'War Horse'

Jan 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is a classic Hollywood epic, a throwback to a different era of filmmaking, when character development and telling a story in a cogent and methodical way were more important than gimmicky effects and manic pacing. The film is unabashedly aimed at families—there’s no sex, bad language or gushing blood—yet it is also a tale about war, violence, and complex and often difficult relationships.

“When I saw it, I was amazed how old-fashioned it felt, in a good way,” comments Gary Rydstrom, who was co-supervising sound editor (with Richard Hymns), sound designer and FX re-recording mixer for the film. “So many modern movies tend to have more edge or sarcasm or self-awareness, and this is telling a very big story in an episodic way. It’s traveling long distances and meeting a lot of different characters. It has a David Lean grandness.

“It’s a story about humanity surviving in the midst of war, told through how people relate to horses, really,” he continues. “It has a beauty to it that’s fitting and also a real emotional power. I had never worked on a movie quite like this. For me, it felt like I was able to get into a time machine and do a movie in 1960, but with Pro Tools and digital consoles.” [Laughs]

Gary Rydstrom

Gary Rydstrom

War Horse, and the recent Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, mark Rydstrom’s return to mainstream feature sound work following seven years at Pixar, where he directed and supervised the sound for a pair of well-received shorts (Lifted was Oscar-nominated), was the studio’s in-house audio consultant and was directing a full-length film called Newt until it was canceled in mid-2010. Before his time at Pixar, Rydstrom spent two decades at Skywalker Sound, working on dozens of top films, nine of which earned him Oscar nominations; of those, seven wins for four movies: Terminator 2, Titanic and two Spielberg films, Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan. He last worked with Spielberg on Minority Report in 2002.

Rydstrom got the call to work on War Horse a few months before the relatively short two-month shoot in England during the fall of 2010. “We did a lot of our collecting of sounds based on the script, and luckily the script had a good sense of what the movie would be and a great sense of tone, and it also had that old-fashioned quality. Maybe that’s why we collected so many sounds—because we hadn’t seen the movie yet. We did some recording trips that, had we seen the movie, maybe we wouldn’t have done. But once we did see the movie, we had a huge amount of great material to work with.

“We recorded all over the place and we had a lot of people doing it,” he continues. “E.J. Holowicki [who has contributed sounds for numerous Pixar films] did a lot, and Nia Hansen was a field recordist for us on this and happens to own horses and know horses really well. We recorded a ton of stuff and a lot of it, not surprisingly, was horses and every type of horse, including a foal being born, which is pretty amazing. We recorded race horses, putting mics with jockeys on the horses because we had cavalry charges [in the film]. Nia went to a vet hospital at UC Davis and recorded horses coming out of anesthesia, sick horses, horses with tracheotomies. The sad truth is this often is a movie about horses struggling, so we had to find ways of capturing that without making them actually go through what it looks like they’re going through.

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