The Secret Behind The Sound Of War Horse: Plowing At Skywalker Ranch
The awards season is both coming to a close and just ramping up. The New Year signals the arrival of January’s more lackluster releases but, at the same time, the Academy Award contenders are also taking shape. The big categories often steal the show - picture, director, writer, actor and actress - but some of the most interesting work in film in any year occurs behind the scenes and far from from the spotlight.
Of course, it takes a slew of acclaimed and accomplished artists in order to make any film, especially one as epic and ambitious as Steven Spielberg's likely Best Picture contender, War Horse. The New York Times' awards season blog The Carpetbagger had a brief, albeit fascinating interview with one of the film's important collaborators, Academy Award winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom. As the article notes, Rydstrom has worked with Spielberg before, winning Oscars for his work on pictures such as Saving Private Ryan and Jurassic Park.
The conversation covers a lot, from the overarching design ideas behind the sound scape to the very intricate details on how they captured certain moments. Rydstrom tried to do as much research for the overall sound scheme as possible but was caught an at impasse since, well, there are any many people alive who could actually describe what World War I sounded like. Undeterred, Rydstrom began coming up with ideas on how the war should sound,
“World War I has a specific sound to it,” he said. “I thought the tanks and the guns should sound more primitive, unrefined. In World War II, the guns weren’t as clattery, the artillery didn’t make as much of a whistle when they came in, the tanks probably had more oil in them. The movie is about the historical clash when the old ways of war met the new ways -– cavalry vs. machine guns.”
There are also several awesome anecdotes in the article, but one that particularly stands out is the story behind capturing sound for the first-act plowing sequence. For this particular moment, a pivotal scene for our protagonists (human and equine), Rydstrom had his crew actually record themselves plowing stretches at Skywalker Ranch using an old plow and two plowhorses. That's story in itself highlights the sometimes unexpected, inventive and fascinating things that can occur when making a film, all in service of getting it exactly right. He also used such other unique tools as bees, ice stakes and a vacuum cleaner - whatever he needed to get the right sound. From his attention to detail to his innovative technique, it's no surprise Gary Rydstrom has a few golden statues at home, and might be competing for another one this year.
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