Deepwater Horizon Movie Sound Asbjoern Andersen


The Deepwater Horizon accident was a devastating disaster for the environment in the Gulf of Mexico. And now, the Deepwater Horizon movie tells the story of just what happened on that fateful day on the oil rig, from the crew’s perspective. The movie features Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich and Kate Hudson, and is currently number 2 at the US box office.

The Deepwater Horizon sound team was led by supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman – and here, sound designer/re-recording mixer Dror Mohar tells the story behind the dramatic sound for the movie:


Written by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Dror Mohar and David Lee



Video Thumbnail

The teaser trailer for Deepwater Horizon


 

Creating a dramatic film about a historical event is tricky business. A story is a very powerful thing. It has the power to rewrite events, turning villains to heroes and vice versa, depending on the perspective of the storyteller. Director Peter Berg, known for the biographical action film Lone Survivor, takes on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In what light will he paint this event in his film? For the sound team, led by supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman of Twenty Four Seven Sound, Deepwater Horizon presented an interesting landscape.

The oil rig was a 29-story machine that never stopped. It was a mad-made island surrounded by the sea. It was a temporary home for the crew employed to keep it running. Sound designer/re-recording mixer Dror Mohar, at Technicolor in Hollywood, CA, has been a long-time collaborator with Stateman. In addition to Deepwater Horizon, they’ve created sound together for films like Lone Survivor, Django Unchained, and Inglourious Basterds. Here, Mohar shares his story of creating the mechanized world of Deepwater Horizon and designing its destruction too.
 

How was this film a unique experience for you?

The story of the disaster onboard the Deepwater Horizon and its implications is extraordinary. It’s an important story that demands answers to difficult questions regarding the means and ends of our energy industries – it was also a very ambitious cinematic undertaking. For both these reasons, being a part of it was an inspiring experience.

It’s an important story that demands answers to difficult questions regarding the means and ends of our energy industries

In terms of sound, creating a sonic vocabulary that describes the technology, human trials and incredible forces of nature was an intense and uniquely satisfying journey. For the first half of the project, I worked with Peter [Berg], Colby [Parker], and Gabriel [Fleming] at their picture cutting room where we worked in short, intense bursts to explore sound elements, designs, and treatments that speak to the identity of the story. This collaboration was very special in that the rapid exchanges led to picture, sound, and visual effects constantly informing one another. It was an opportunity to push the definition of storytelling both within the frame and beyond it.


Dror Mohar on the Deepwater Horizon mixing stage

Dror Mohar on the Deepwater Horizon mixing stage


 

What were some challenges you had in creating the sound design?

The film involves a lot of technical information, destruction and action sequences that hand off to one another. In terms of sound, these are components that can quickly saturate the experience and the biggest challenge was to design and choreograph the sound in ways that would immerse, but not exhaust, the audience. This meant a lot of experimentation with size, weight, tonal character and where sounds start and stop. It was a task that we carried out all the way to the final printmaster.

The biggest challenge was to design and choreograph the sound in ways that would immerse, but not exhaust, the audience

The designs were tailored to describe the extreme conditions onboard the rig, inform the audience of the technology of oil drilling and express the specifics and magnitude of the destruction. As far as the choice and placement of sounds – or their absence – the focus was twofold: to ensure that the sound effects never overpowered the human experience of the crew and to clearly articulate the implications of mechanical failures.

One challenge was to create acoustical space, since the geography of the story happens in two very isolated locations: on the ocean floor, five thousand feet underwater, and up on the rig platform in the middle of the ocean. In order to express scale, speed and distance, some of the design favored feeling over sound accuracy.
In terms of rig mechanics, we needed to establish the sounds and functionality of the rig’s components under normal conditions and later under overloaded conditions. The rig’s navigation system, engines, pumping systems and BOP (blow out preventer) on the ocean floor all needed to be established and become quickly familiar to the audience.
 


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What was the first sound you tackled for this film?

The design I tackled first was the opening sequence. The scene takes us down the pipe to the bottom of the ocean, revealing the BOP. This was a great introduction to the filmmakers’ stylistic approach. They were determined to have the audience “be the camera” to see what is going on under the hood. This also inspired the idea to use sections from the original recordings of Mike Williams’ original testimony as the very opening of the movie which we play over the opening titles.
 

How did you go about designing the mechanical elements, like the thrusters for example? Were those sounds created using sounds from libraries? Did you record any sounds in the field?

The mechanical sounds evolved and changed over time. Some of the machinery came from original recordings and some were a combination of recorded source together with design. I did a field recording in a port in Israel where I got access to pumping facilities and ships; these served as a great base for a lot of the industry we hear on the rig. For some of the big set pieces, I added a layer of design elements to inform a sense of weight, movement, and energy.
deepwater-horizon-recording-fluids_
Expressing size and weight was tricky because details that I would have ordinarily omitted were necessary in order to understand functionality. The solution was to consider cause and effect. Favoring the reaction of the environment to an event in the design created the impression of width and weight while making room for specifics. This was done in the form of structural vibrations, impacts on the rig, echoes to the PAs, tonal elements to the underwater environment, and water movement to express the force of the underwater mechanics. In the case of the thrusters, the final sound is a combination of elements that Wylie Stateman (supervising sound editor) designed with Harry Cohen, Sylvain Lasseur and myself.
 

 

The oil rig is surrounded by water. How did you use the ocean in your design? What was your approach there?

In terms of the elements that contributed to the disaster, the ocean itself was not a major player. On the day of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the sea was actually calm. The lack of water turbulence was a very valuable tool. It presented the opportunity to use it exactly as that, as an element of quiet and calm to counter the chaos. This was very effective in the wide shots of the rig where the sounds speak to the vastness of the geography and isolation of the rig in contrast to the violent water at the bottom of the moonpool and the rushing water inside the lower decks after the explosion.
 

On the oil rig, things are breaking down and exploding apart. How did you approach the different types of explosions in the film?

As with other elements of the story, the main focus was to clarify what the different explosions meant for the loss of control over the rig. Each breakdown, system malfunction or overload was given specific attention using a variety of elements. More important than the blasts themselves were their sources – each called for a different treatment. The first two major explosive events were the ‘kick’ and blowout, where pressure sent mud blasting out on the drilling floor. Here, the focus was on pressure and the force of the particles. The next major explosive events involved methane gas. The gas accelerated the engine to the point of overload and that is when fire exploded through the lower levels of the rig that resulted in an atomic-like explosion. This explosion is designed to be a massive, instantaneous eruption.


Fire recording for deepwater horizon

Recording fire sounds for Deepwater Horizon


 

How did Foley play a role in the sound design for the explosions and breakdowns?

Foley Supervisor Gary Hecker (at Sony Pictures Studios) provided us with a great palette of sounds. The Foley component was used in the designs to add visceral detail. Gary’s performances were great, both in the explosions and the portraits of the lead characters as they wade through the debris across the rig.
 

Any favorite audio tools for this film? Can you give some specific examples of how you used them?

As far as plug-ins and instruments go, I would say that my main tool was a series of processing chains of saturation, distortions, delays, futzing and low end. I used these in creating textures, hard edges and mass for things like the PAs, explosions and underwater movement. That said, I am more of a story guy than anything else. At the top of my list for gear is always a field recorder, great monitors and a good sounding room where, together with the filmmakers, I can shape sounds and make choices that stand the test of time. I look to find a singular sound signature that creates a connection to the visuals.

On the Deepwater Horizon oil rig

You got to do the sound design and then keep your hands on it through the mix. Is that natural for you? Do you feel it’s easy to make decisions about your sound design during the final mix in regards to what elements serve the story best?

Mixing is not only an extension of the editorial design process, it is an inseparable part of the design of the sound experience. Everybody does it differently. For me, it’s about when to listen and when to let go and just hear. To me, listening is about the sound and hearing is the perception of the entire experience. It’s a bit of a dance.
Maybe it’s just semantics, but the point is to pay attention in different ways to determine how it all feels together – to determine how the track performs.

To me, listening is about the sound and hearing is the perception of the entire experience

As far as making decisions on the stage, I am not precious about any sound that doesn’t work for the story – losing it is not a compromise, rather a step forward. That said, nobody is perfect and a great mixing partner will always help balance me out.
Being intimate with the material is a strength in the mixing chair – it lends to knowing what elements to reach for as we shape the track against dialogue, music and the intentions established by the filmmakers.

I do it with my own material so I wouldn’t hire someone like me if I were not mixing. Instead, I would get a great mixer who is a great storyteller that has serious technique and experience under his belt. Sometimes that’s better for the film. A full-time mixer brings to the table very different things than I do – we overlap but don’t replace one another.
 

A big thanks to Dror Mohar, Wylie Stateman and the sound team on Deepwater Horizon for the story behind the sound – and to Jennifer Walden for doing the interview!

 

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    • Varied ambiences from the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park
    • Sparse ambiences with minimal wildlife
    • Active ambiences with twittering songbirds
    • One extended 35-minute quiet nature ambience
    • This library is a portrait of the Hoh Rainforest. The rainforest is in a long river valley, so the distant soothing wash of the Hoh River can be heard in all recordings.
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    • Named markers are included in each file to help find interesting events in an otherwise uniform waveform!
    • Marker text included in the Soundminer description and BWAV description fields.

    FILE LIST & METADATA:
    • View in Browser or Download CSV
    • Flora (plants) and Fauna (animals) are described in these terms:
    • fauna sparse
    • fauna constant
    • flora sparse
    • flora constant
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    • flora and fauna constant
    • Included wildlife: Roosevelt Elk, American Crow, Common Raven, Pacific Wren, Brown Creeper, Barred Owl, chipmunks, and various other distant murmuring songbirds
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    • Read the full story on the A Sound Effect Blog – Sounds from the Quietest Place in the Continental US 
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    • Read 30+ user reviews for Thomas Rex Beverly Audio
    • Read my Field Recording Mastering Rules and learn more about how these recordings were mastered.
    • Browse the Library Info Master List to compare specs on all my libraries.
    • Browse the Metadata Master List to search my entire catalog.
    • MD5 and SHA 256 Checksums are included for each zip file in my catalog. Use these hashes to check the integrity of your downloaded files. 
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    • Rocky coastlines and pebble-filled beaches
    • Driftwood resonances
    • Contact microphones on dead spruce stumps rooted in the beach
    • Frothy impacts
    • Roaring bass
    • Storm buoys droning their ominous warning
    • A thirty-minute clip of the slowly approaching tide. This clip is broken into three, ten-minute clips with no fade ins/outs so it can be used in parts or as one long seamless clip!

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    • Named markers are included in each file to help find interesting events in an otherwise uniform waveform!
    • Marker text included in the Soundminer description and BWAV description fields.
    FILE LIST:
    • File List: View in Browser or Download CSV 
    BLOG POST:
    • Read the full story on the A Sound Effect Blog – Sounds from the Quietest Place in the Continental US 
    MORE INFO:
    • Read 30+ user reviews for Thomas Rex Beverly Audio
    • Read my Field Recording Mastering Rules and learn more about how these recordings were mastered.
    • Browse the Library Info Master List to compare specs on all my libraries.
    • Browse the Metadata Master List to search my entire catalog.
    • MD5 and SHA 256 Checksums are included for each zip file in my catalog. Use these hashes to check the integrity of your downloaded files. 

    GEAR USED:
    • Sennheiser MKH 8040 Matched Pair in ORTF
    • Aquarian Audio H2a-XLR hydrophone (used as contact mic)
    • Sound Devices 702
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    If you don't need the extra source sounds you can grab the “Designed Sounds only” pack.

    All source sounds were recorded with Sonosax SX-R4+ with a Sennheiser MKH8050+MKH30 M/S rig, a Sound Devices MixPre-6 with a MK8060+ATE208 M/S rig and a Sony PCM-D100. All sounds come with embedded Metadata.

    Metadata embedded by “The Audioville – India”

    25 %
    OFF
    Ends 1531000800
  • Cars Subaru Crosstrek SUV Play Track 90+ sounds included, 35 mins total $99

    This sound effects library delivers the sounds of a 2017 Subaru Crosstrek SUV. Metadata is included, with over 35 minutes of recording time split into 90 ready to use wave files. There are onboard, external, and foley sounds, all in high quality 24 bit resolution, 96khz sample rate. This is the right library when you need stock sounds of a common Subaru vehicle.

    Onboard multi-track recordings are in 4 separate mono wave files. Drag & drop or import each of the files into your audio editing software, then align them for creative mixing. There are also stereo mix versions of the OnBoard recordings. The External recordings are in stereo wave files. The combined recorded driving time is more than 35 minutes long.

    Onboard Settings:
    Channel 1 = Engine, Channel 2 = Airintake, Channel 3 = Cab, Channel 4 = Exhaust

    External Settings:
    Stereo in Left and Right Channels

  • • In Pacific Northwest: Quiet Nature, get a peaceful collection of ambiences from the Hoh Rainforest, a temperate rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula in Olympic National Park. Hear the massive sparseness of one of the last pristine quiet places in the Continental US. Hear the natural cathedrals of sound created by Douglas fir and spruce. Hear wind gusts pluck autumn maple leaves and waft them to rest on forest floors. Hear massive halls of wet wood that envelop and transport you to a long-lost time when giant trees covered millions of acres of the Pacific Northwest.
    • This library offers you a large collection of quiet nature sounds from one of the wettest forests in North America. Some places on the Olympic Peninsula get over 200 inches of precipitation per year, and that abundance of moisture makes for a magical fern and moss filled ecosystem brimming with soothing ambiences.

    2% FOR THE ENVIRONMENT & CARBON NEUTRAL:
    • Two percent of the price of this library is donated to an environmental cause, as an “artist royalty” for the planet!
    • Carbon offset credits were purchased for the Pacific Northwest Series. Field Recording travel for these libraries was carbon neutral!

    KEY FEATURES:
    • Recorded near the One Square Inch of Silence
    • Sparse ambiences with minimal wildlife
    • Distant twittering songbirds high in the canopy
    • Mornings and afternoons in 300 ft forests
    • Eerie nights in old-growth titans
    • Barred Owl hoots
    • Sporadic drips and light soothing wind
    • One long unbroken natural soundscape. Thirty-five minute of natural silence!
    • This library is a portrait of the Hoh Rainforest. The rainforest is in a long river valley, so the distant soothing wash of the Hoh River can be heard in all recordings.
    TEXT MARKERS:

    • Named markers are included in each file to help find interesting events in an otherwise uniform waveform!
    • Marker text included in the Soundminer description and BWAV description fields.

    FILE LIST & METADATA:
    • View in Browser or Download CSV
    • Flora (plants) and Fauna (animals) are described in these terms:
    • fauna sparse
    • fauna constant
    • flora sparse
    • flora constant
    • flora and fauna sparse
    • flora and fauna constant
    • Included wildlife: Barred Owl, Pacific Wren, Hairy Woodpecker, Ruffed Grouse, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Varied Thrush, chipmunk, Douglas Squirrel, and ultrasonic insects. Overall, wildlife is very sparse during fall in the Hoh River valley.
    BLOG POST:
    • Read the full story on the A Sound Effect Blog – Sounds from the Quietest Place in the Continental US 
    MORE INFO:
    • Read 30+ user reviews for Thomas Rex Beverly Audio
    • Read my Field Recording Mastering Rules and learn more about how these recordings were mastered.
    • Browse the Library Info Master List to compare specs on all my libraries.
    • Browse the Metadata Master List to search my entire catalog.
    • MD5 and SHA 256 Checksums are included for each zip file in my catalog. Use these hashes to check the integrity of your downloaded files. 
    GEAR USED:
    • Sennheiser MKH 8040 Matched Pair in ORTF
    • Sound Devices 702
    • Rycote ORTF Blimp
 
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