MatrixResurrections_sound-10 Asbjoern Andersen


Sound supervisor Dane A. Davis had the unique opportunity of reworking his sound design on The Matrix for Matrix Resurrections. And sound supervisor Steph Flack, who started with Matrix Reloaded, talks about the evolution of dialogue quality on the film franchise. They also provide in-depth discussions on their approach to the Synthients, Exo-Morpheus, super bullet time, and much more!
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
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Technology evolves rapidly. What was novel two decades ago is already outmoded. So on a film franchise like The Matrix, which has always pushed filmmaking boundaries, going back the original material created in 1998 was like an archeological dig for Oscar-winning supervising sound editor Dane A. Davis, who has been working on the films from the start. In this interview, he talks about his 1998 Pro Tools workflow, creating whooshes by hand, using an early version of MetaSynth to create The Code sound, and how he was able to reuse some of those original recordings in Matrix Resurrections.

MPSE Award-winning co-supervising sound editor Stephanie Flack, who started on Matrix Reloaded discusses the evolution of the dialogue quality, and how the tools of today have helped to create a rich, robust sound for even the most intimate dialogue scenes.

Davis and Flack – at WB Sound in Burbank, CA – also talk about their longtime collaboration, their collaboration with director Lana Wachowski, their collaborative approaches to creating the sound of DI characters like Exo-Morpheus, and the “super bullet time” scene inside Tiffany/Trinity’s bike shop, how they worked with sound teams in Berlin, creating the sounds of Synthients, and much more!



The Matrix Resurrections – Official Trailer 1


The Matrix Resurrections – Official Trailer

Dane and Steph, you’ve worked together on several projects over the years, including projects for the Wachowskis – The Matrix films, Jupiter Ascending, and the Sense8 series. What makes your partnership work so well? Can you tell me about your collaboration style?

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Sound supervisor Stephanie Flack; photo by Stephanie Cornfield

Steph Flack (SF): I first started working with Dane around 2000, I believe. He’s the most brilliantly creative person that I’ve worked with. I was wooed from our first project and I stuck around. I would go off and do other things, but I would always come back and it just became my home to work with Dane. He encouraged and pushed me into areas that I hadn’t previously ventured into. His approach allowed me always to do the best possible work.
Also, we have a shared aesthetic. And we have a shorthand. We know what to expect from each other. We present our work to each other to understand how a scene is going to play out.

It’s a long partnership now, 21 years. Lots of reels.

Dane Davis (DD): Steph is very passionate and obsessively focused. She hears the whole thing from the beginning. There is a lot of affinity there because I am completely, insanely obsessive. And I think filmmakers, particularly the Wachowskis, know they need that. They need that passion, that compulsive attention to detail, and constant invention. Steph has to come up with the craziest solutions to problems that, in the end, appear completely transparent.

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Sound supervisor Dane A. Davis; photo by Stephanie Cornfield

So, from the beginning, we had great cooperative chemistry.

SF: We’re brought on together as part of the moviemaking team, part of the storytelling, part of the solution. We’re always excited and driven to help the filmmakers deliver the best possible movie. Somehow.

DD: We feel like filmmakers, right? The Wachowskis allow us to be filmmakers so we think about the total movie; we’re not really thinking about sound effects, dialogue, and ADR so much as what will create the richest experience for the audience.

SF: Absolutely.

DD: For me, working with the Wachowskis started with Bound (1996). It was just very fun and joyous to work with them. They’re very attuned to storytelling with sound and completely open to experimenting. If it works, then it’s in the movie. I got to have a gas with Bound and apply some concepts that seemed a little crazy. But they went for it.

While we were finishing Bound, they had a script called The Matrix that didn’t seem like it would ever get made and it did get made. There were a lot of insane concepts necessary for that film. But they’ve always been very collaborative and interested in where things can go beyond just “see a gun, hear a gun.”

 

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On Matrix Resurrections, what did dir. Lana Wachowski want you to dive into first in terms of sound? Was there a specific scene or specific sound she wanted you to nail early-on?

DD: The most difficult scene for Lana to shoot and cut and build was Tiffany’s bike shop. It had to be very impressionistic despite the mostly linear narrative. Lana was quite concerned about a lot of aspects of that sequence and I believe it’s the first thing that she and I talked about. And it was probably the first thing that Steph attacked as well.

SF: Yeah. Early on, we were sent turnovers of certain scenes to get a head start on. This one was extremely demanding. It’s a ten-minute sequence and it’s super complicated with a mosaic of different frames rates, ramping up and down with low level, noisy, and cheated production dialogue and wild tracks.

…it’s super complicated with a mosaic of different frames rates, ramping up and down with low level, noisy, and cheated production dialogue and wild tracks.

This was a particular challenge for Barry O’Sullivan our Location Mixer. He always worked super hard to get the ratio up. Lana likes to work in a very free-form way where takes just run very long without resets and the camera is constantly moving in and out. The actors tend to be quiet and the stages not so much.

Dane and I had to be working on it from different angles to be able to go back and interplay with Lana and Jett Sally, the Picture Editor. We each would feed them elements so they could envisage the development of the scene. We had to define what the backgrounds could and should sound like to determine how exposed the dialogue would be.

 

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It was complicated because you were dealing with that super slo-mo “bullet time,” right? There’s The Analyst moving at regular speed and then Neo moving so, so slow…

DD: Lana actually called it “super bullet time.” It’s a whole different animal. Until now, “bullet time” (from a sound effect and mixing point of view) had no dialogue. But super bullet time had constant, critically important dialogue all the way through it. Lana could see that challenge ahead. Steph can talk about the craziness of that for dialogue.

I had to keep that bullet moving without interfering, without knocking against the words. Almost any sound for more than a second became intrusive.

The bullet itself wasn’t so much the challenge. Well, actually, it was an extreme challenge as I had to keep that bullet moving without interfering, without knocking against the words. Almost any sound for more than a second became intrusive.

But an even bigger effects challenge – as soon as things slow down in the beginning of super bullet time – was how to keep the background grinding and welding machines present without interfering or conflicting with the dialogue or with what the score was doing in a very, very gradual build-up.

I must say that in that scene I tried and failed with more elements, more approaches to those sound effects than anything else in the movie — possibly any scene in any movie I can think of — because things just didn’t work. I had to find elements that could make those transitions — that could ramp up into real-time and back down – that would connect to the picture all the way through the scene. It couldn’t work too abstractly, nor too literally. It was sound effects impressionism.

I must say that in that scene I tried and failed with more elements, more approaches to those sound effects than anything else in the movie…

Eventually, Lana suggested that it might sound like fireworks, like pinwheels whizzing up and whizzing down. That’s how it felt for her. In the end, I actually used some elements of pinwheels that I had recorded. But that couldn’t be the whole sound.

With a lot of effects, when you’re playing with the timeframe, you can’t just pitch things down or expand them. It loses the whole shape and becomes this flat, ugly texture. And that applies to about 98% of the things I tried. And the sounds that I experimented with that had some pitch content, allowing them to shift coherently, Lana did not dig because it became almost a musical kind of hook right on your ears.

And Steph had the same problem in trying to create Neo’s vocals when he ramped up from super bullet time to bullet time to real-time and back down.

Audio interview: Behind the sound of “Matrix Resurrections”

Our friends at the Tonebenders podcast have done this great interview with Dane Davis & Steph Flack on the sound of Matrix Resurrections:

SF: It’s very easy for it to turn into a bit of a comedic monster.

…because the speed is ramping up and going through a variety of permutations, it’s difficult to make it sound and look organic…

It’s such a fine line. It took a very long time to find the right balance. You think it should be very easy, but because the speed is ramping up and going through a variety of permutations, it’s difficult to make it sound and look organic – to fit the image and come from Neo authentically. So that was the challenge.

It’s a difficult scene and it’s a very elegant scene. It has a very subtle operatic quality to it in the way that it builds and resolves.

The visual beauty of the arc welding and grinders run like a counterpoint against the unspooling dialogue. It appears quite simple, but there’s a lot going on with the minutiae maneuvering and ducking and the weaving and the navigation and the undulation through the dialogue with the effects and the music. It’s a dense experience with all the sensory planes going on, but not obviously so.

DD: Absolutely. And Lana knew that from the beginning. She wanted to shoot it all with real morning light, which she did.

SF: Over five days.

DD: Yeah, five mornings in Berlin.

It’s a dense experience with all the sensory planes going on, but not obviously so.

To come up with what seems like a real-time experience for bullet time means it had to seem like Neo’s subjective experience of time. Things are not slowed down. The Analyst is just operating on a very fast level – like, supercomputer processing speed.

So in traditional bullet time, things have to move with a timbre, with a spectral shape that feels like a real-time experience. That’s why in bullet time things can’t be slowed down. And that became an extreme approach for super bullet time because, as Steph was saying, you can’t slow down voices or they’ll turn into monsters. But with effects, to keep that bullet seeming like a threat, it meant a similar sort of expanded real-time. And in the end, it plays like that.

But in the scene, because the dialogue is at exactly what our subjective real-time says is real — The Analyst sounds like he’s in the room talking to us — that was the primary goal, to make it feel like even though Neo is functioning at what seems like a millionth of our speed, he’s still understanding, still processing and comprehending what The Analyst is saying.

So the sound had to support that seamless impression of stability, really.
 

MatrixResurrections_sound-05

You did an excellent job on that scene; you made it come across as deceptively simple, as you were saying, because you totally believe in what you’re seeing and hearing…

DD: Glad to hear it!

We were worried. We weren’t so sure six months ago.

SF: Yeah. From the dialogue point of view, it’s a combination of so many elements — from bits of ADR to bits of production and wild tracks. There’s so much cheated dialogue in there from The Analyst.

Lana’s expectations push me to do my best work. With her, anything is achievable.

Lana scours her dailies and chooses the best image and the best performance visually, and quite often she’ll find a totally different sound take or a combination of sound takes to build the oral performance. She’s very thorough and has an amazing brain and memory. And she’s got a great ear. So, I’ve got to go through and make that work – matching cadence, duration, sync, pitch, emotional tone, projection, texture. It often takes a lot of de-Frankensteining of all the moving parts.

There’s a lot of back and forth. Lana will ask me to work on a scene and send it back to them. They might tweak it more and send it back to me for more microsurgery until they can be satisfied that it’s going to work.

Also, Lana’s expectations push me to do my best work. With her, anything is achievable. It is my job to problem solve and because of that, I have to break through boundaries and forge new territory.

DD: Yeah, definitely. She pushes me too, especially when she really hates what I’ve come up with. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often!

It’s not a slam dunk that you go from A to C via B. There are many stopovers along the way to get to the destination.

SF: It’s just part of the process. It’s not a slam dunk that you go from A to C via B. There are many stopovers along the way to get to the destination. There are detours and U-turns through the temping and final process. It’s sometimes very dauntingly complex stuff.

DD: Another aspect of that scene, which we really don’t talk much about, is when it cuts to the clips of the reconstruction of Neo and Trinity. Those shots were late in the development with the VFX. They’re short but super complicated.

From a story sound design point of view, there is a side to those sentinels that is completely novel, that we’ve never experienced before. I call it the menacing-maternal side. As we started to see those shots, we saw the sentinels tenderly moving around Neo’s body as they rebuild it. There’s a giant hole in his chest, very symbolically, where his heart should be. It’s such poetic storytelling, really. I’m always breathless working with Lana.

In terms of sound effects, that was tricky. I made these super-powerful elements for those sentinels that, from a spectral point of view, lived mostly in the mid-range. But I couldn’t use those at all because the voice of The Analyst was crossing those cuts — post lapping and pre-lapping those cuts — and every time we tried to use a sentinel sound it was an absolute frequency collision.

So I not only had to come up with a whole new character aspect to make the sentinels seem affectionately alive, but I couldn’t use the entire mid-range.

Lars Ginzel, the effects re-recording mixer, tried hard but couldn’t play anything there so the sentinels seemed innocuous and impotent. So I not only had to come up with a whole new character aspect to make the sentinels seem affectionately alive, but I couldn’t use the entire mid-range. It was very inspiring. I had to invent all these tiny little sounds that had a dangerousness to them. The noises for the little tools were high enough (pitch-wise) above the articulation of the voice that we could mix in some of the little scary mechanics.

But the fun part was the really deep sounds. At some point, Lana said something like, “Is there something deep for those sentinels?” And I’m thinking, yeah, the music isn’t necessarily using that range. And what was in the effects already was too vague at a low level. So that was a blast because I had recorded a bunch of mechanical objects that have a very deep growling, very animalistic quality. They were perfect for this. One particular prop was a piece of a truck transmission. I’d roll it around and it makes a rhythmic, purry sort of growling sound.
I slowed those things down even deeper and used just the bottom few octaves. It really helps create the feeling like we are inside or underneath these mechanical monsters as they are nano-assembling Neo and Trinity.

In the end, that’s a part of the dramatic dynamics of that scene. You go into those moments and they feel like a completely different perspective, which they are.
 

MatrixResurrections_sound

When recording some of the new sounds for this film, did you use something like the Sanken CO-100K, with an extended frequency range that gives you the ability to pitch some of those higher-frequency elements into a lower range?

DD: Yeah, I love those mics. I have two of them. I use them for many, many things and most movies when there are creatures and stuff, especially for vocals or anything that has to scale up significantly. I do a lot (if not most) of the creatures myself with my own voice and I rely on those mics.

We recorded all of the gun sounds from scratch using an amazing 32-bit recording technique that Bryan O. Watkins and John Fasal have been developing…

Many of the animalistic, mechanical sounds were recorded using those mics, and a couple others. I still love the low end of the Schoeps and how that transposes down. But the Sanken CO-100ks are incredible mics.

We also used them for the guns. We recorded all of the gun sounds from scratch using an amazing 32-bit recording technique that Bryan O. Watkins and John Fasal have been developing and that incorporates what those 100k mics bring to the spectrum, especially along with the other arsenal of superb microphones they use.

I’ve worked with Bryan for hundreds of years. We did a lot of games together and also a lot of movies. On Resurrections, he cut all of the gunshots, mech, and the bullet-bys and riccos. I added to that along with Jeremy Peirson and other people as the scenes developed. We used Bryan’s material, but also new radical stuff that I made for bullets. But overall, that was Bryan’s job. He was Mr. Gun.
 


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Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:


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The previous Matrix films – Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions – were released in 2003. Since then, there have been some new cool sound tools — like Dolby Atmos that came out in 2012 and the Sanken CO-100k mics that came out in 2016. The Matrix movies have always pushed the boundaries of filmmaking. So how were you able to use the innovative new sound tools we have available now to push the sonic bounds of Matrix Resurrections?

SF: Just in terms of dialogue, it’s revolutionary. I started with Reloaded and Revolutions. I didn’t work on the first one.

A lot of the Trilogy dialogue for Neo and Trinity is very intimate conversation and was recorded on big stages so the signal-to-noise is not super healthy. In those days, we didn’t have iZotope; we didn’t have all these tools. We didn’t have Auto-Align Post by Sound Radix.

It’s night and day what we can now do and how we can clean up the dialogue imperceptibly but still keep it warm and intimate.

It’s interesting to hear the dialogue clips from the previous films compared to Resurrections 18 years later. It’s night and day what we can now do and how we can clean up the dialogue imperceptibly but still keep it warm and intimate.

Today, I do things to integrate ADR with the dialogue in a covert way so I can underpin any weakness in the production with tiny little pieces of ADR and alternate takes sonically Photoshopped in – or rather, “sonicshopped” in — to make it intelligible.



The Sound of 'The Matrix: Resurrections'


Video interview: Mix Magazine editor Tom Kenny interviews Dane Davis and Steph Flack on the sound of Matrix Resurrections

It has to be intelligible. People have to follow the story. The story is mainly told through dialogue and is supported by visuals, effects, and the music. So if people do not understand the dialogue, then they’re going to drop out for that period of time. It’s great what we can do now and how much more dialogue we can salvage and how we can integrate ADR fragments and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

For Lana, it’s all about the tonal emotionality of the original performance.

For Lana, it’s all about the tonal emotionality of the original performance. We have to preserve that. You don’t always get that with ADR. In fact, rarely. Most directors would agree! It’s a meticulous cross-stitching process to seamlessly get those two to work together. So from the dialogue point of view, it’s great to have these new power tools.

Also, your skillset evolves over time. I’ve developed a list of words that I have the actors read at the end of their first ADR session. It’s basically designed to capture as many consonants and vowels and diphthongs in as many combinations as possible. The actors think it’s quite comical mostly and some are intrigued by it. Since I’m not looping every word, these recordings go into my toolbox to be used when some part of an unlooped word needs to be augmented. Also, I will use the plugins within RX to help integrate the ADR fragments.

 

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I love that you have a list of essentially nonsensical words that give you the sounds you’ll need for dialogue editing, like maybe you just need a T or a P…

SF: Right! Maybe I need the M coming out of an A going into an E kind of thing. It’s not just M. It’s all very different and I’ll have them perform it at different projections and at different lengths and different intensities. It’s all very valuable!

Also, as I go through cutting the production, if I find any good endings I’ll make a library of those because quite often the actors don’t finish the end of a word, which is no big problem in real life, but when it’s a dialogue in a movie, you just want a little more of that clarity.
 

MatrixResurrections_sound-09

I can only imagine what your Soundminer library looks like!

DD: She has a junkyard in her sessions, always. It’s pretty funny. It’s like she has these bits and pieces that she’s found on the beach with her metal detector.

But in terms of Auto-Align Post, Steph, that’s been a big deal for you as far as production, right?

SF: Absolutely. Auto-Align Post creates a rich, robust sound. I love it and I use it all the time. It is the best thing since sliced bread. It is revolutionary for the sound of dialogue because it just makes it so full-bodied.

Once I’ve done that process, I’m able to go through and pinpoint the weak spots, and determine how I’m going to support or supplement them with one mic or the other, volume graphing, whether I just have to use an alt or go to the magical library.

 

Dane, what about you? How were you able to use the innovative new sound tools we have now to push the effects on Matrix Resurrections?

DD: Answering that question I’d need nine hours. It’s a huge question.

I worked on the first Matrix in 1998. That’s 23 years earlier – a long, long time ago. It was the bronze age of digital audio. Rudimentary tools were just starting to appear. I had the first version of Pro Tools that had TDM routing between tracks. That was a radical thing for me, as somebody who had three rolling racks of outboard gear and a patch bay that I had collected and always worked with.

For the first Matrix, I wanted to do it all “in the box.” And in the end, I did but it was a major pain because everything was very unstable, including the dual SCSI chains with five drives on each chain. It was kind of a nightmare getting stuff to work. But in terms of plugins and tools, I experimented with a lot of things. Almost everything had a very ugly, grainy, digital, unnatural quality, and I knew that would never work in this beautiful movie.

…it was a major pain because everything was very unstable, including the dual SCSI chains with five drives on each chain.

There was one program that our engineer, Dave McRell, found. It was like version 1.0 of MetaSynth. I experimented with that because it had a very sweet, natural rendering quality. But at the time, when doing a lot of real-time manipulation, I couldn’t really record into the Mac. So I just experimented on sounds I put into the app, and ran a DAT on the audition output all the time. One of the early nights, I stayed up way too late and came up with these textures that I assembled which became the timbral skeleton of the sound of the Matrix. The Code, in fact, was 70% made with that MetaSynth program, but it also created all those other textures as models for other aspects of the story.

That was one program that died in 2005 or so and interestingly, somebody (U&I Software) bought the rights and reconstructed it and it became available right after I started working on Resurrections. It was a Metasynth Resurrection, just in time.

So I had to make new things from those materials that I had recorded in the previous epoch.

That enabled me to make virtually all the new variations of code with that original textural aesthetic even though the actual rendering is probably a hundred percent different, given today’s processors. But I just needed that sound and it could be used to extend that texture into other virtual phenomena, like Sati’s Well Portal, and exiting the Modal.

So in a way that defines my challenge of Resurrections, because it’s a new movie, a new story shell, it’s a new time (both in the real world and in the virtual world) but things had to connect.

I knew that from the beginning. In my very first conversation with Lana, I asked her — because I hadn’t seen anything yet at that point — “how much have things changed in those 60 plus years?” And she said something like, “Well, the virtual world is something else; that’s kept pace with our world. But in the new real-world, certain things that worked perfectly before have not changed much. The machines wouldn’t waste the energy on changing the sentinels.”

I basically used all new compression, all new EQ, and dynamic EQ, and all new post limiting…to create a whole new arsenal of sounds, especially body impacts.

But on the other hand, all the other new machines had to evolve from their familiar ancestors, like the Doc Bot evolved into the Synthients – Cybebe, Octocles, and presumably Lumin8 and other creatures. So I had to make new things from those materials that I had recorded in the previous epoch.

A giant challenge was the fighting scenes, which had to sound like the Matrixfights, but better – more horrible, more painful. My approach largely was to take a lot of those raw recordings that we made of whooshes and hits and use new, amazing plugins that we have today. Back then, with the analog emulators that I used, it was very difficult to not get a ‘graininess.’ But now there are a lot of great ones, like Soundtoys’ Decapitator, which is one of my favorite smasher plugins. I basically used all new compression, all new EQ, and dynamic EQ, and all new post limiting — all that stuff — to create a whole new arsenal of sounds, especially body impacts.

So in a way, old had to become new.

So in a way, old had to become new. I’m grateful that all of these software writers have come up with these great tools.

It also really paid off for things like the reverse reverbs. In the original movies, the reverse reverbs are the sound of destiny. Now, there are all kinds of destiny. The destiny of Neo is being manipulated in the sprinkler fight scene. I see it as Smith and Neo pulling on the fabric of time over his destiny. So I had new tools, like SoundToys’ Crystallizer, which allowed me to manipulate the pitch of repeating delays, and pre-delays in a whole new way.

And of course, Dolby Atmos is perfect for stories as immersive as this one. We had a ton of fun with the movement and the space. The objects help augment the real AND the unreal.
That’s scratching the surface of that topic.

 

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It’s not often that sound designers get to go back to ideas that they’ve created decades ago and come up with fresh purposes for them. But there are reprised concepts and situations in Matrix Resurrections, like Neo stopping bullets, and the Kung Fu fight between him and the new Morpheus in the Construct dojo. Getting to rework those ‘throw back’ situations must have been mind-blowing for you…

DD: It was really fun! In a lot of cases, I went back to takes of hits and whooshes that we had recorded back then but were never mastered or used in the movie.

So it’s like I was back in my chair in 1998 and 2002. I was listening to these recordings going, “Wow, how could I not have used that sound?” They’re awesome. And putting them through these new plugins, my head was exploding. Back then I tried cranking things up to sound as insanely powerful as I wanted them to but the plugins had a lot of limits. Now, I don’t know that there are limits. It’s amazing the kind of harmonic extensions you can do, both up and down.

I did it all with the pencil tool in Pro Tools, drawing dots. I penciled all those whooshes into existence.

So that was a kick in the pants, especially with whooshes. I’m Mr. Whoosh. I’m obsessed with developing that vocabulary of body movement — the exaggerated, aural sensation of turbulence in people’s environment. That was one of the most fun things for me in the first Matrix. I went completely nuts recording and making those sounds that were all kind of hand-drawn. None of the compressors and limiters back then were acceptable. I didn’t use any of them. I did it all with the pencil tool in Pro Tools, drawing dots. I penciled all those whooshes into existence. That took weeks of time and I wanted to jump off a building. There were so many other things I needed to create! The people in my crew looked at me like, “Dane, you’re out of your mind.”

Once we started pre-dubbing that first fight with Gregg Rudloff (re-recording mixer), I felt great. It was totally worth it. I knew this turbulence thing was going to pay off and it did. It took a long time to predub partially because, in those days, I couldn’t pan anything prior to the mix stage.

So yes, you’re right. That was a gas to sit back in that chair, wiser — a little wiser between my ears, but also wiser in terms of the tools, the mechanisms of manipulating sound.

 

[tweet_box]Making the Sound of ‘Matrix Resurrections’ — with Dane A. Davis and Steph Flack[/tweet_box]

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Dane, you mentioned the Synthients — the machines that have gone over to the human side, like Cybebe, Octacles, and Lumin8. What was your approach to their sounds and making them different from the machines who haven’t sided with the humans?

DD: The Synthients and the other machines have a common ancestor that we have experienced. I think of everything in terms of physical evolution and evolutionary psychology. It’s a whole approach to understanding life, but in storytelling, it is also essential to understand from what everything has come.

I think of everything in terms of physical evolution and evolutionary psychology.

So, they had to be different, but they also had to suggest that they were from that period in 2258 or whenever the first one took place – The Matrix of 1999 in our universe.

Lana told me that these Synthients have evolved from the Doc Bot that originally rescued Neo from his pod. And in that movie, the Doc Bot is this very scary, hostile, physically very dangerous mechanical thing. It comes at us very aggressively, in the way it’s shot and cut, and in the way that it’s scored.

You’re really scared. You think it’s going to take Neo’s head off, which was a storytelling mix challenge at the time. We had to soften the sounds once it had the clamp around his neck and it was unscrewing the plugs. It couldn’t sound like it was snapping his spine or his neck. The story would be over!

It was fun to examine the dramatically dark materials that I used to create that machine. We realize afterward, that in fact, the Doc Bot is innocuous. It had been hijacked by the humans to flush Neo out of his pod but not to harm him in any way. Neo doesn’t know that though. And like all of Lana’s filmmaking, it’s very subjective. So we’re feeling what Neo felt.

It was fun to examine the dramatically dark materials that I used to create that machine.

So examining those sounds, I knew that Cybebe and Octacles had a huge range of performance. They had to go really fast. They had to unscrew Neo from the pod and dunk him into the bio gel red goo and fly rapidly and nimbly enough to get around the sentinels. That was not too hard because that was the operational, mechanical, RPM spectrum that had been established. So I just used different pieces of similar sounds in a very different way.

But the challenge was when Neo is introduced to the Synthients as friends, comrades. They had to be gentle, sweet, and benevolent. That was super tricky: how to make these machines seem very paternal/maternal and move around in a way that made you believe they were these big mechanical things that evolved from Doc Bot. But also, I was trying to evolve the language, especially for Cybebe, who is the more interactive one.

I made all the speech from metallic sources but they were very expressive, very emotive metal “vocals.”

As the visuals materialized and we started tacking on vocalish sounds, they had a way of making Cybebe cartoony. Lana’s original idea was that Cybebe spoke kind of like a dolphin. I made all the speech from metallic sources but they were very expressive, very emotive metal “vocals.” But it became clear that the dominant linguistic sound that Bugs and presumably other humans can understand had to be part of its propulsion system, its mechanical movement noises.

Luckily, the very first Cybebe elements that I really developed were these deep purring propulsion growls that were MIDI performed on a sample loop from the same recording that Doc Bot’s main propulsion sound was made from. So we emphasized those layers a lot more in their communicative moments.

So in the end, that’s what we feel. We feel that purring quality, which does make Cybebe very gentle and affectionate.

It was great when that all finally worked. And you can still hear some of the other little sounds on the eye movements, etc., quiet enough to not compete with the dialogue.

Mike Schapiro (sound effects editor) did all the early sounds for Kujaku and in the end, that’s probably 80% of what you hear.

Kujaku was a big challenge because Kujaku was the latest creature to develop visually. Mike Schapiro (sound effects editor) did all the early sounds for Kujaku and in the end, that’s probably 80% of what you hear.

Kujaku has an almost under-sea life-form quality. We wanted it to be wholly different because presumably, Kujaku was a completely new technology. So unlike the others, I didn’t use any of the original sounds and that’s why I handed it to Mike. It was super primitive-looking in pre-viz but I told him to make this thing sound the way it looks, make it something distinctly unrelated.

And in the end, Kujaku is a whole different aesthetic and species – completely untamed, maybe not stooping down to the human level very often. But it’s benevolent towards them.

That was the trick and I think Mike completely got that. Kujaku sometimes sounds a bit irritable and Lana went along with that. As the surface of Kujaku started undulating with all those spectral waves, those colorful ripples that cloak and uncloak, it seemed like a technology that doesn’t exist, that no one’s seen before. I had a lot of fun finding metal sounds that had resonant harmonic sweeps in them, like Waterphone types of things. That was really cool. When I started putting that in, dancing around the vocals, it all came together.

 

MatrixResurrections_sound-13

Let’s talk about the DI people in Io, created using Paramagnetic Oscillation — like how we see Morpheus in Io, and Quillion in the Garden. What went into their sounds and their vocal processing?

DD: I’ll give that over to Steph because in the end, it is all performance.

I have done tons of vocal processing and it is always so hard because the more interesting it sounds, the less discernible the content is. So I left that to Matthias Lempert, the dialogue/music re-recording mixer, and he worked with Steph on developing that as she was constructing both of their lines.

SF: It was a unique challenge that the exo-morphic mouth of these characters is an amorphous opening; it’s not defined. It has no lips. So you don’t have crisp visual lip sync to help you understand what they’re saying. You don’t have visual plosives. So this further limited the amount of processing that could be done on their vocals because we couldn’t afford to sacrifice any articulation. Your brain needs everything available to negotiate it all together.

…the more interesting it sounds, the less discernible the content is.

Dane was going to work on that processing, but had his hands full – overflowing, actually — so Matthias took it on. Dane can talk about the effects and the foley of the movement of all the baubles. It had to be very delicate to be able to tell the physical story and not become too comical and obscure the dialogue.

DD: It had to feel like the sound was generated by 3 million tiny metal balls since there are no vocal cords. We talked about it on the stage, the four of us, about how to give it a metallic resonance, but nothing that would make it cold. These are important characters, especially Morpheus, so it couldn’t be metallic to the point of being mechanical or detached. It had to maintain that warmth. And Morpheus had to still feel very strong. He had to feel very masculine and tough and muscular – powerful intellectually, but also physically.

…it couldn’t be metallic to the point of being mechanical or detached. It had to maintain that warmth.

Matthias and Steph started experimenting with source layers, but in the end, it’s just one track of their dialogue, right Steph? There’s no overlapping, no doubling? It’s just one voice feeding the plugins?

SF: Absolutely. We found that the more we tried to over-complicate it, the further we got away from the objective.

DD: It is tricky. In the past, when creating voices of gods and demons and super-humans and things, I’ve found that overlapping or juxtaposing different performances that are really tightly synced has a very interesting quality to it. But that was not going to work here. So Matthias created sub harmonics that were a little chordal but made it deeper so that it did not take away from his natural vocal warmth or interfere with the clarity.

What he came up with is perfect. You believe that it’s those little balls knocking against each other, and that action, in some way, is creating a sound wave, a perturbation in the air that we hear as dialogue.

It had to be pointillistic; like lots of little dots of sound.

Coming up with the effects had the same challenges; it had to sound like there was no point source. It had to be pointillistic; like lots of little dots of sound. I created all kinds of layers and foley also created a lot of terrific elements to play with. And it was the same challenge because not only was Exo-Morpheus talking through the whole thing (so the sound effects of the body couldn’t get in the way of the vocal clarity) but it had to have a feeling of complexity, potential power, but also be very airy and dispersed. That was very tough for all of us.

Luckily, the foley team came up with this amazing prop sound of little metal or maybe ceramic balls in contact with objects. So when they shake hands or when Exo-Morpheus puts his hands on the railing of the “Rapunzel suite” where Neo is being held captive (this is my favorite sound), you can feel the shape of his fingers, and his palms, and his wrist. It sells it.

And prior to that, you hear tiny waves of 15 or so layers of undulating magnetic and metallic movement in there. It helps you believe that he’s taking shape out of this poured mass of balls. But when he puts his hands on that railing, all of a sudden you believe, in retrospect, all of those movement sounds you just heard. And it makes you accept what you hear when he talks.

 

MatrixResurrections_sound-14

Who was your foley team on this?

DD: Frank Kruse was the foley supervisor.

The entire foley team was in Berlin. It was recorded at Hanse Warns’ facility, Tonstudio Warns. He has this giant ancient building with very thick walls and they just go from room to room, moving the Pro Tools and the mics to whatever room has the appropriate acoustics for the scene and then record foley in that room. That approach was cool and worked very well.

…they just go from room to room, moving the Pro Tools and the mics to whatever room has the appropriate acoustics for the scene…

SF: It gave us a very full naturalness.

DD: The foley artists were Carsten Richter and Daniel Weis, and the foley editor was Kuen-Il Song. That team is brilliant.

SF: Yes. They are fabulous and their work was meticulous and delicate and added great texture and detail to the overall sound. The studio is amazing.

DD: Yeah, it’s a historical structure, originally built in the 1920s, I believe. Hanse was giving us this whole tour and it got to these upstairs rooms. And he said something you don’t hear very often. He said, “Here’s where the bomb came in, over here in this corner. The upper part of this room is much newer.”

SF: It’s a rambling, old brick factory. Beautifully dilapidated.

DD: It all just added to the experience. There’s a certain amount of Berlin history that is being preserved and that made it really fun for us to be over there. We learned a lot of interesting history.

SF: We did most of our post production in Berlin though Dane and I were initially in LA through the first few temp dubs which sometimes required us to work on both LA and Berlin time. So we would be starting as early as 1 AM to be on the mix stage “virtually” and then after the stage wrapped we continue with our regular LA day.

I had to build a German dialogue editing crew — Immo Trümpelmann, Dominik Schleier, Benjamin Hörbe, and Marek Forreiter. And they were brilliant.

We then moved to Berlin and our assistant, Matt Kielkopf, remained in LA. I had to build a German dialogue editing crew — Immo Trümpelmann, Dominik Schleier, Benjamin Hörbe, and Marek Forreiter. And they were brilliant. We continued editing and mixed at Rotor Film at Studio Babelsberg, just outside Berlin. A wonderful place.

DD: Before and after we arrived, Frank was always there on the stage and usually Markus Stemler as well, handling the temps as things came up. They were hugely helpful through the whole process and did amazing work.

Our effects editors in LA all did amazing work as well! I don’t want to leave out Eric Lindemann, Albert Gasser, Laurent Kossayan, and Caron Weidner. The rest of our Dream Team!

 

MatrixResurrections_sound-15

What are you most proud of in terms of sound on Matrix Resurrections?

SF: We’re thrilled to have been artisans in Lana’s atelier again to help make this spectacular work of art.

DD: We’re super happy with how it sounds. It was a challenge on many levels, including the Covid-induced logistics. As a specific category, I’m very proud of the code and how that evolved. But that’s a whole discussion…

In terms of storytelling, the sprinkler fight scene — manipulating that sense of destiny with the sounds — was a big challenge. I got to have the most fun with that. I do a lot with different kinds of reverbs and reversed reverbs and delays. As far as sound story devices, I knew that scene had to be completely different because we had never experienced a push-pull before on Thomas/Neo’s destiny. Since he was not in control of time or space, this was a kind of anti-bullet time. That’s how I looked at it anyway.

For me, I was thinking in terms of the mirror, like Smith and Morpheus were on opposite sides of the mirror of Thomas’s perceptions…

For temp mix one, Bryan had built the whole scene with all the guns and impacts. And when I talked to Lana about it, she emphasized that the scene in Deus Machina “couldn’t get too real.”

That’s a big transition and this is the first time Thomas has a very clear indication that something is not right with his world. For me, I was thinking in terms of the mirror, like Smith and Morpheus were on opposite sides of the mirror of Thomas’s perceptions, so what would that sound like? I thought, well, wouldn’t it be fun if we heard sounds originating and growing into the moment of Thomas’s experience and then ungrowing, retrogressing, back into the primordial swamp of potential destinies? That sounds very wordy, but to me, that’s just a poetic framework to start from.

I started messing around with pitch-ramping a lot of the gun effects to get that feeling of coming into and out of our subjective Thomas’s view. That was fun, but to have it really work, I grabbed the gun stems, as well as individual elements, and started playing with those. I use Serato Pitch ’n Time for most of such things. But magically, when I started tinkering with the Crystallizer plugin, I could see that rather than a gradual ramping into our perception of real-time and a ramping out of it, I could have discrete staggered steps – slapping time segments. It was not smooth like a gradual ramp. And the rhythm of the time steps could play games with the meter of the music to pull everything together. Normally that’s a dangerous game, but in this unique scene, we knew it could work.

I love deconstructing sounds in the time envelope in which the story’s being told. And this was an extreme opportunity to go completely out of my mind.

That was my epiphany. Once I could do that then I started doing it with the bullet impact stems and elements as well. I had a lot of crazy, insane fun. I love deconstructing sounds in the time envelope in which the story’s being told. And this was an extreme opportunity to go completely out of my mind. I built it up and we put it in for the second temp mix, which was a couple of weeks later. Lana completely dug it. So that became a conceptual approach that I used about 10 other times in the movie, in different ways. But that was the key introduction of that concept.

I love that scene. It’s so much fun. It’s visually so amazing and the music is so perfect through there. And I didn’t have to worry about dialogue other than Morpheus shouting, “Neo!!!!” which is at the culmination of all these effects so I made a couple of reverse echoes that all focus into the same point in time as he finishes saying it. That moment is when destiny comes into sync with Morpheus shouting, and from then on, everything seems as if it’s in real time and space, because at that instant — how I see it — Smith is completely in control. So now things happen the way he makes them happen instead of in this deconstructed time fabric.

I’m very proud of how that concept applied to story beats in other scenes.

I’m very proud of that. I’m very proud of how that concept applied to story beats in other scenes. There’s a scene in the factory fight, where Smith is moving in slow motion. On the mix stage, that moment didn’t feel unique enough within the larger scene. Smith is so scarily cool and calm. I had another crazy idea. As Lana was leaving the stage, I asked, “How about if I do something to make this scene section very distinct from the rest of the fight?” And she said, “Let’s hear it!”

That’s all I ever want to hear, those three words: “Let’s hear it!”

But that was a different kind of challenge. By taking all of the stems (each individual effects, foley, and design stem) and keeping pans in place, I did big 7.1 reverse echoes, tight reverse echoes, and then forward echoes on top of those, and then Lars wove that whole fabric through there. It’s a real stack of blurry aural images.

For me, it was like you’re experiencing the fighting in a very time-dislocated way. Every event is this smooth timbre that flows in and out of our experience. I’m really proud of that. It’s subtle, but it’s so cool. When Bugs breaks it, and Neo says, “I still know Kung Fu,” then we had to snap back into more of a linear perceptual time. I love that. I’m so happy I got to mess around in that way.

SF: That’s a beautiful scene. I love that moment.

When we reduced the effects rain it obviously exposed the dripping in the production – too much.

On my side of the console, the scene with Bugs and the Modal Morpheus in Thomas’s modal apartment was filmed with a rain machine on the window. After the first temp, Lana made clear that after establishing the rain, she didn’t want to hear it through the scene. When we reduced the effects rain it obviously exposed the dripping in the production – too much. So we had to clean it without going too far. And that was quite easy to do because the vocal recording was strong and rich.

However, what it meant was that most of the breaths would be eviscerated with the cleanup. They were too low to survive the processing. So I had both actors record a breath pass, with various performances. Breathing is the emotional barometer of that scene, and it’s the through-line, the continuous thread, that carries the tension and the energy and allows us to fall into those characters.

I love the reconstruct on that scene, and of all the work on this film – all the work that had to go into it, with the editorial and Matthias’s mixing, to retain as much production as possible to keep Lana’s vision alive and to honor the emotional authenticity of the original performances.

When I’m cutting, I’m always inside the head of whichever character I’m working on and I end up breathing with them, for them. When an actor’s breaths are a dramatic device, and the microphone hasn’t picked them up, I am propelled out of the moment.

The breaths are like facial expressions, a subtle layer of a performance…

I did a lot of breath work on this film – and all films really. As well as recording sync ADR breaths for particular cues, I also record a slew of different breaths and lipsmacks and efforts at the end of an ADR session to pull from during editing. This gives me such a rich palette. I just add it so that it’s all very nuanced and at the edge of perception. It draws the audience in and you need it, especially in this scene because there’s so much anticipation and energy. It just connects the whole performance and allows the audience to move through that energy and anticipation. They can be breathing with them.

The breaths are like facial expressions, a subtle layer of a performance; how somebody breathes really is a great indicator of what’s going on emotionally inside their head. Are they relaxed? Are they agitated? Are they frustrated? Breaths are their own language.

DD: One of the things that I love about working with Steph is that she is a master painter with the palette of breaths. I’ve never worked with anyone that is as sensitive to that kind of nuance. It is amazing what it adds to the performance, to the power of the story. She’s the Breath Queen.

One of the things that I love about working with Steph is that she is a master painter with the palette of breaths.

Because Steph and I supervise together, we are each other’s first and most critical audience. That’s part of what makes the process work. When I build a scene, like my first prototype for the sprinkler scene, I show it to Steph and see what her reaction is because she’s also inside the story and anything that takes her out isn’t going to work. We have a lot of fun and I love hearing Steph’s vocal constructions. She’ll ask me if a Frankenstein of some words sounds natural. We rely on each other’s objectivity and honesty.

SF: Absolutely. In the cutting room and on the stage, Dane is always my litmus test. I’ll ask him to listen to something I have cut and quite often he doesn’t know what he’s listening for. I don’t necessarily tell him because I want him to identify where it’s jarring, where he’s taken out, and what isn’t working and so I rely on his input and his aesthetic very much.

DD: And Steph used to cut sound effects, too. She comes from an effects background. She understands that aspect of the storytelling. And I’ve mixed enough small movies to really hear dialogue, even when I’m trying not to focus on it.

We’re always trying to get as much relevant detail into that frame as the story needs…

SF: We don’t compete with each other and we don’t compete between our areas of responsibility. We’re a cohesive unit, a supportive unit. It’s about how we can do our best work, to make the best film. Instead of, “Hey, I’ve got dialogue here. This is annoying. Can you just take that other noise away?” It’s more like, “Okay, how can we make this work with the dialogue?”

We’re always trying to get as much relevant detail into that frame as the story needs, to make it as rich as possible. It’s like a painting, really. How can you include what you need to get in there so the audience can focus on what matters to follow and experience the moment? It’s not cluttered. Everything has a place and a value.

DD: And if it doesn’t, broom it.

SF: If you hear it in the movie, we must be proud of it!

 

A big thanks to Dane Davis and Steph Flack for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the sound of Matrix Resurrections and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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  • Presenting the most malfunctioning, dirty old gritty sounding engine failure library out there

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  • The Drawers & Cupboards SFX library is an essential collection for professionals seeking high-quality sound effects for their projects. This library features 63 meticulously recorded sounds of opening, closing, and rummaging through cupboards and drawers, making it perfect for game developers, animators, and filmmakers.

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    I’ll miss that car a lot, but at least I got some great recordings out of it! I hope you find them useful.


   

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