Dune_sound-01 Asbjoern Andersen


Director Denis Villeneuve brings author Frank Herbert's sci-fi classic Dune to the big screen. Like his previous film Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve weaves sound design and music into a fluid sonic experience that feels cohesive and distinct.

Here, WB Sound re-recording mixers Ron Bartlett and Doug Hemphill talk about how they found the perfect balance of the two, the mixing decisions that helped pull focus on what best tells the story, how they used the Dolby Atmos surround space, and more!


Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
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Bonus: This story also gives you these extra interviews:

✓ 50+ minute audio interview with Hans Zimmer on the music for Dune
✓ A 28-minute featurette on the sound of Dune – with Denis Villeneuve and the Sound Team
✓ 40+ minute audio interview with sound designers Mark Mangini & Theo Green
✓ Video feature w/Hans Zimmer on the making of the music for Dune
✓ The sound of Dune – a 50+ minute interview with Denis Villeneuve and the Sound Team
✓ 30+ minute audio interview with Denis Villeneuve on the music for Dune
✓ More with Mark Mangini, Theo Green and Dave Whitehead on the Sound Of Dune
+ Lets you hear the full score for Dune

Want the story behind the sound of Dune Part Two instead?

 

Want to know how the sound was done for Dune Part Two?
We’ve got that exclusive story too – click below to read it:

Designing Dune Part Two’s Breathtaking Sound
– with Oscar-winning Sound Supervisor & Sound Designer Richard King


Update: Dune wins 2022 Oscar for Best Sound:

A big congrats to the Dune sound team for winning the 2022 Oscar for Best Sound! Here’s the sound team’s full acceptance speech:



'Dune' Sound Designers Full Backstage Oscars Speech


(ironically, the audio is quite low on this video, so you may have to turn up your volume a bit)


Director Denis Villeneuve’s Dune takes the audience on an epic journey into the sci-fi world of Frank Herbert’s classic novel. In the film, the story mainly unfolds on the desert planet Arrakis, where a valuable ‘spice’ for interstellar travel is harvested (or rather, stolen from the planet’s inhabitants called the Fremen). House Atreides has taken over this important harvest, but rival House Harkonnen stages an ambush to reclaim this duty as their own. As the situation swells into conflict, young Paul Atreides answers fate’s call and begins his rise as the savior of the Fremen and possibly the universe as well. Villeneuve sets up the story to extend into another theatrical installment.

Much like Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, Dune blends music (composed by Hans Zimmer) and sound design (created by a sound team led by Mark Mangini and Theo Green) into a soundtrack that’s unique, dynamic, and expressive. WB Sound re-recordings mixers Ron Bartlett and Doug Hemphill — who also mixed Blade Runner 2049 — had a wealth of sonic riches to sort through, and tough decisions to make to help find the right balance that tells the story and guides the audiences’ focus for each scene. It was a challenging job, for sure, with so much happening on-screen, in the story, and with the sound. But Oscar-winning Hemphill (who mixes effects, foley, and backgrounds) and Oscar-nom’d Bartlett (who mixes music and dialogue) did a masterful job. They crafted the final mix in Dolby Atoms at WB Sound in Burbank, CA, on Stage 10.

Here, they talk about those tough mixing decisions that arose while blending the music and sound design, how they handled the transitions from massive action sequences into the subjective moments of Paul’s visions, how they used the Dolby Atmos surround space to bring out details in chaotic scenes like the Ornithopter ride through a giant sandstorm, and much more!



Dune Official Trailer


Dune Official Trailer

Ron and Dough, you’ve done an amazing job of mixing Dune‘s soundtrack. You’ve achieved this great blend of music and sound design and it feels cohesive and beautiful. How did you do that mix-wise?

Doug Hemphill (DH): Dune is the second film that this team has done together. And arguably, we’ve done a couple of good mixes and I think the reason is that this group has a lot of love and respect for one another. Even if we disagree, we disagree with respect and affection for one another.

That’s the ultimate social endeavor, to do something creative with a group of people you love and respect, and you bounce ideas off of each other. One person says one thing and that leads to something else. I feel this is really a high-level group of people in terms of how we work together.

It’s almost like a very healthy competition where you’re trying to outdo the other guy but in a very positive way.

Not to state the obvious, but it’d be really nice if leaders of governments would behave the same way, with mutual respect and admiration.

Ron Bartlett (RB): The collaboration’s really great. It’s almost like a very healthy competition where you’re trying to outdo the other guy but in a very positive way. It’s all about bringing your A-game. When someone comes up with a great idea, you’re inspired to come up with your own and do something cool. We feed off of each other in a very creative atmosphere.

DH: Conversely, Joe Walker [picture editor] was saying the other day, that there’s that classic ethos of “your mistakes define your successes.” Now that takes somebody who’s very confident in their creativity to be able to make mistakes and that’s definitely how this team and our director are. They want to explore all avenues. And if you do something bad or that doesn’t work (and believe me, I have) you say, “Okay, that’s really bad. Let’s not do that. What would be the opposite of that?”

We’re allowed to make mistakes and be creative.
 



The Sound of DUNE with Director Denis Villeneuve and Sound Team - Featurette


Here’s Soundworks Collection’s fantastic 30-minute featurette on the sound of Dune, with Director Denis Villeneuve and the Sound Team

In my opinion, one of the best things about this soundtrack is that you get so subjective, especially during the big action sequences. You do some unexpected things with the mix, like pulling back the effects and bringing in the voices or spreading the music out. It adds to this great sense of mystery and destiny that surrounds Paul…

DH: Well, I hate to say it but that may have been the time that Ron just pulled my chair back.

RB: It works every time. We need fewer sound effects here, just pull the chair back.

We’re the surrogate for all you folks out there who are going to watch the film. And we’re using our taste and our love of film to say, ‘How would we want this to sound?’

DH: We love that stuff. For us — people who balance and mix films — we’re the audience. We’re the surrogate for all you folks out there who are going to watch the film. And we’re using our taste and our love of film to say, “How would we want this to sound?” Or, “What is this moment about and how can we focus on that and get rid of anything that’s not necessary?”

We’re all musicians: Joe Walker, Theo Green, Mark Mangini, Ron, and myself, and when good musicians play together they have respect for one another and it’s not one person soloing over everybody else. It’s about listening and paying attention to other people.


Mark Mangini and Theo Green take you behind the sound design for Dune in this A Sound Effect Podcast episode (starts at 2:25 in)

RB: It’s picking and choosing moments of what should tell that story and what we want to rack focus on and say, “Okay, we want you to hear this.” We’ll pull out sounds, or spread things out and keep the important thing in the center. Whatever it takes to get the point across.

It’s imperative to present a clean mix. It shows the audience a statement of the director’s intention.

It’s imperative to present a clean mix. It shows the audience a statement of the director’s intention. Denis obviously has such a great vision and he allows us to play and he lets us explore ideas. He’ll guide us and say, “No, I really want to do this right here.” So we’ll follow his direction and do whatever it takes to get that accomplished.

Dynamics in the mix are very important to all of us. In Blade Runner 2049 and also in this film Dune, there are huge dynamics, and that helps convey the story going through the film without bombarding you with things constantly, even in big action scenes.
 

Dune_sound-02

You set the pace for that right from the opening sequence. There’s the spice harvest happening on Arrakis and then this big attack by the Fremen on the Harkonnons. You found a beautiful way of showing this massive story happening and not in a way that beats the audience over the head. Can you talk about your subjective approach, and how you pulled the focus for part of that sequence?

DH: That took a while to get to that point. We didn’t come in one day and just go, “Well, here it is.”

RB: That took some experimenting.

We didn’t come in one day and just go, ‘Well, here it is.’

DH: I know fans out there are probably wondering what it’s like to work with Denis Villeneuve. Imagine the nicest man you’ve ever met, who has such a sure hand and such a kind touch. He’s like a dream come true to work with; he’s astonishing.

…you have the juxtaposition of a lot of action, the spice harvesters, all the fighting, and Chani is giving you this very soft tone.

RB: Absolutely. Denis had the idea of having Chani do the voiceover at the beginning and she performed it in a very soft, pleasing tone. And yet you have the juxtaposition of a lot of action, the spice harvesters, all the fighting, and Chani is giving you this very soft tone. So it was a real challenge to keep her intimate reading that way without her getting too loud or aggressive. You want it to be soft and beautiful, and inviting, but yet you have this massive thing going on behind you.

DH: For us, the work we do, contrast is our bread and butter, especially to tell a story for an audience. You can’t have all the pistons running at once. You have to focus and — as Ron said — dynamics are hugely important. That’s one thing we really strive for.

 

Dune_sound-04

There’s a similar situation when Lady Jessica is outside the chamber where Paul is facing his test from the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother. There’s a lot of sound happening — these resonant tones, music, and a bit of Paul screaming — and Lady Jessica is standing in the hallway whispering through all of this.

It’s another moment where you have a soft dialogue performance and something intense happening in the background, and you handled that balance so well…

DH: I defy you to tell what is sound design and what’s music there.

RB: So true!

 

Dune_sound-05

That’s something I talked with Theo Green and Mark Mangini about in a podcast interview for A Sound Effect, that marriage of sound design and music.

The start of that sequence (where the Bene Gesserit arrive to test Paul) begins in the quiet of space with a very atmospheric score. As their ship gets closer, the ‘voices’ that accompany the Bene Gesserit slowly become more pronounced and insistent. This was a great way to express the enormity of this spaceship and the commanding presence of the Bene Gesserit…

RB: There were a lot of cool elements in that. Most of that chanting was in the music track from Hans Zimmer. It had very cool elements. Then there’s all of the sound design that Mark and Theo brought that Doug expertly wove in there, too.

It’s a plethora of sounds; there are so many great things and you have to pick and choose when and where they come in and out.

It’s a plethora of sounds; there are so many great things and you have to pick and choose when and where they come in and out.

DH: I’d say it’s a ‘melange.’ Like the spice is called in Dune

RB: Yes, a melange. A cornucopia, if you will, haha.

 

Dune_sound-06

I can’t even imagine the wealth of sonic riches that were laid at your fingertips…

RB: It can be overwhelming. Sometimes I think, “Oh my God, what are we going to do with all this great stuff?” You have to pick and choose and some elements have to take a back seat.

DH: They have to.

It’s about the story and the film and executing it to the director’s wishes. You’ve got to put your ego aside.

RB: You’ve got to pick what’s the better thing that’s telling the story right then.

DH: You can’t take it personally either. It’s about the story and the film and executing it to the director’s wishes. You’ve got to put your ego aside.

 


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Dune_sound-07

Looking at the spice harvester/crawler evacuation sequence just before the sandworm arrives, it’s a big action sequence but then it goes into Paul’s mental space as he’s having this vision because of the spice. The intensity of the evacuation goes away for a moment. What were some of the decisions you made on the dub stage to help that scene go from frightening and intense to prophetic and then back again?

DH: We talked about this earlier, about taking things away. For me — and for Ron as well — sound is a feel thing. It’s an emotional thing. It’s something that usually flies under the radar for audiences. We call it the other image. I was just feeling it, feeling what I wanted to do there.

I was just feeling it, feeling what I wanted to do there.

There’s a lot of sound, a lot of action. And I just did my thing, what I wanted to do, and that was something that never changed. There were plenty of things I mixed in the film that changed because other people had other ideas. But that one kind of remained intact, as it is.

I have to tell you a really funny story about that scene because you liked it and most people get it, but my wife was at a screening and during that scene when I took the sound away, some guy behind her said, “What happened? Did he go deaf?” All my work was shot down with one comment!

Behind the music of Dune:

Hans Zimmer & Denis Villeneuve on the music of Dune



Dune Score / Hans Zimmer & Denis Villeneuve


 


Hans Zimmer On His Music For Dune & No Time To Die:


Denis Villeneuve On The Music Of Dune:


 

Hear the score for Dune below:

No fewer than 3 albums have been released in connection with Dune – The Dune Sketchbook, The Art and Soul of Dune, and, below, the Dune Original Motion Picture Soundtrack):


…it gives you room to play all those cool, ancient voices spinning and moving around in Atmos.

RB: Doug did this really cool move with EQ, faders, and other tricks. When the sand is getting whipped up and it’s in this fervent storm, he pulls it out really quick and does a tonal sweep. Then it goes into the super soft music and I just followed the path that Doug had laid there. It was so good that I built music up with him and then yanked it right at the end when he did that sweep. Then we’re back into Paul’s head and it gives you room to play all those cool, ancient voices spinning and moving around in Atmos. You start to realize that these ancient voices are really speaking to him and guiding him in a way through that story.

 

Dune_sound-08

There’s a big fight sequence between the Atreides and the Sardaukar that starts with the attack on the city in Arrakis. What were some of your challenges in making this feel as massive as it looked?

DH: Ron carried a lot of the weight on that one. For me, it’s important if you mix sound effects to know how to mix it under the music, so to speak, and not try to dominate a scene because it becomes a train wreck. So my challenge was to let the big score play because it demands to be played. It’s the performance for the music and it needs to be up front. But I still have some of those action sounds floating underneath it.

…when you want to make things bigger, you tend to shy away from smaller detailed sounds. If you pull those back, you allow the bigger sounds to play.

RB: There’s a thing with action scenes, when you want to make things bigger, you tend to shy away from smaller detailed sounds. If you pull those back, you allow the bigger sounds to play. It just feels more massive as an impression. And that’s the whole thing: we’re making an impression of that battle and not giving you every single little literal thing. And when you do that, It just washes over you in a much different way.

More on the sound for Dune:

Learn more about the sound for Dune, in these excellent interviews by our friends in the Audio Podcast Alliance, Tonebenders and The Dolby Institute Podcast:

The Tonebenders: The Sound Of Dune


Hear the Tonebenders interview with Mark Mangini, Theo Green and Dave Whitehead

 


 

Dolby Institute Podcast & SoundWorks Collection: Director Denis Villeneuve and Sound Team on Dune



Director Denis Villeneuve and Sound Team on Dune | Sound + Image Lab


Denis Villeneuve, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, and Ron Bartlett speak with Dolby Institute Podcast host Glenn Kiser about the sound for Dune

The score — like Doug said — demands to be played big, so you have to honor that. I tend to pull things out further into the audience, into the theater, when that happens. That allows Doug some room to play the more on-screen events that happen that you really want to hear, like the explosions and certain cool guns or design FX. The score becomes this giant thing around you and it really helps because it allows you more room to breathe.

…the visual effects are so stunning and so important to the story that we may pull back a lot of sonic stuff so the audience can absorb the visuals.

DH: It’s interesting because an audience — film-goers, myself included — can only absorb so much information before you hit overload. And Ron and I have worked on films where the visual effects are so stunning and so important to the story that we may pull back a lot of sonic stuff so the audience can absorb the visuals. It works the other way as well. It’s really an emotional choice, a story choice, and we’re always thinking about how the audience is going to process this.

 

Dune_sound-09

One of the best opportunities to use the surround field was probably the Ornithopter escape of Paul and Lady Jessica into the sandstorm. (Even in this moment, there’s a pause to let Paul have one of his visions as he’s flying that damaged Ornithopter.) How did you take advantage of the Atmos surround field for this big sandstorm?

DH: When you have that much sound going on, the more sound pressure levels you have, the more mono it gets. It’s just a fact that if you have a big scene it tends to mono out, and the beauty of Atmos is you can really spread things out.

One way to use the surrounds is to keep the sound moving.

One way to use the surrounds is to keep the sound moving. It has to constantly be panning and moving around you otherwise it just becomes what we call a “grey moment,” which is just a wash of noise. We were trying to find within that soundscape the movement and detail, keeping it moving and keeping it rich, and keeping variants going all the time.

RB: I do the same with a score there. I’m moving elements all the time. It’s not just sitting static on a fader, where I turn it up and that’s it. I’m moving it within the space. So you’re hearing things move around on top of you, behind you, almost circling you at times.

I do the same with a score there. I’m moving elements all the time.

It really depends on what the element is and if you can do that. Some elements lend themselves to doing that. And others need to stay where they’re at. If it’s percussion, I tend to keep that steady and more in the front, but synth sounds and other things really lend themselves to move around the theater. It allows more room for other sounds to play and it doesn’t bog you down with — as Doug said — that grey feel of static noise. You want things to be moving in and flux.

DH: That’s a classic example. I wasn’t mixing that scene as an audiophile. I was mixing that scene as an aggressive action sequence, like they’re about to die, hold onto your seat kind of thing.

 

Dune_sound-10

I love when sound helps to sell the VFX. There’s this little “hunter-seeker” bug that flies into Paul’s room, and the delicate sound of the bug was perfect. The movement matched precisely too, and it made you believe in what you were seeing…

DH: That was all Theo. I would be a scoundrel to take credit for that. He executed that so perfectly.

 

That’s funny because Theo said, “Matching the movement, that was all Doug.”

DH: This is what I’m talking about. It’s the greatest social experience to get together with people you love and respect and be creative. It’s just amazing.

Thank you, Theo.

RB: That has a great dynamic build, again. It starts from the tiniest sounds and I pulled the score way back at the beginning, and then it slowly builds to where Paul catches the hunter-seeker and there’s that giant crescendo. It has way more effect that way. If we started out big, that kind of ruins the scene.

…you want the audience to discover things and then they put themselves into the story.

DH: Ron, you just hit a really good point. That’s what we call in mixing “getting ahead of the audience.” In other words, you want the audience to discover things and then they put themselves into the story. If you’re telling them what to do and tipping your hat, you’re getting ahead of the audience. We’ve all seen films like that. It’s just not good.

There’s a famous saying that writers use which is, “let the reader finish the sentence.”

RB: We have a little quote like that, “We don’t want to smell the mixing.” If you’re thinking, “Oh, listen to that fader move, that’s terrible.” We have to take that out. You want to ease it in or do whatever you can so you can’t tell that someone had a hand on a fader. That’s the whole point.

DH: You’ve got to be stealthy.

 

Dune_sound-12

A great example of stealthy mixing was right before Paul and Lady Jessica started running from the sandworm. You can see the sandworm off in the distance, moving this way and that way, like it’s honing in on their location. The sound isn’t overt. It’s subtle and sells the action, and then it builds to this intense moment where Paul is nearly eaten…

DH: That creative approach was Denis and Joe, in particular.

RB: Definitely. Joe speaks of that, of not cutting away and allowing the scene to sit there so the audience can soak it in and feel that anticipation.

Joe speaks of that, of not cutting away and allowing the scene to sit there so the audience can soak it in and feel that anticipation.

If he made quicker cuts, or if we added more sound or forced that issue, you wouldn’t have that feeling of that anticipation that the worm is coming our way. It takes its time; it doesn’t just happen right away.

 

Dune_sound-11

At the end of that scene, the worm rises up out of the sand and you hear all the sandy bits falling off of it. There’s this great creaking sound and bristle sounds as well when it shows its mouth. Were you able to use the Atmos height channels to help express the height and breadth of this worm as it’s towering over Paul?

DH: Well, true confession. I think we used every channel available.

RB: We had to rent a few.

DH: I think we migrated it into the dub stage next door, actually.

 

[tweet_box]Making the Majestic Sound of ‘Dune’ — with Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill & more[/tweet_box]

Dune_sound-13

Overall, what was the most challenging scene for you to mix?

DH: Mark and Theo had been working on the sounds and Theo was on location. So they were developing these sounds with Denis and Joe for quite a while. I pre-dubbed the sound effects with them and then the music came in (which Ron can speak about). My biggest challenge was fitting the work that Mark and Theo had done into what Hans delivered. That was a challenge.

Ron was dealing with quite a bit of music coming in, in terms of additional tracks and whatnot. We had an embarrassment of riches and our challenge was how we should tell this story in the best way, with sound and music and whatnot.

We had an embarrassment of riches and our challenge was how we should tell this story in the best way, with sound and music and whatnot.

RB: The first delivery of music had a lot of tracks and a lot of music. Hans is so inspired by this film; it’s very personal to him. And everyone always wants to do such a great job for Denis — all of us.

Hans brought it all and it was great. We went through it and did a pass through the whole movie. There was one temp mix done as well.

I ended up pre-dubbing all the dialogue at my house in my home theater.

When we came back from that, we reassessed what was going on and Denis had more ideas. He went back with Hans, and Hans had all these newer ideas of things he wanted to do as well. We had a few weeks off in between. There were a number of concerns with COVID and trying to work at home. I ended up pre-dubbing all the dialogue at my house in my home theater.

Hans had that couple of extra weeks and added a whole bunch of great tracks.

We knew we needed time to go through that properly. We couldn’t just throw that in the mix. So we had a week or so of mixing at my house with Denis and Joe, and Clinton Bennett, our music editor who was fantastic at roping all this together. We all sat in my house and mixed the music again.

So we had a week or so of mixing at my house with Denis and Joe, and Clinton Bennett, our music editor…

We went through the whole film and that’s where it really dialed in. We really found the voice of the soundtrack, the way the score should fit in with the film. And it was so nice to have that intimate setting, away from everyone, and just focus in on it. Everyone loved doing that because it was such a unique process that we haven’t done in the past.

We’re always at a studio; it’s big and we don’t have a lot of time. This gave us a little extra time and it was a very intimate, creative space.

My other big challenge was the “voice.” That was hard from the beginning. Denis asked all of us if we could put our best foot forward and see what we could come up with. Mark, Theo, and I did a bunch of tests on our own. We didn’t listen to each others’ versions, which was fun because we all came up with different ideas. We presented them and pretty much all of them got tossed out. So, talk about doing your best work and then you have to start over!

But it was cool. We went through it again and tried more ideas. Theo and Mark went out and cast more actors and recorded new takes. They did such a great job. Theo was all over this part of it. He wrangled the “voice.”

My other big challenge was the ‘voice.’ That was hard from the beginning.

And it kept going. We kept moving elements. I was fading up and down on syllables, trying to get specific syllables — trying all these different elements, playing them together to convey it in such a short time. It’s only a few words and you have to get across three concepts, all in one shot. “Give me the knife” is all you get. So it’s tough.

That ended up going until the last few days of the final; that’s when we really nailed it and everyone was super happy with it, but that took forever.

 

Dune_sound-14

Where you ended up with the “voice” is so unique, and original. Well worth the effort…

DH: A lot of people have responded to that. It’s so fun to hear that from people.

 

Dune_sound-15

Being that Hans Zimmer felt so passionate about the score, was it intimidating to mess with that and play with the stems?

DH: You’re just telling the story. Hans is a friend. We have a lot of respect for each other and we’re making a film here. We’re telling a story and Hans would be the first guy to say that.

RB: We’ve worked with Hans for years. I’ve mixed a lot of scores for him. I think we have a very high mutual respect. I certainly do for him because, I mean, look at his work.

You can get a whole bunch of tracks and you’re trying to fit it in with all these other sounds and it’s daunting.

But you’re right. You can get a whole bunch of tracks and you’re trying to fit it in with all these other sounds and it’s daunting. You feel like, “I don’t want to mess this up for Denis. I have to dig in and find the best balance of everything.”

You have to be judicious, but you also have to be very respectful of what Hans is trying to do, what his ideas were, to make sure that plays and those elements come across. The beautiful singer Loire Cotler is just amazing, so I had to make sure her voice carries through in certain scenes because that’s the soul of that track at times.

 

Dune_sound-16

In terms of mixing, what are you most proud of on Dune?

DH: The evacuation scene — or rescue scene, as we call it — is definitely one of our favorites. I was very happy with that.

RB: I love that, and I love the way the “voice” came out. I also liked the Ornithopter chase through the storm and how exciting that is.

But I have to agree with Doug: I love the rescue scene because it has everything in it.

DH: I just felt happy that I got to watch Jason Mamoa, my hero.

RB: He is so excited about the film. I love hearing Jason’s interviews and he even mentioned the sound, which is awesome.

DH: It’s so good. He’s so cool.

RB: Yeah. I just mixed him in a Sweet Girl too. That was fun.

DH: Dune had a great cast. I mean, everybody just shines in it. Of course, at the base of this pyramid of actors is Paul Atreides. If he wasn’t believable, the whole film would fall apart. In other words, you have to believe that this figure could have throngs of people following him as a Messiah and Timothée Chalamet pulls it off.

 

A big thanks to Ron Bartlett and Doug Hemphill for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the sound of Dune and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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