Alient Covernant sound Asbjoern Andersen


Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien: Covenant’ is the latest installment in the legendary, genre-defining sci-fi franchise.

And this exclusive A Sound Effect interview gets you the inside-story behind the sound for the much-awaited movie, as told by Oscar-nominated supervising sound editor/sound designer Oliver Tarney and sound designer Michael Fentum.

Here, they discuss their approach to sound design on Alien: Covenant, from building on original Alien sound concepts to creating new sounds for the Neomorph, the Covenant ship, the radio transmissions from the Prometheus, and more.


Interview by Jennifer Walden



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The Alien film franchise is easily the scariest sci-fi film franchise ever. It’s certainly responsible for my lack of interest in space exploration. Even if they are fictitious, just the possibility of encountering a facehugger makes me say ‘no thanks.’ But the Xenomorph, in all its stages, makes for compelling cinema.

Director Ridley Scott, who directed the original Alien space thriller and the Prometheus prequel, helms the latest Alien offering, Alien: Covenant. The story follows the crew of the colony ship Covenant, who land on an uninhabited planet ideal for supporting human life. The paradise planet soon becomes a living nightmare as the crew discovers the remains of the Prometheus expedition, and the deadly alien life-forms that brought about their ultimate demise.

Oscar-nominated supervising sound editor/sound designer Oliver Tarney and sound designer Michael Fentum discuss their approach to sound design on Alien: Covenant, from building on original Alien sound concepts to creating new sounds for the Neomorph, the Covenant ship, the radio transmissions from the Prometheus, and more.


Alien Covenant sound designers Oliver Tarney and Michael FentumOliver Tarney (left) and Michael Fentum

 

How did you get involved with Alien: Covenant?

Oliver Tarney (OT): I’d been the supervising sound editor/designer on the three Ridley Scott films prior to Alien: Covenant, and was thrilled to be invited back to work with Ridley on this one. I think the project was first discussed whilst we were finishing The Martian.
 

The Alien film franchise began in 1979, and was directed by Ridley Scott, who also directed Prometheus — the Alien film prior to Covenant. Are they any sounds that carried forward from the previous film to this one? How about from the first film of the franchise?

OT: Mark Stoeckinger and his team had done a fantastic sound job on Prometheus, but there was only really one event that translated to this film — their design of the orb that activates the Orrery.

I love the sounds in the original film, and we wanted to use something from it. The sound of the egg opening is used as an element in this film, along with the original facehugger scream. We didn’t use those great gun sounds from Aliens, but I did design our weapons to sound like an earlier evolution of those pulse rifles.
 

What was Ridley Scott’s direction for sound? Were there specific effects, or scenes, that he wanted to focus on first?

OT: Before filming started there had been a request for a range of materials to be played on-set. There were various klaxons and turbulence sounds that I had given to location sound mixer Ben Osmo to give the actors some context on-set. There’s always a concern that these temp FX will obscure the production dialogue, but in the end Ben did a great job getting the balance of feeding this material into the location without obscuring the dialogue.

Mother’s voice treatment was another element that needed to be designed early on so that it could be played whilst filming. Her performance evolved throughout post production, but the treatment was the same as the original.

The appearance and movement of the Xenomorph and Neomorph evolved significantly over the course of post production, as did our creature sound design

As the editorial department started putting scenes together during the shoot, we got more requests for creature effects. Most were replaced as we started to get visual references, but the sound of the spores is more or less the same as my original offering.

Sometimes it is liberating to work to a description rather than to picture, and it worked well for the spores, but the appearance and movement of the Xenomorph and Neomorph evolved significantly over the course of post production, as did our creature sound design.

Alien Covenant sound design

The film is set on a foreign planet. Can you tell me about the design of the environment?

OT: ‘No birds, no animals, nothing’ — as Daniels (played by Katherine Waterston) says in the film. That was the brief for the sound of the planet. We had to leave the ambience empty enough that the audience would initially register that there were no life forms other than the crew. We then added just enough icy winds, eerie tree creaks, and patter of rain on leaves to offer the plausibility that there could still be something tracking them as they venture further away from the Lander.
 


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For the Xenomorph sounds, were the design rules/parameters based on the original Alien sounds? Can you share some examples of Xenomorph sounds you created for this film? What went into creating those sounds?

Michael Fentum (MF): When it came to the actual Xenomorph vocals we had a challenge as in the first film they had that very effective hiss, but were otherwise fairly stealthy — maybe just a squeal or scream in surprise or attack. We had notes such as ‘power and presence’ but the tough thing was the increase in screen time the creature had compared to the other films and making it still feel like a Xenomorph.

One characteristic we particularly liked from the original was this kind of hiss of seething rage before it attacked. We went about emulating that by using lots of liquid recordings that were heavily processed with the Eventide H8000 and then blended together to taste.

One characteristic we particularly liked from the original was this kind of hiss of seething rage before it attacked

The other element that (film editor) Pietro Scalia was very keen on getting across was a low-end presence, a sort of malevolent aura that was just there with the creature. We then had to set out trying to get this low-end into something that didn’t feel too synthetic. We made low frequency tones from all different natural sources, then set about finding ways to modulate them through the Kyma (by Symbolic Sound). This seemed to glue natural movement onto a previously static sound.

OT: Sounds such as the hiss of komodo dragons and the hoarse screech of vultures were a great starting point for the seething characteristic, but blending them with dry ice, deep metal stresses, and sword scrapes in the Kyma gave it a little more individual identity and lent the sound that slight metallic element that seems to work for the physicality of the Xeno.

Some of the sounds used in the original film to great effect for the monster were shrill creature squeals, and our Director isn’t averse to the asking for them. We made sure we had a good palette of Xeno sounds based on this type of squeal, and they do cut through incredibly well when there’s a lot going on in a busy action sequence.

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There are also some new versions of the aliens. What went into creating those sounds?

MF: For the Neomorph we began work before we had seen any picture of the creature. There was a video we were given by the picture department of a mantis shrimp that made a loud clicking sound with the note of ‘we like this’. So the idea was to somehow incorporate a click or clicking element into the Neo. We sent back some sounds and then waited to see how the creature looked and behaved.

On seeing the creature there was no real space for a click in its movement as it was so fast, and it was also gelatinous in its texture, so we tried the idea (as it had no eyes) of using clicks as an echolocation tool. We started then trying dolphins and beluga whales which worked for the first temp, but didn’t quite cut through enough.

OT: We started experimenting with blending various elements in the Kyma to see if we could move away from the more familiar dolphin sound, and add a little more agitation and aggression to the sound. One of the sounds that helped when added was a wood fracturing sound that provided a nice resonance. This element really came to life once Mark Taylor started moving it around the room in the FX premix, with delays pinging off the surrounds. It really helped sell the idea of the creature scanning its environment.

He bought several frozen racks of ribs which our Foley Artist, Andrea King, manipulated with a deft touch and a strong stomach

There’s a scene when David (played by Michael Fassbender) meets the adult Neomorph that gave us an opportunity to develop a little more character. We had the echolocation element, but really wanted to describe its physicality. In contrast to the incredibly resilient Xeno, the Neo has an almost sickly quality. We spoke to our Foley Supervisor, Hugo Adams, about coming up with an element to describe its torso. He bought several frozen racks of ribs which our Foley Artist, Andrea King, manipulated with a deft touch and a strong stomach. As the racks thawed it got pretty messy, and in the end it was the early takes with the frozen quality that worked the best. Its breaths were created in the Kyma by crossing a bear breathing heavily with a recording of air bubbling through mud, as though it had fluid in its respiratory tract. It helped sell the idea of the Neo being the sickly relative to the Xeno.

MF: For the main attack vocal we were given the note that they wanted it to sound like a ‘crazed baboon.’ We then set about making a large set of agitated creature sounds that we could then manipulate to create the personality Ridley had requested. We used a combination of various creature recordings in the end, including a great recording of an agitated fox I had made, baboons and baby elephants.

Alien Covenant sound design

Can you share some details about the new ship sounds you created? What did you need to create a sound for? What went into creating that sound?

OT: When we were working on The Martian we had wanted to evoke a little of the Nostromo, and had given the hardware some of that raw buzzing, clicking, whirring mechanical quality. We took that further for this film, and created a huge library of EM recordings.

One of the main elements used for the sound of the Covenant itself was made from a recording of a railway maintenance machine that woke me up one summer night as it was working outside my house

The Covenant is not as slick as the craft in Prometheus, but the aim was to be not quite as utilitarian as the Nostromo. That early sequence on the Nostromo as it wakes up in the original film was a great reference for the type of character we wanted to build for this ship.

MF: One of the main elements used for the sound of the Covenant itself was made from a recording of a railway maintenance machine that woke me up one summer night as it was working outside my house (I live by a railway line). It was very loud, with an especially eerie tone that once processed, had a fascinating texture. We used this to precede the rockets as the Covenant passes by.
 

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There’s a lot of creative work with radio transmission sounds in the film. How were these done?

OT: The most important radio treatment we created was for Shaw’s distress signal that the Covenant picks up. We had originally treated this to be short shards of audio, to be read as fragments of data packets being decoded by Mother.

MF: We started with the sync track of Noomi [Rapace — actress who plays Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus] singing and set about mangling it up as much as we could in various ways whilst still being able to get from there to the clearer version that Mother decodes.

The result sounded edgy, and I liked it aesthetically, but we felt it was better for the narrative to hear a tuning sound as if Mother was honing in on the message

We played with various outboard FX like Mutable Instruments Clouds, the Intelijel Rainmaker and the Thermionic Rooster, recording take after take through these and others so we had a large palette that we could cut together, starting fully mangled and gradually becoming clearer.

OT: The result sounded edgy, and I liked it aesthetically, but we felt it was better for the narrative to hear a tuning sound as if Mother was honing in on the message. I played multiple takes through a small valve AM transmitter and recorded the results over the radio. It had great natural breakup and long, sweeping tuning whistles. I worked through the various takes to get a blend that would slowly reveal the content, so the viewer isn’t too far ahead or behind Tennessee(played by Danny McBride) as he works out what he’s listening too. We used the same real radio setup for the final transmission in the film, with that natural breakup as the voice disappears into the distance.
 

Favorite scene or single sound to design? Why? How did you design it?

OT: The sound design in the original Alien film is just perfect, and has been a reference for this type of sci-fi film ever since. Being such fans of the original film, it was as big a thrill for Michael and I to reference those uneasy, atmospheric chain clinking, water dripping environments in our work as it was to be involved in the creature design. Of the elements that are new to the series, we liked how the Neomorph character develops through the film up to the meeting David scene.

A big thanks to Oliver Tarney and Michael Fentum for the story behind the sound for Alien: Covenant + to Jennifer Walden for conducting the interview, and to Peter Albrechtsen for some additional questions!

 

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    From all 4 earth’s corners, air streamlines the environment and shapes our stories. Discover the cinematic world of rare winds!


    This sound library is the ultimate achievement of a really ambitious project of recording winds from very remote places across the world.

    Included are authentic recordings from the Boreal region (North hemisphere: in Canada and Iceland), from the Austral region (South hemisphere: Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and the Last Hope province in Chile), on Islands in Mediterranean region (Thira in Greece), in the Sahara desert (Marocco), Isle-aux-Grues (Canadian winter), and more (see file list for more details)


    These were recorded either in urban settings, countryside, or complete wilderness.

    Included is a set of useful synthesized, tonal, and designed winds.

    The sounds are categorized into 3 folders: Designed, Indoor & Outdoor.

    WHAT’S INSIDE:

    • 102 stereo files
    • Highly focused and meticulously edited sounds
    • Ready to use Loop
    • Urban area and Wild area
    • Useful Designed & Synthesized Wind Sounds
    • Recordings from the Boreal region (North) in Iceland & Canada
    • Recordings from the Austral region (South) in Argentina & Chile
    • Recordings from Islands in Greece & Canada
    • Recordings from the desert in Marocco
    • Abandonned houses and shelters
    • Marina, lake, forest, car, flags, arctic, metal pole, prairie, street, mountain, grass, …
    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
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    This bundle includes 4 different libraries.

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    The Summer Ambients sound library contains 33 beautiful WAV files recorded with Sound Devices 702, Rode NTG3, two Oktavas MK012 in MS and stereo XY pattern. All sounds were gathered in different and beautiful places like forests, lakes, meadows or swamps. You can expect amazing ambients, textures, different birds, insects, forest during rain, calm and windy days. It’s a perfect library for designing background sounds. Everything was recorded in amazing Masuria in Poland.

    Summer ambients Update – library got 2x bigger and heavier than the original library. 59 additional files, 123 minutes of high quality audio recorded with Sennheiser MKH 8040 ORTF setup, Rode NTG3, Oktava MK012 XY setup plugged into SD702 and Sony PCM-10. It features ambients from the forests, ponds, swamps, meadows, lakes and suburbs recorded is very quiet locations, mostly just before the sunrise, during the day and before sunset far away from the cities.

    Water Flow sound library took me about six months to record, consumed about 15 thermoses of tea and 42 litres of gasoline to get to all locations. It offers 90 BWAV files recorded in different locations. Huge part of this library is based on the recording sessions on the rivers. Two completely different locations, recorded regularly for the last 5 months allowed me to create this unique sound library. Most of the recording sessions took place during winter just before the sun was rising to reduce the amount of unwanted sounds. Almost all recordings are completely clear and only few have birds in background, since it was my intention to record some location ambients with natural backgrounds.

    You can see the metadata and sound list below.

    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
  • Cars Cars In Motion Play Track 561+ sounds included, 340 mins total $150 $75

    The Cars In Motion sound library gets you exterior sounds of cars driving at different speeds, slow/medium/fast/very fast pass-bys, reverse sounds, accelerations, braking sounds and a lot of additional files. You’ll find different engines, and cars with different character.

    From a small BMW 114i through to a powerful Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 V8 with Magna Flow exhaust, up to a fast twin turbo BMW 640D F12. In addition to cars there are also files covering big machines like tractors and excavator.

    The library features 561 WAV files with total length of 340 minutes, recorded in 96kHz and 24 bits with a Sound Devices 702, two Sennheisers MKH 8040, Rode NTG3 and Sony PCM-M10.

    Here are the cars included in this library:

    • Audi A4 Allroad 2.0 TFSI – 73 files – 73 minutes
    • Audi A4 B8 2.0 TDI Avant – 11 files – 10 minutes
    • BMW 114i E87 – 20 files – 10 minutes
    • BMW 530D E60 – 55 files – 21 minutes
    • BMW F12 640D Gran Coupe – 87 files – 49 minutes
    • Excavator MF 860 – 30 files – 20 minutes
    • Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 V8 – 62 files – 51 minutes
    • Renault Kangoo 1.6 16V – 71 files – 32 minutes
    • Renault Master II 2.8 dTi – 21 files – 13 minutes
    • Renault Master F3500 dCi135 – 30 files – 12 minutes
    • Tractor Case II CX90 – 15 files – 10 minutes
    • Volkswagen Golf II – 26 files – 13 minutes
    • Other Cars – 60 files – 23 minutes

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Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles Dirt & Asphalt Series: Motorbikes Bundle Play Track 365 sounds included, 305 mins total $116.66 $99.17

    Dirt & Asphalt Volume 1 is the first addition of vehicle and transportation recordings from Output Audio. This library contains a selection of recordings from 3 road bikes, with additional bonus content from other road motorbikes. The library also contains acceleration ramps for use in granular playback engines.

    Road bikes included:
    • Yamaha 450cc Thumper
    • Triumph 600cc Dual Fuel Injection
    • Aprillia RST 1000cc Futura
    • A selection of bonus pass-bys and externals from a range of high performance bikes

    Dirt & Asphalt Volume 2 is the second addition of vehicle and transportation recordings from Output Audio. This library contains a selection of recordings from two motocross events and two practise sessions, with additional bonus content provided as race atmospheres.

    Library highlights:

    AMCA Motocross Classes Included:
    MX1/MX2/Experts/Seniors Unlimited classes

    Engine Sizes Included:
    85cc/125cc/250cc/450cc engines

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  • User Interface (UI) Ui Two Play Track 377 sounds included $45 $30

    Ui Two is the sequel to our overwhelming popular Ui One collection, this collection contains 377 original sounds uniquely crafted for creating user interfaces, telemetry, gadgetry and more.

    Empty Sea’s Mark Camperell, carefully crafted these sounds using a variety of beepers, boopers and other sonic tools. A sample of which include synths, samplers, spectral editors and more. Each sound was recorded at 48k/24bit. Planned, processed, mangled and otherwise destroyed, every single tone was tweaked until it was something new, original, and exciting.

    As usual, we meticulously edited, mastered and embedded the files with metadata. This collection is priced to move, so don’t hesitate. If you’re tired of the your same old UI inspiration, Ui Two from The Library by Empty Sea is a great addition to your library.

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  • Cars Hyundai Kona Electric Car Play Track 428 sounds included, 98 mins total $100

    An electric car sound library with a range of FX from the Hyundai SUV, Kona.

    The library includes numerous driving FX on both gravel and asphalt including pass-bys, take offs, corners, approaches and skids.

    It also contains a large range of interior recordings from driving at highway speed all the way to buttons and switches.

    Multiple FX on each track – recorded in Sydney, Australia

  • Cars Car Interiors Play Track 430 sounds included, 14 mins total $69 $55

    car interiors library is a great supplement for all the car engine sounds that you already own. That way the action on the inside of the car is not stale at all. Dashboard buttons, seatbelts, automatic windows, switches, switching gears, brake, clutch and gas pedals, vents, turning signals. They’re all here!

    Got a whole bunch of roaring car engine sounds but then realised that you’re not equipped with all of the boring stuff like:

    car door handles, seatbelts, turn signal, air vents, buttons and switches, seats, storage compartments, horns, windows, pedals (gas, brake, clutch), handbrakes wend

    and all other Car Interior sound effects? Well then.. look no further! This is just the pack for you.
    160 wav files with over 400 single sounds in total. Car Interiors will spice up that car interior scene with real, crisp sounds, recorded from over 6 cars in total!

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  • Destruction & Impact Cinematic Strikes Play Track Up to 4140 sounds included From: $119 From: $95.20

    ENORMOUS SOUNDING PERCUSSIVE HITS

    CINEMATIC STRIKES joins the BOOM Library Cinematic Series – and it focuses on big sounding drums. A whole world of cinematic percussive sound design lies a few clicks away: From devastating cracks and stomps over crisp swells and rolls to epic ensemble hits – you will be sure to find and build just what you are looking for.

    With the ultimate flexibility of different microphone positions, single and ensemble hits, flams and swells using various drums and beaters, you couldn’t be better equipped to design huge blockbuster and trailer hits – or simply place ready-to-use DESIGNED sounds into your timeline and feel the earth shake.

    CINEMATIC STRIKES – CONSTRUCTION KIT:

    FLEXIBLE SOUND DESIGN TOOLKIT

    The Construction Kit offers you one of the most comprehensive drum hit packages ever recorded. Carefully planned to satisfy and complement every spot in the frequency range, you will never run out of low end booms, aggressive cracks, mid-range body impacts, reverberant tails and excellent sweeteners to top it off.

    PERSPECTIVE & RHYTHM

    Not only are you able to produce impressive sounding hits, but also transition into, out of and between peaks. Control the attack and release of each sound, using rolls, flams, double hits and other meticulously performed techniques. Three coherent microphone positions make spatial adjustments a breeze.


    Files: 618 • Sounds: 3708 • Size: 13 GB


    CINEMATIC STRIKES – DESIGNED:

    MAXIMUM PUNCH – AND THEN SOME

    CINEMATIC STRIKES – Designed is what you get when layering and processing Construction Kit sounds BOOM Library style.

    From rumbling low-end BOOMS, soft and natural sounding WHOOSH HITS to aggressive, frontal CRACKS and PUNCHES, the Designed library showcases what’s possible, while saving precious time and budget on a tight schedule.

    This package is particularly useful for filmmakers and trailer sound designers.


    Files: 108 • Sounds: 432 • Size: 1.4 GB

    CINEMATIC STRIKES BUNDLE:

    THE BUNDLE – The best of both worlds at a discounted price.
    The Bundle gives you the full sound design power as it contains both – the DESIGNED and the CONSTRUCTION KIT edition at a discounted price.


    Files: 726 • Sounds: 4140 • Size: 14.6 GB
    Included sounds – keywords:

    BASS DRUM, BOOM, BOX, CAJON, CONCERT TOM, CRACK, CRASH, DAIKO, DOUBLE HIT, ENSEMBLE, FLAM, FOOT, GONG, HARD BEATER, HIT, JAM BLOCK, KICK, KODO, LOG, MALLET, BIN, PUNCH, ROLL, SINGLE, SNARE, SOFT BEATER, SPLASH, STICKS, STOMP, SWEETENER, SWELL, TABLA, TAIKO, TAMBORA, THUNDER SHEET, TOM, WHIP, WHOOSH HIT, WOOD PERCUSSION, WOODBLOCK
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One thought on “Behind the horrifying sound of ‘Alien: Covenant’

  1. This is awesome a lot great details to pick up on. I really enjoyed the soundtrack for this film.

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