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HomeAwardsAward Contender-Richard King, War of the Worlds

Award Contender-Richard King, War of the Worlds

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Good sound design, says sound designer/supervising sound editor Richard King, is a subtractive process. It’s better to have one sound, like a solo instrument that helps tell the story, than have 50 sounds happening at once. “It’s like real life. If you’re driving along a street and you hear a horn, you only hear that one sound,” not everything else around you, says King, whose high-tension sound design for Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds is paramount to the film’s suspense.King, who’s crafted sound on the suspense films of M. Night Shyamalan and won his first Academy award for his historically accurate sound design on Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, uses sound, or the lack thereof, to evoke the starkness that envelops New Jersey as the aliens begin their attack.“All power goes off, there’s nothing mechanical, and so the sound of everything changes,” he says. “From then on it’s a made-up landscape; you have to think ‘what would be here if there’s no traffic?’ You start hearing odd little details that you wouldn’t normally hear in an urban neighborhood. It becomes more of a living tapestry.”The sound of the aliens themselves was, for him, the film’s biggest challenge. While the sound-collecting expeditions to military bases, airfields and shipyards undertaken by recordists John Fasal and Eric Potter formed the basis of the movie’s war scenes, the aliens and their craft required something more visceral. “They could sound like anything,” says King.As the aliens approach, it’s not their sound you hear but a low bellow that suggests the impending horror. King says he (and several other sound designers) worked on that one sound for months, but the more complex it got, the less it worked. In desperation, he went back to his “solo instrument” philosophy: a single didgeridoo line put through a pair of processors provided “a big nasty sound that a war machine would make” aimed to invoke the same kind of fear and unease that audiences of the original 1953 movie would have felt.“I also worked at length on the movements of the tripods. They’re mechanical but Steve didn’t want them to be too clunky—he wanted them to be familiar-looking and -sounding.”With an enormously compressed schedule (King worked on War of the Worlds for five months, compared to the year he spent on Master and Commander) he was creating sounds as the visual effects team at ILM was still working out the details of how certain elements, such as the tripods, were to look. “There was a good cross-pollination of what it would look like and sound like driven by the fact that everyone was doing there jobs simultaneously. ILM got to start work on it about the time I did, and they were really under the gun,” he says.As the war between the aliens and mankind unfolded, King says he took pains not to make things too loud. “It would have been easy to do, because there are a lot of explosions and a lot of catastrophes. We had to find that balance where it’s still scary.”The experience of working on the film, though all-encompassing, provided King with the opportunity to rely not only on his training, but ultimately to learn to trust his own judgment. “I probably recorded more sound effects for this than I’ve recorded for a movie. But, as I discovered, your first instincts can be very valid.” 2006: Nominated, Academy Award for best achievement in sound editing War of the Worlds; 2004: Won, Academy Award for best sound editing Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Won, BAFTA Film Award for best sound Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Won, MPSE Golden Reel Award for best sound editing in domestic features: sound effects/foley Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Nominated, MPSE Golden Reel Award for best sound editing in domestic features: dialogue/ADR Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Won, Golden Satellite Award for best sound Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; 2003: Nominated, Golden Satellite Award for best sound Signs; 2000: Nominated, MPSE Golden Reel Award for best sound editing – animated feature Pokémon: The First Movie

Written by Sam Molineaux

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