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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    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.

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    • 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
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    • Recordings from Islands in Greece & Canada
    • Recordings from the desert in Marocco
    • Abandonned houses and shelters
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    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
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    You can see the metadata and sound list below.

    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
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    Library highlights:

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

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

    15 %
    OFF
  • 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.

    33 %
    OFF
    Ends 1578005999
  • 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!

    20 %
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    Ends 1574981999
  • 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
    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1575500399
 
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