The Lone Ranger Rides Again!

Jul 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson

Sound Challenges of a Fun-Filled Western


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Lone Ranger film still

Another aspect of the film that required unique expertise and an unusual recording session was the loop group recording for the film’s Comanches—Tonto is a Comanche in this Lone Ranger, and the railroad is being built in part through Indian Territories. “We arranged a loop group recording session near Lawton, Oklahoma, in the home of the Comanche Nation,” dialog supervisor Murray explains. “Since there are no recording studios within range of their rural homeland, we decided to record outdoors. I was lucky to have Lee Orloff, the production sound mixer, and Joe Magee, who had supervised the music playback, on set. We staged our recording session in a dry irrigation pond bed in a field away from the highway. The walls of the pond sheltered us from any road noise and also gave a nice little bounce to the sound. We spent Saturday morning recording women and children for the Comanche river camp scene, and the afternoon with men singing and drumming for the death dance scene. On Sunday we recorded men doing conversation and call-outs, as well as full Comanche war whoops and traditional songs.”

The final mix for the film, which took place during May and June at Sony’s Cary Grant Theatre in L.A., using that room’s Harrison MPC4-D console, was as long and intense as you might expect for a two-and-a-half-hour music- and FX-heavy summer extravaganza overseen by a perfectionist director. Long hours notwithstanding, Boyes says, “This film exemplifies what you want to obtain in a mix in terms of the balance between sound effects and music. The rhythmic element is a big reason why. The rhythmic elements for Gore go beyond just train clacks in rhythm with a cue. In Gore’s mind, everything—footsteps, impacts, horses—should be in beat with something, and even if it’s not in beat with music, it should be in a rhythmic way in beat with itself. For an effects mixer, that’s a tall order because you have to support the sync and also find the elements within your tracks that will give you a rhythm.”

The lengthy climactic train chase, in particular, required a herculean effort from everyone. Teague reveals that initial sound work on that scene actually began before it was even shot: “We were sent a 17-minute pre-visualization of the finale train chase and asked to do a sound-effects pass against the music. We saw this footage before we even read the script, but it gave us a good idea what the third act set piece was all about—trains, and [Rossini’s iconic] ‘William Tell Overture’ [which for decades has been known colloquially known as the “Lone Ranger theme” because of its use on the popular ’50s TV series]. We had not yet ventured out to collect train sounds, so we worked with existing library material for this quick task, and immediately realized the challenge on our hands was how to put the sound of something as rhythmic as a train under driving music and not have them clash. The trains never stop and the music never stops and the trains are constantly changing perspectives, and that needs to be in sync with itself as well.”

Months later, all the elements for the scene came together in the final mix. “You have the clickity-clack of trains on jointed rail creating one constant rhythm” Teague says. “The chuffing stack of the steam engine creates another rhythm. The music will create the dominant rhythm. All the while, you can’t ignore what speed the train is actually moving on screen. Track and chuff rhythms are defined by speed, but other elements, like the wood creaks of the cars, or the metal shings of the wheels on the rails, could be recorded in isolation and placed in or out of rhythm as desired. With wind and steady movement sounds added, you suddenly have a train come to life, with the ability to simplify as needed. These balances didn’t happen until the final mix, when the final music was in and we could find the moments that felt right to take away the repetitive track clack and play up tonal winds for tension. At other times, we relied on the track clack as if it were a ticking clock, adding to the tension and anticipation.”

Of course, The Lone Ranger isn’t wall-to-wall action. There are also, as Boyes puts it, “a number of quiet moments that have a lot of texture, in terms of the ambiences. Early in the film, there’s a scene in the desert at night where [Tonto and the Lone Ranger] are for the first time really talking to each other, and there’s a snapping and crackling fire and all these distant creatures that are going in and out, and wind that comes and goes. There’s a tremendous amount of that sort of interplay—where we’re supporting the world with various different desert winds and cicadas and crickets, and every once in while, a bird or insect to spice through. It’s a very full and robust ambient track, when it gets its chance.”

There is also a mystical element to this version of Tonto, which also gave the sound team a chance to be creative in spots. In one scene cited by Mills, for example, “Tonto starts doing a chant, and out of this chant we go into a sonic dream state of spiritual reverence of sorts, as he conjures help from the spirits. By slowly pulling away the sounds of reality—ambience, voices, wind—and slowly sinking into a dream tone, we were then able to set the stage with sonic characters from the spirit world, like crows, elk, and deer.”

Hans Zimmer’s score “was huge, as you’d expect,” Paul Massey says, “and it was very much an evolving score throughout the final mix here. We actually did almost a final mix for a preview in the early stages of the mix—Gore wanted a final-grade audio track for a preview, and at that point a lot of the music was temp mockups and works-in-progress. It was still multiple stems out from Hans, but a lot of it was synthetic and was going to be replaced later. Gore was working very closely with Hans and his crews in the evenings, while he was on the stage with us during the days.”

Typical of the always-versatile Zimmer, the score runs the gamut from grand orchestral themes to moodier, more intimate passages that have a Native American or Old West feel. Still, good and memorable as the score may be, chances are that audiences are going to come out of theaters humming the “William Tell Overture.” “For many, many weeks we’ve had that running around our heads; can’t get it out!” Massey says with a laugh. “But that’s good! People are going to really remember that scene.”

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