Three-Quel Spring

Jun 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson



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Like its immensely successful progenitors, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is the quintessential “popcorn” movie — big and loud, full of incredible action sequences and exotic sets. But these are far from pedestrian entertainments. They have been hits in part because they are so well-crafted from top to bottom, including the sound. Indeed, the first two installments of the series each earned Oscar nominations for Best Sound Editing (Christopher Boyes and George Watters II) and Best Sound Mixing (Boyes, Lee Orloff, David Parker and David Campbell on P1; Paul Massey on P2). And no doubt P3 will also be hailed for its imaginative audio.

Christopher Boyles, Skywalker Sound sound designer/re-recording mixer worked on Pirates 3.

Much of the same team is in place, including co-supervising sound editors Watters and Boyes (who's also lead sound designer and a re-recording mixer) and mixer Massey, all working under the inspired direction of Gore Verbinski, who certainly isn't afraid to think big and encourage everyone he works with to be as creative as they can be.

Boyes manages to fit in a short interview during a much-needed break in the final mix at the Henry Ford dub stage at Fox in April. The final for a film this big is usually brutal, I remark. “Well, it's definitely long hours,” Boyes replies, “but I wouldn't attach ‘brutal’ to it. It's going really well. Everybody's really happy and, most importantly, Gore, the director, is really happy. We have enough time on this mix to do some experimentation, which is not always the case, and really dial it in to exactly where he wants it to be. Things like whether we want to make a scene really spare and let the music carry it, or let the dialog carry it, or how much we want to complicate it.

“If we're in the brig of the Flying Dutchman, how much do we let the groaning and creaking and drone of the ship itself be a character, and how much do we pull that back so you can lean into the dialog? It's that give and take that is so key to a track. We're diving in and out, not just of different environments, but within the same environment hitting different emotional places, which is a lot of fun and a wise way to use sound.”

The Pirates stories have become increasingly complex, with P3 the most intense of the lot. Not only does it feature various completely different competing war ships, squid-faced Davy Jones and his motley crustacean-oid crew (one of the big sound challenges of P2 — Boyes and his assistant Dee Selby did a lot of fish and crab squishing and smashing at Fantasy Studios' Foley pit), and sea battles aplenty, but there is the promise of the title: world's end.

“It's not quite literal,” Boyes teases, “but you know there is a massive waterfall and you have to make the assumption that someone is going over that waterfall, and that really required a lot [from the sound team]. It's a massive amount of water, which we have to convey the power and majesty of, at the same time as sitting [the FX] with a choir and Hans Zimmer's score. The sound comes from a number of components — heavy rushing water mixed with some ice movement and things of that nature. It's really the intent of the track there to play the mass and power without having to be really loud, and it's quite effective in that way.

“Sailing is a big part of this film,” he continues, “and the climax takes place in very rough waters, with boats doing very intense things and cannon shots flying all over the place, so that's a lot of fun. Dee Selby and I went back to Ohio and recorded new cannons and muskets outside of Toledo with a Civil War re-enactment group. They shot these cannons into a massive quarry that must go 200 feet down and be the size of several football fields. So we were able to get all kinds of wild echoes as these cannons blasted in and out of there. We took everything we had in our war chest on that trip, including 11 mics, two 2-track Sound Devices [recorders], a 4-track and a DAT.

“Dee and I also got on a Tall Ship and sailed down from Oregon to the Golden Gate Bridge, and we did a lot of recording because this film tales place on various vessels — each with its own characteristics. We really wanted to sell, ‘Are we on the Endeavor or the Black Pearl or the Dutchman or The Empress, this Chinese junk where Chow Yun-Fat has his lair?’ There's an intimate scene in his captain's quarters that was really fun to work on: We've got Asian/Tibetan chimes and bowls playing in the ambient track, as well as these very emotional creaks and groans that are really intended to weave in and out of emotional moments within the dialog and the music. I recorded those creaks in a little triangular room at the very bow of the ship as it was plowing through waves, and there were all sorts of big paint cans and other things rubbing up against this wood, and the sound of the water rushing against the hull. I ended up playing with those sounds and coming up with these descending and ascending groans.”

Of course that barely scratches the surface of this huge FX job. Besides a frozen sea and Davy Jones' locker, listen for some of the little touches — like the “nine pieces-of-eight,” each with its own signature tonality, devised by Boyes. Yaarrr!

Blair Jackson is Mix's senior editor.

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