), mechanical sounds (metal slides for the big industrial prison doors, air releases for the hatches, ratchets and gears for the giant robot motors), and cartoon sounds (toilet plungers, whoopee cushions, silly vocals to play up the whimsy whenever possible).
One of my favorite wild foley sounds was for the evil alien villain Galaxar; we were experimenting with his octopus-like tentacle sounds, recording wet rubber slaps and rag squishes and getting some cool stuff. But it wasn’t until later, when we were making silly mouth popping noises when it dawned on us to use them for Galaxar. In the edit room, we lined up hundreds of those little lip pops into cascades and they became his footsteps. I get a giggle whenever I hear those sounds, which is a good indication they’re working.
DS: Since I’ve already asked what your first gig was like, I’d like to know when you started out as an editor what was the first sound you cut that you were really proud of?
EA: When I first started out, I sound effects edited hundreds of hours of television, which I consider the best training I could have gotten for this job. One of the first miniseries I ever did was “Dune” for Sci-fi channel. There’s a fun scene with a deadly “hunter seeker”, an assassination device that locks onto motion and sound to kill its victims. The scene was so quiet and tense, that the sounds of the hunter seeker needed to be very subtle and menacing. The first sound I cut that I remember being proud of was the idling power whine of that little device. It didn’t dawn on me until years later that a camera flash whine is one of the most overused sounds in the business!