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Contender – Sound Designer, Richard King, The Dark Knight

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Since his early days editing sound at Cannon Films (known for the Death Wish sequels and Chuck Norris action pictures), sound designer Richard King has progressed to audio intensive and award-winning mega-budget films such as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, War of the Worlds and, most recently, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, his second collaboration with the director.

“The sheer sonic density of The Dark Knight was challenging,” says King. “There were always two or three things going on that had to aurally work in tandem with each other and work with the music. There were a couple of big set-pieces that required a lot of effort, a lot of sound-effects recording, and a lot of trial and error.”

Because Nolan regards the temp dub to be a “charcoal sketch of the oil painting that will be the final,” King says he had to have all his ducks in a row by the temp dub, including temp versions of the final score. There was constant mixing and remixing of the sound as well as constant re-editing and redesigning of the sound effects. “Luckily I had enough time on the show, I could design and mix down large sections of the film and send them to [picture editor] Lee Smith to cut into the Avid,” he recalls. “Chris would hear it and give me feedback so the track was able to evolve alongside the picture editing. By the time we got to the temp dub, there were no huge surprises.” The temp was like a finished mix with additional refining for the final.

The sound designer’s favorite sequence in the film is a truck chase where the Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger, tries to capture Harvey Dent, played by Aaron Eckhart. The long non-stop action sequence was designed to play without score. “We needed to be as musical as we could with the sound effects and try to create a rhythm that accentuated Lee’s picture editing or worked as a counterpoint to it,” says King. So he put in as many interesting sounds and frequencies as he could to keep the track alive. He tried to find high-end elements, not just the low-end roar of the truck engines, and had fun adding abstract sounds, such as animal roars, to accentuate accelerations. “Weapons were oversized sounding for what they actually are,” he says, “but worked within the context of the scene—a scene that pulls out all the stops and gets more and more crazy.”

According to King, Nolan is challenging, functioning at 100% all of the time and expecting everyone else to meet that level. Despite the demands, the film was not particularly stressful compared to any other. “We had a good time. It was a real collaborative effort,” he says. “My crew worked very hard and had a big investment in the film. It’s fun when everyone gets emotionally invested in a project. That comes from the top down and Chris is passionate about his films.”

Previous Noms and Wins

2008: Won, Satellite Award, best sound, The Dark Knight; 2007: Nominated, MPSE Golden Reel Award, best sound editing in a feature film – sound effects & foley, The Prestige; 2006: Nomination, Oscar, best sound editing, War of the Worlds; Won, MPSE Golden Reel Award, best sound editing in a feature film – sound effects & foley, War of the Worlds; Nominated, MPSE Golden Reel Award, best sound editing in a feature film – dialogue & automated dialogue replacement, War of the Worlds; 2004: Won, Oscar, best sound editing, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Won, BAFTA Film Award, best sound, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Won, MPSE Golden Reel Award, best sound editing in a feature film – sound effects & foley, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Nominated, MPSE Golden Reel Award, best sound editing in a feature film – dialogue & ADR, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Won, Golden Satellite Award, best sound, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; 2003: Nominated, Golden Satellite Award, best sound, Signs; 2000: Nominated, MPSE Golden Reel Award, best sound editing – animated feature, Pocket Monsters: Mewtwo Strikes Back!

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