Creating a soundscape that reinforced the visual world, which was “different, new and authentic” was the biggest challenge on Vikings, History Channel’s epic chronicle of Nordic life. The audio needed to be “big, gritty and real, but genuine” while reflecting “the harsh, cold, windy landscape,” explained sound designer Jane Tattersall.
At the same time it was important to be clear as to what the story was, which included keeping the dialog understandable. Although there was a Scandinavian element to the accents, the actors came from a wide range of countries, including England, Ireland, Sweden and Australia. To achieve an accurate accent, the company hired a voice coach from Norway who worked with the cast throughout production and post. After each episode was edited, the coach would review that part of the series and flag dialog for replacement. At the ADR session the actors received further coaching to insure genuine dialog. Tattersall was especially pleased with how the production and ADR recordings were seamlessly integrated.
The dialog posed another challenge in the scenes when the Vikings traveled to England and other lands. Although for most of the series the Vikings spoke in accented English, when they arrived in England, they switched to Norse in contrast to the native old-English speakers. This illustrated to the audience the fact that these opposing peoples had no idea of what the other was saying. The transition from one language to the other had to be done flawlessly so as not to take the audience out of the story.
To fulfill History Channel’s mandated authenticity while supporting the narrative storytelling, Tattersall explained that the sound had to be “real, but still exciting and dramatic.” This meant many of the raw elements used to create the realistic sound effects were specifically recorded for the series in a quiet locale north of Toronto. The swordplay, for example, had particular sounds because Vikings used wooden shields defensively in battle, so the sound team had to record various sword hits on wood.
The sailing sequences required intense sound design. Although the company strove for realism in the boat by using rough-hewn wood and other genuine materials, because the weather was too bad at the Irish location, they were unable to film or record on the open seas as planned. Instead they used mechanical means to blow wind and spray while manually rocking the boat which was placed on a gimbal. Not only did the post sound team have to recreate the sounds of sailing that particular type of boat, they had to eliminate the extraneous production noise. Because there are no recordings of those types of boats, the team spent time finding an appropriate match using a combination of wood and water.
Tattersall is most proud of the overall soundscape created for the series. The nature of sound editing means that each different aspect of the sound design is created separately with dialog and ADR editors working on the spoken word and effects and foley editors working on various effects from individual hard effects such as the swordplay all the way to the general ambience made up of atmospheric elements such as wind and water. All the pieces were put together so that no one area overwhelms the other, but still, as Tattersall commented, “You get a strong sense of how miserable, cold and wet it was then.”