Finding Inspiration for Sound Design with Richard King

3 min read

Richard King on pre-production, reference videos, and NASA launches

In this video, Academy Award®-winning sound artist Richard King (Dune: Part Two, Oppenheimer) reveals some of the things that have inspired his sound design, from scripts to YouTube and beyond.


0:00 - Finding inspiration in the script
For King, sonic inspiration can come before a film even begins production, and it all starts with reading the script to identify any important moments for sound to help tell the story. “There are usually things that pop out that I know I’m going to need,” he says.

For example, some of the pivotal scenes in Dunkirk featured vintage fighter aircraft duking it out over the English Channel, so King knew he needed to get a head start on those important sounds. “We did a lot of aircraft recording before we even started the film,” he recalls. “We got everything the airplane would do so we had all the raw material to use.”

1:14 - Finding inspiration on YouTube
Sometimes, inspiration can come from unexpected places. King admits that he often searches YouTube to find references for all sorts of sounds, from guns to animals. “Sometimes an iPhone recording sounds better than a recording with a proper recorder and microphones, just from the compression on the phone and being in the right place at the right time with the right environment,” he explains.

“There was a laser sound we found online that was just incredible,” King recalls. It turned out to be an industrial tool for scaling rust off of metal, and he went to great lengths to have someone in Poland track down and record the machine. However, “It didn’t sound anything like how this YouTube video sounded, so we had to manipulate the recordings he did to make them sound closer to the sound that initially inspired us.”

2:59 - Finding Inspiration in Space
For exotic sounds that most of us don’t experience in everyday life, you may need to do more extensive research. While working on Interstellar, King came across a NASA video of a Space Shuttle launch recorded by a booster-mounted camera and a microphone with surprisingly good sound quality. The uncut, 20-minute video follows the Shuttle as it blasts off, rockets through the skies, and leaves the atmosphere before the boosters separate and fall back to Earth.

According to King, hearing the transition through the atmosphere was especially inspiring. Because sound doesn’t propagate in a vacuum, the background noise gradually recedes until the microphone is only picking up vibrations transmitted from the engines through the metal of the booster shell. “It really drove home the notion that this little layer of atmosphere around us is very thin, and rockets get out of it in minutes. Stuff like that really inspired us on Interstellar to convey the notion that space is really unfit for people. It’s instant death. It’s completely foreign to us.”

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Many thanks to Mike James Gallagher for leading this interview! Mike is an Emmy-nominated sound effects editor & sound designer (Weird, Selena) and creator of INDEPTH Sound Design. Check out his work here: