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HomeCraftsPostproductionPP-Vintage Sound for The Aviator

PP-Vintage Sound for The Aviator


In his Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator, director Martin Scorsese celebrates the art of flying both through Hughes’ pioneering innovations in aviation and his inventive techniques for filming flying planes. One of the film’s biggest challenges was to create a distinction between the sound of Hughes flying his experimental plane and the “film within the film” flying sequences captured with early filmmaking techniques. Another challenge: Aviator’s wide array of sound effects.Those challenges fell to co-supervising sound editor Eugene Gearty and re-recording mixer Tommy Fleischman. Gearty and Fleischman, who previously worked with Scorsese on Gangs of New York and The Age of Innocence, share the director’s belief that sound plays an enormous role in creating believability and taking the audience to the place and time depicted on the screen.Since the film’s HF-1 and XF-11 planes no longer exist, and the Hercules is grounded, finding vintage planes to record the din of old engines churning while performing daredevil aerial tricks became the first challenge of their assignment. “We ended up doing something very sophisticated that I’m pretty sure has never been done before for sound-editing purposes,” Gearty explains.They rented a number of vintage planes, including a Beachcraft 18 and a B-25, and took them all out to the Mojave Desert where they had pilots fly the actual maneuvers in the film. With three pairs of stereo mics positioned in the planes’ cabins, several ground production recordists to record take-offs, low approaches, landings and fly bys, they recorded a variety of sounds.Gearty continues, “Marty is interested in telling a story, which isn’t necessarily linear, so he has plane engines warming up much faster than they ever could in real life, and we had to find ways to match the sound.” The sounds for Hercules were particularly tricky, since this enormous craft with its eight mammoth engines and 17-foot propellers hasn’t flown since 1947. “The closest thing to Hercules is Lockheed’s Constellation, but it just wasn’t in the stars for us to be able to use one,” says Gearty. “Instead, we went with other craft that have engines only half the size. But what we discovered is that once the plane is up and running, these engines are so powerful it almost doesn’t matter. We doubled and tripled up the sounds—and I think it’s very convincing,” he says.For re-recording mixing, Fleischman worked with Pro Tools and a Euphonix digital audio mixing system. He had to make extensive passes to clean up scratches, noise and pops on the tracks in the scene of the Spruce Goose, which was actually taken from the original recording made on board the plane.Another challenge for Fleischman was mixing Scorsese’s music choices, which were often source music and not always score. “Marty is very specific about what piece of music and the exact moment in the track that he wants to match a particular image on-screen. So crossfades were often difficult to fit to picture, especially when the choice of picture changed, but I had to keep the relationship to the music. One of the most difficult scenes to mix with music was the burning-clothes fire scene. It was a very recognizable piece of music and to make it fit the scene, we brought in fire sounds to fill moments.”In addition to the film’s aviation sequences, the sounds of vintage cars and old fashion flash-bulb pops also needed to be researched for their authenticity, located or created, recorded, then seamlessly mixed and interwoven into the fabric of the story. Gearty found the flash bulbs in New Jersey and went to Ohio for the vintage cars.

Written by Kathy Anderson

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