Audio Team Conquers Everest

Sound designer and supervising sound editor Glenn Freemantle, who created an Oscar-winning soundtrack in the vacuum of space for Gravity, proved that he is equally adept at conjuring sounds from thin air for Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest.
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IVER HEATH, BUCKS., U.K. Sound designer and supervising sound editor Glenn Freemantle, who created an Oscar-winning soundtrack in the vacuum of space for Gravity, proved that he is equally adept at conjuring sounds from thin air for Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest. While not a documentary film, the production—inspired by the events surrounding the deaths of a dozen climbers during a fierce blizzard on the mountain in 1996—features a soundtrack that is nevertheless true to life.

The film Everest re-creates a blizzard that killed a dozen climbers on the famed mountain in 1996. The actors, including Jason Clarke seen here, had to ADR 95 percent of their dialogue after the fact due to the conditions they shot in. Filmed on location in the Himalayas and the Alps as well as sound-stages in England and Italy, Everest presented an immediate challenge to Freemantle and his Sound 24 team, re-recording mixer and sound design editor Niv Adiri and re-recording mixer Ian Tapp. “We had to put temp dialog and temp sound design tracks together right at the beginning, after Balt and [editor] Mick Audsley assembled the first cut, because they couldn’t tell the story—you couldn’t hear the dialog,” reports Freemantle.

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“We recorded all the dialog where we couldn’t hear it—which was most of it,” he says, bringing in sound-alikes to shoot the temp ADR tracks for the actors who were not available. Both on set and on location, he elaborates, “They’re talking behind oxygen masks and there’s wind machines and ice and things being thrown at them—you couldn’t hear what they were saying. Every time you’re outside or there’s snow, that dialog would all have to be redone. We had to ADR 95 percent of it, because of the conditions they shot in.”

The sound team and the actors, who included Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and Jake Gyllenhaal, worked hard to recreate the physical conditions that their characters encountered at high altitude. “We got them to put on weight vests with straps around them, and we’d gradually tighten the weights around their chests, so they were restricted. They would throw themselves around so they could hardly breathe.”

Although Kormákur conveys the epic landscape with wide shots, the film is also very intimate. The idea was to be as immersive as possible, according to Freemantle. “When you watch an action movie, you’re sitting in the audience and you’re watching into the film. We wanted people to feel that they were in the film; you feel their plight on the journey.

“When you get close, you hear the ice in their faces and the flapping of their jackets; you have the storm whipping around you. We tried to create a real closeness to the characters, in all the close ups. It becomes very personal.”

To help achieve that, he says, “We froze their jackets; we sprayed their equipment with water and put them in freezers overnight, then would record things.” The team also spent days recording ice sprays, synchronizing layers of textures to match the images. “Making the snow was harder than I thought it was going to be, to make it as realistic as you perceive it in your head,” he says.

The post production sound was all done in Pro Tools 11, mixed through a Euphonix System 5 console and controlled via EUCON, on Pinewood Studios’ Powell Theatre, the largest film mix room in the U.K. “It’s a big, comfortable room,” he says. “I just finished mixing Steve Jobs in that same room.”

Everest was mixed in native Dolby Atmos, says Freemantle, who is currently working on his fifth film in the immersive format. “We cut in the Atmos format and laid it up, so by the time we got to the theater, we’d done most of the panning and everything. We try and tell the story before we get to the big room; it saves you time.”

He adds, “The Atmos system, with its bass-managed surrounds, is an advantage to any film. There will come a time where it will become a matter of course, I think.”

The dialog was essentially mixed to a 5.1 bed, with occasional lines assigned as objects when they needed to move off-screen. “A lot of the winds were in beds, too. We moved the beds around us, then we would have objects like snow sprays or individual elements; they were the detail on top,” he says.

For example, “When the ice went over your head, we’d have some of the higher frequencies, the snow and the ice, and we’d use those to create movement over your head. You have to choose your moments. If you fill the overheads too much, you narrow the film down.

“Atmos can make the film wider, and you can create more weight with it, because you have the bass management in the surrounds. When you want it to kick in, you can really feel the weight.”

There were many layers of winds. “It was a journey through a scene; there might be some bass content to glue it together, but it wouldn’t be one sound that would play. You’re on the mountain for two hours—it could become white noise—so we wanted to always have it change and make it interesting. We were always using different sounds all the time.”

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