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Jan 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson

JAME CAMERON AND AUDIO TEAM CREATE A NEW WORLD OF FUTURISTIC SOUNDS

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Andy Nelson — a 13-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner (for Saving Private Ryan) — was charged with doing the re-recording mix on James Horner's big score, which included both traditional orchestral music and smaller-scaled, more tribal elements. Years before the final, Cameron built a temp music track primarily from previous Horner film scores (as well as some from other composers) to get the feeling he wanted for a given scene. “Then, when James started writing properly,” Nelson explains, “he would bring in synth mock-up versions of what he thought he wanted to do on a particular scene. Bit by bit they would be incorporated into the scenes, and then once Jim was happy with them, they would get the go-ahead to start orchestrating them.”

Simon Rhodes, who did the music recording, supplied Nelson with premixed 5.1 stems of percussion, orchestra, synths, vocals and more: “Most of the time I was working with nine or 10 5.1 stems of music for every single cue. And the beauty of that is it gave me and Jim Cameron complete flexibility to sit the drums out front, or maybe where there were certain action scenes, the drums were starting to tangle up with some other things, so we could pull them back a bit and leave the orchestra out front. He likes to do that sort of thing — trade a bit. If the hooves of the Dire Horses [six-legged creatures] come in and drums are playing, often there's confusion, so he'll want to pick one or the other. In one instance we let the drums herald the horses coming in and then let the real horse hooves take over. And because we had the stems we could do that.”

Asked whether the film being shown principally in 3-D affected his music mix, Nelson says, “Just a little. I had worked on another 3-D film, Monsters vs. Aliens, and I applied a principle there that I also used on Avatar, which is to bring the music a little more out in the room, so it just hangs a bit from the screen without seeming gimmicky. It's subtle, but when you put the [3-D] glasses on, it has a slightly more wrapped feeling.”

Of course, it was more important for the FX mix to reflect the film's 3-D qualities. Boyes, the effects mixer at the final, notes, “We knew we had to step up how we surrounded the audience in sound because we knew they were going to be surrounded in image,” he says. “So we would go upstairs [at Fox] and Jim would play us scenes in 3-D. We'd put on glasses, and he'd say, ‘You see how that bullet comes by? The audience is really going to feel that come by.’ Or, ‘You see how this arrow flies through the screen — that specific one we need to take from the back to the front [speakers].’ So we would pick specific elements that we really wanted to enunciate the back-to-front movement. We took copious notes of frame counts, and then downstairs we'd often step through it frame by frame with Jim and then perform it, and he would sign off when he felt it was working.

“I never felt we had to make radical adjustments [for the 3-D] and I also felt it was very important to just choose certain details to highlight and not get gimmicky because there's a tremendous amount of information to take in, and if we give them too much sonic information at the same time, it will detract from the experience. Jim's edict to me was: Clarity is king. He was always looking for a focus and clarity to the sound. It was important to him — and to me — that any sound that went into the film really had to have a reason behind it and be driving the story forward or really selling an environment, but not overselling it.”


Blair Jackson is Mix's senior editor.






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