by Jamie Bishop
You asked, he answered: Read some of the most interesting and surprising responses from Richard King's Ask Me Anything on Reddit.
Where were you when four-time Academy Award-winning® sound editor Richard King (Dunkirk, Inception) fielded questions from the sound community on Reddit? We were amazed by the response – thanks to all who participated!
There were lots of great questions, and King had tons of insightful and inspiring answers. He shed light on just about everything from the toughest scenes he's worked on to what's in his personal music library.
Check out some of our favorite answers below, scroll through the Reddit thread for more.
We recently teamed up with Richard King to develop his private sound effects library into the King Collection – featuring vibrant, world-class sound effects created for nearly 100 feature films across his award-winning career.
Check out King Collection: Volume 1 – available now – and stay tuned for more to come.
1. Could you comment on your sound design process? Specially thinking outside the box when it comes to sound editing?
I was thinking about this the other day. If you can put yourself in the place of the characters and try to feel the world of the film through them and enjoy being in that space with the characters, you just naturally are inspired to come up with sounds that will flesh that world out and make it a more real vibrant experience.
I don't really think about what's going to please anyone else (of course you need to take care of the needs and requests of the filmmaker), I just want to do what makes me feel like I'm in the film. Imagine if you're in a car and you hit a pothole. You put in a bump and rattle, but you also want to feel like you're in the moment and feel like you're in the car with it bottoming out. You just keep working until it gives you the same shock as if you were driving.
"If you can put yourself in the place of the characters and try to feel the world of the film through them and enjoy being in that space with the characters, you just naturally are inspired to come up with sounds that will flesh that world out and make it a more real vibrant experience."
2. The most memorable moment for me in Dunkirk was when the plane crashes into the sea and there is super loud "CRACK." It was exhilarating in the theater to hear because I think we are conditioned in movies to always hear a low "boom" no matter what the collision on the screen is. How did you get that sound and was it a conscious effort to try and make it sound that way? How do you approach dynamic range to get such loud explosions or other sound effects? Do you run into any limitations and how do you handle them?
Chris [Nolan] had the genius idea of having the plane's engine winding up instead of sputtering as it goes down. I put a billiard ball in my dryer at home to get random banging to simulate like a crank shaft is broken loose. He's going 100 knots so at that speed hitting water is like hitting concrete. The penultimate moment had to be huge. That's a sound we worked on for a long time to try to give it the biggest metal crack we could make.
Loud sounds like explosions are more startling and effective if they're preceded by a little silence. For instance, the scene where the British soldiers are hiding in the metal trawler which the Germans begin using as target practice. It's shocking because it's a fairly quiet scene.
3. What was the best sound "accident" you had? Thanks!
I accidentally crashed a Mercedes Benz once and got an incredible impact sound. We crashed into an airplane hangar within 2 feet of an airplane propellor.
We revved up an electric car so high that the engine seized up and I got a great shuddering clunk sound.
We dropped a concrete k-rail on a car, inadvertently crushing the microphone inside. We got a great crash sound up until the mic was destroyed.
These are accidents I would not suggest repeating, but we got some great sounds (and nobody got hurt).
I often get happy accidents working with plugins, pushing a particular parameter to an extreme.
The horn from War of the Worlds was sort of an accident born of a lot of experimentation and trial and error. At first the elements we used (didgeridoo, bowed metal, other horn instruments, etc) didn't sound scary or enormous enough, so I ran them through Altiverb and cranked the s*** out of a particular parameter and it distorted and it made a huge sound like an overloaded PA horn.
4. I'm really intrigued about the gun sounds in Dunkirk. They sound like no other movie - I saw the movie quite a few times on 70mm and the mix was staggering. Aggressive, harsh, with this almost terrifying quality to them that has a very visceral feel and emotional response. How did you achieve that sound? Did you approach them in a different way to the way you'd usually cut weapons in a film?
The guns in the opening sequence in the town of Dunkirk were a combination of great production sound and the German machine guns that we recorded. The production gun sounds had a great crack and had the benefit of the natural reverb of the narrow cobblestone street. They were also played very loud, which makes them abrasive and shocking. They also sound harsh and raw because there's no sound absorption on that street, it's like a little stone canyon, which makes it bright and abrasive. So we got lucky with production guns in that scene.
5. What was the toughest scene you ever worked on? Was it because of the multitude of sounds required to produce the right audio or because it was tough to decide on the best representation for a particular...something?
It's always a particular sound that makes a scene difficult. I'd say the Bat from The Dark Knight Rises. We didn't want it to sound like a helicopter, it needed more of a flangey whir. It was a long process to try to figure out how to accomplish that without making it just sound like a big fan.
Another one was the Stuka siren for Dunkirk I worked on for the entire duration of the movie until the very end. It was a long trial and error process since the sound had to be created from scratch (no Stukas to record).
6. Something I'm always interested in is when a scene will utilize a lack of sound to accentuate the other noises that are happening and establish tension or wonder. How do you go about crafting a scene in which there is "no sound?" What techniques do you use to ensure that the subtle noises that are happening are accentuated to the degree they need to be? Is most everything added afterward? Is it a mix of both?
There's always some sound of the world outside or ambient sound. It's the kind of scene where Foley can come into its own. Subtle details of people moving. We did a lot of this in the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It's just a dialog scene between Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, and it's so tense. The only sounds are chair creaks, striking a match, the odd footstep, etc. It's about zooming the focus from macro to micro.
7. All music in the world is wiped out except for your music library. What will be the new basis for music on earth?
Miles Davis, John Coltrane, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Captain Beefheart, The Who, Aaron Copeland, and Beethoven.
8. In a past SoundWorks Collection video, I remember you describing the process of stacking the separate moments of a recorded gunshot, placing the gunshot itself, the whiz by and impact all on top of each other. This creates an impossible sound that could never be heard in real life. Can you think of any other instances like this where a creative and "unrealistic" design approach results in a more effectively perceived sense of realism by the audience?
This is a really good question because it revolves around reality vs. our perception of reality.
In cutting sound, I personally go for accentuating the scene I'm working on regardless of what it takes. I've said this before, one can get away with a lot with sound because everyone assumes the sound was recorded the day the images were shot. The audience questions very little unless you go too far.
I often add little subwoofer impacts for emphasis, and occasionally add other synthetic sounds as highlights to achieve that heightened sense of realism.
It's like photography — you can look at a piece of scenery and it's amazing, but you can take a casual picture of it and it may not be as impressive. Ansel Adams can make that scenery look amazing with framing, lighting, shadow, etc. It's how you frame the sound.
“In cutting sound, I personally go for accentuating the scene I'm working on regardless of what it takes. One can get away with a lot with sound because everyone assumes the sound was recorded the day the images were shot.”
9. Where do you find the balance between creating your own sound effects and using a sound effects library, especially for creators on a budget? And with this in mind, how can someone utilize the library you just released effectively?
Record as much as you can because a young sound designer's recording chops will get better with practice.
Unless it's a very simple film you'll probably find that you won't have all the sounds you need. The bigger your toolbox, the more varied sounds you have access to. This makes the process easier and allows you to work faster and more creatively.
The King Collection goes in-depth into certain categories, as well as offering a general assortment of useful backgrounds, hard FX, animals, etc. There will be several more volumes to come.
10. What was your experience like shifting from working with analog machines to digital ones? I assume there were some pros and cons, and I would live to hear how your experience shaped your current approach to sound design.
Moving into the digital world from analog was like opening Pandora's Box. It allowed me to do all the things that I would have had to do through mechanical means in the analog world (like slowing down a dubber, or manipulating the speed of the playback machine). I was an early enthusiastic adopter of digital audio workstations.
11. How do you approach making objects feel immense in size, like giant ships or explosions, without just turning the volume up? Do you worry about headroom and the mix in your design process, or are you more focused on choices and sound creation?
Part of the sense of immensity and scale is the way the sound is affected by and affects the environment around it. The amount and size of the reverb and the effect that sound may have on its environment. Examples,- setting off car alarms, sympathetic rattles in the vicinity of the sound. Also, low end implies immensity.
Start with large scale sounds. It's great to start with sounds that have an inherent sense of size. It's hard to make small sounds sound big.
I do watch the meters. I'm trying to achieve the quality that conveys immensity, not just making it loud.
12. After enough projects concluded, have you challenged yourself into recreating your workflow process? Or the sound you would normally go to as a first instinct? How do you deal with process of starting a new project and still keep a fresh new perspective.
My approach changes for every film. I begin each film with the attitude of a beginner. I keep my workflow fluid enough that I intentionally avoid getting into habitual ways of working or using the same sounds over and over again.
“My approach changes for every film. I begin each film with the attitude of a beginner.”