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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Effects recordist Jake Riehle sets up the mics on the Santa Fe 3751, an 85-year-old steam locomotive.

Effects recordist Jake Riehle sets up the mics on the Santa Fe 3751, an 85-year-old steam locomotive.


More on sound for The Lone Ranger, from members of sound team: Supervising sound editors Addison Teague and Shannon Mills, rerecording mixers Chris Boyes and Paul Massey, dialog supervisor Douglas Murray and FX recordist Jake Riehle.

Addison Teague on the early collaboration between the sound and picture departments:

“On my first week on the job, Gore showed me a shot of a telephone worker perched on a pole, and explained that a train was going to speed past and pull down a whole row of poles behind him. Gore was trying to figure out visually how many poles would be pulled down. He asked me to create the sound for this moment, with varying numbers of wood pole breaks coming toward the camera at different speeds, so we could put them to the picture cut and see what felt right. This also helped them adjust the length of the cut. Since there were no visuals, we were free to create a rhythm and speed ramp that created a satisfying sonic crescendo. Once defined, the sync frames were passed to ILM [Industrial Light & Magic] to animate the right number of accelerating pole breaks to the sound. For months that remained a blank visual plate with just the sound effects, until one day the shot arrived from ILM in perfect sync. So many times sound effects editors have their hands tied to the visuals they are given, so this is a great example of Gore's understanding that the sound of this moment is more compelling than the visuals, so he let sound lead.”

Shannon Mills on the use of IR (impulse response) location recordings in post:

“There was no IR recording done by the production team, but we did use IR for things in the film. IRs we had of different landscapes—like slick canyon walls or desolate deserts—were used on certain FX to fit into the landscape. Ambiences are tricky, because sometimes they want to be true to the setting, and sometimes they want to be extraordinary and much more emotional than the actual setting. So sometimes the ambiences might not technically reflect the actual setting, but do reflect the emotional content of the scene.”

Chris Boyes on some of those settings:

“There are a lot of canyons, which are always interesting to work with. Some of the guns have some really exciting and delicious echoes on them that slap around in the room and really make use of the surround. I enjoyed that.”

Boyes on some of the subtle touches:

“One thing that’s kind of exciting on this film is we have these incredible cicadas and crickets. Many directors will say, ‘Yeah, thanks—can you take that out?’ [Laughs] Gore never did. I was surprised I got in as much of it in as I did. [Q: Do you think that sound adds tension?] I think it does. There’s a difference between having a steady cicada track that becomes a sort of pulse for the scene, as opposed to using an insect as a statement that comes and goes—and we do both. Sometimes a rhythmic noise gives quiet moments a little edge.

“Shannon and I created a lot of these little silver [badge] stings and spiced design elements. For Tonto, we did a bunch of shaker sounds. I had a rattlesnake rattle on the end of a stick and various different native instruments and created a whole library of different things, some of which are woven in there.”

More from Douglas Murray on capturing the Comanche language for the film:

“Gore wanted to keep the film as authentic as possible in every way. Well before the shoot began, Johnny Depp courted the Comanche and was made an honorary member of the tribe, in a ceremony comparable to a citizenship or adoption rite. The film hired Comanche tribal historians and native Comanche speakers William Voelker and Troy to advise during the shoot. Depp learned some Comanche from them, and speaks or sings Comanche several times in the film. There are a few other Comanche characters in the film who also speak the language. All the sync production sound was vetted during the shoot by Voelker and Troy. The picture editors on the film, Craig Wood and Jim Haygood, were very careful not to rearrange the lines arbitrarily, to avoid distorting the original lines. As dialog editors, that made our job easy. We just had to ensure that in our editing work—using Lee Orloff’s master audio with the separate channels to maximize the sound quality of the production dialog—we didn’t get carried away and change any of the syllables or phonemes of what was in the cut.

“[For the loop group recording in Oklahoma] Bill Voelker was instrumental in getting us access to fluent Comanche speakers, and some of the best singers and drummers. The whole group of young and old men and women and two children were Taft-Hartleyed into SAG [Screen Actor’s Guild] for the show, since this group is uniquely qualified to perform authentic voice work in the Comanche language. The experience of working with the Comanche couldn’t have been more wonderful for me. They told me that they had never been accurately portrayed in any Hollywood feature film before, in part because John Wayne told [director] John Ford that he didn’t want to work with the Comanche, so all the Ford westerns were shot with members of other tribes, even while playing Comanches. One member of our group said she hoped the film would motivate young tribe members who are more interested in pop culture to learn the endangered Comanche language and culture.

“We have Spanish and Cantonese dialog in the film, too, and that required as much attention as the Comanche language material. We had Karen Huie, who is a member of Holly Dorff Long’s marvelous loop group, and also a Cantonese language consultant, supervise the added Cantonese dialog for the film. After we cut the group material, I sent it to Karen for translation and approval. We also had a Spanish speaker approve the few lines in Spanish that were added. So by practicing due diligence, the problems were all surmountable for us non-speaker editors.”

More from Jake Riehle on the train California-Arizona train recording expedition:

“The only day we physically rode the train to record was on the leg of the trip between Williams, Arizona, and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. This was the only day the train would be traveling exclusively on jointed rail, which is period-correct for The Lone Ranger. Most high-speed railroads in America are now made up of continuous welded rail, which doesn’t give you the stereotypical clickity-clack that we associate with railroads. So we shoved our mics as close to the rails as we could get them, and we also recorded in some of the older metal and wood passenger cars, trying to capture the sounds of an on-board train ride.”

More from Addison Teague on the train sound effects working with music:

“We found it critical to cut the track clacks in time with the music. It is easy to bump it out of sync on the final mix, but not easy to suddenly put it in sync, so this was a tremendous task taken on by FX editor Josh Gold. With each music revision, the music editors would supply him with the latest music click-track and a MIDI tempo file, allowing Josh to adjust the changing train track speed within Pro Tools to align with the new music. The day they would record the score for a scene, we would update the track clack speeds in our final mix to match what the scoring stage was doing. When the final music was delivered, which was typically late in the mix schedule, we were already in sync and just ready to final mix with Gore.”

Chris Boyes says you should stick around for the final credits of the film:

“After the main titles, we go to the crawl, and we go to the crawl in the splendor of crickets and birds and cicadas and winds, and then this big gust of wind comes and takes that away and you’re left with footsteps and a very beautiful cue Hans wrote for Tonto walking away in the desert. Initially, we were going to have 10 minutes of these backgrounds, but in the end I think we ended up with about 45 seconds of it; very subtle, and discreet in a way. But that’s fine. I don’t think the audience was ready to have 10 minutes of background sounds. [Laughs.]

Paul Massey on working closely with Gore Verbinski:

“Gore has always pushed the limits. He has very high expectations and very high-quality standards, which is great. He does allow you the time to explore and experiment, and then he’ll obviously be there deciding and telling you whether it’s working or not, or if it’s going in a direction he doesn’t want to take.

“Sometimes he’ll describe a music cue and the approach to a music cue with the emotion of a scene, and I can see him trying to find one key word is for a particular cue. He wants me to work the cue on my own—he doesn’t mind being in the room, but he wants me to explore it—and he will direct me with one key word or a phrase as to how it relates to the film. He might say ‘humble’ as the word for the cue, and the more I think about that I start to understand where he’s coming from. He’ll give direction like that so I’ll pick up on the mode of how to mix it. It’s a shorthand we’ve developed over the years which I really enjoy, because he gives me great freedom to mix the cues how I feel they should be presented. We’ll work through it and fine-tune it. But he has a great musical ear and he often treats effects as musical instruments, as well.”

Final words from Chris Boyes on film mixing:

“Paul [Massey] and I are definitely ‘conventional’ mixers in the sense that we love what a real console brings to a mix, and we believe that is really the best way to work. You’ve got some really cutting-edge people working on this film, and we all know how to use Pro Tools in unique ways, and have done so. But the process of mixing is still a really revered art form which brought a tremendous amount to the dynamics of this track. I see our business going the route of an MP3 with some of these box mixes, and that’s not to say that box mixing can’t create wonderful results. It has. It does. It’s a tool like anything else. But what a console brings to the mix when it’s deftly used, is in danger of becoming a lost art; I’m kind of worried about it. [The Lone Ranger] is a very full mix, but its got details that are really delicious. And these big film consoles are still developing. Some of the things in the Harrison borrow from the world that Pro Tools mixing is bringing about. They’ve got plug-ins in these consoles that are pretty amazing.”

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