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Pursuing Authenticity For Unbroken

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA—Angelina Jolie was very specific in her instructions to the team at NBCUniversal Studio- Post regarding Unbroken, her second feature film as director, which opened Christmas Day.

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA—Angelina Jolie was very specific in her instructions to the team at NBCUniversal Studio- Post regarding Unbroken, her second feature film as director, which opened Christmas Day. “She said she really wanted it to be authentic to the time period,” says Becky Sullivan, co-supervising sound editor.

Unbroken director Angelina Jolie (left) “…understands what sound can do—all sound, not just loud effects or music or whatever, but also dialogue,” said the film’s re-recording mixer, Jon Taylor.Unbroken is based on author Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestselling biography of Louis Zamperini, a delinquent youth whose energies were channeled into distance running, taking him to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In 1941, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and fought in the Pacific theater. His plane was shot down and, with the only two other survivors, he endured 47 days adrift in a life raft, followed by two years of torment in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

“[Jolie] gave us a lot of freedom, but she was very specific about what she wanted the sound to convey emotionally,” says co-supervising sound editor Andrew DeCristafaro. “What’s great about this film for sound people is the fact that it encompasses everything from big action to pure, delicate nuances about the wind and cloth movement, all in one soundscape.”

Having tracked down the correct plane, a B-24 Liberator, it was six months before it arrived in the L.A. area, where the team swarmed over it, capturing every sound, inside and out, for the opening two reels of the film. “We were like, ‘What’s this? I don’t know, but I’m going to record it,’” laughs DeCristafaro.

Sullivan obtained the bamboo stick from the props department that “The Bird,” a particularly sadistic prison guard, uses on Zamperini, and had the Foley team record numerous hits with it. “[Jolie] was really specific about how she wanted that sound. The guys layered different things, and went through different tests with her,” says Sullivan.

“The same thing where our hero is punched by 200 men; for each punch, she really wanted to hear flesh, bone, teeth. She said to me one day, ‘This is no Bruce Willis movie. I want it real. I want for them to really hit him, and to hear it.’”

“She understands what sound can do,” says re-recording mixer Jon Taylor. “All sound, not just loud effects or music or whatever, but also dialogue.”

The life raft scenes, in particular, required extensive ADR and effects recording. “We had some recordings that were useable. Others we had to go out and get ourselves, towing a raft behind a boat in the middle of nowhere, and trying to find somewhere where you don’t hear anything, other than just air and ocean,” says DeCristafaro.

The Unbroken post team included (clockwise from top) Jon Taylor, Andrew DeCristofaro, Becky Sullivan and Frank Montano. To take the three actors back into the scene for ADR, Sullivan had them lie on the floor propped up on seat cushions, and turned the lights out. “I took all the water bottles off the stage, and had them breathe in and out a lot to get their throats dry. As they progress on the raft, it gets drier and drier,” she says. “They did a great job.”

Indeed, everyone stepped up to the plate, according to DeCristafaro, including dialogue editors Laura Harris and Karen Vasse, composer Alexandre Desplat, his music mixer, Jonathan Holt, and Kim Carmon and Denise Hokimoto, the music editors on the stage. “We really worked hand-in-hand with our picture editors, Tim Squyres and Billy Goldenberg,” he adds.

“Alexandre Desplat nailed it,” agrees Taylor. “But there are many big scenes that have no music whatsoever, where you might expect it—and the sound carries it. It’s beautiful.”

Re-recording mixer Frank Montaño reports that the mix took place in Dub 6 while NBCUniversal’s crew was upgrading the Hitchcock Theater for Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D. “As we moved through the picture, it just got more and more developed, better and better, and way cleaner,” says Montaño, crediting effects editors, Jay Wilkinson and Eric Norris.

“The pre-dubs were laid out with as much separation as possible to allow the point-source panning material that ultimately turned into objects would be available without any additional sound editorial needed,” adds DeCristafano. “We did 7.1 and 5.1 in Dub 6, then came over [to the Hitchcock] and did eight days on the Atmos mix.”

The Hitchcock Theater equipment upgrade included the addition of 78 new JBL, Meyer Sound and custom speakers to support 5.1, 7.1, Atmos, Auro-3D and IMAX 5.0, 6.0 and 12.0 mixing, mastering and playback. The crew installed 96 new amplifier channels, totaling 140,000 watts, and more than two miles of new cabling. The stage’s Harrison MPC4-D mixing console handles 5.1, 7.1, 11.1, IMAX and Dolby Atmos panning, and features an integrated dynamic monitoring router.

“During the process, Louie, our hero, passed away,” reports DeCristafaro. “You feel like you have to bring your A game, and to make sure we’re telling the truth of his story. We have a moral obligation to do this.”
NBCUniversal StudioPost