Behind the sound for Westworld Asbjoern Andersen


Excitement for ‘Westworld’ – HBO’s new sci-fi / western (!) series – is booming, and for good reason: It’s spectacular, and viewers as well as reviewers are loving it. This exclusive A Sound Effect story, told by Emmy-winning supervising sound editor Thomas deGorter, takes you behind the sound for the series:


Written by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of HBO / John P Johnson and Tom deGroter



 

Video Thumbnail

The teaser trailer for Westworld

c
 

HBO’s new series Westworld, airing on Sundays at 9pm, melds a world of futuristic technology with the dusty grind of the wild west. Westworld is essentially a ‘theme’ park where guests can fulfill their dark fantasies without fear of retribution, because the guests are interacting with sophisticated artificial lifeforms and not real humans.

Series co-creator Jonathan Nolan, who co-wrote The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, based the Westworld series on Michael Crichton’s identically named 1973 film. Annalee Newitz’s Decrypted podcast offers an insightful breakdown of the Westworld milieu — the park world of the robot hosts and behind-the-scenes in the elaborate inner-workings of the high-tech laboratory where Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and his team fabricate this intricate, immersive park experience.

Emmy-winning supervising sound editor Thomas deGorter, at Atomic Sound Post Production in Burbank, CA, says, “Westworld is a sound person’s dream show because it is a western and it’s sci-fi. We get to mix these two worlds in the same project. We get to go as far as we can and just have a ball with it.”

Westworld is a sound person’s dream show because it is a western and it’s sci-fi

His sound team includes sound designer Mark Allen, and sound effects editor Marc Glassman. DeGorter, who has worked on sci-fi/fantasy series like Lost and Once Upon a Time, shares with us his Westworld sound experience.


Supervising sound editor Tom deGroter

Supervising sound editor Tom deGroter


 

How did you get involved with Westworld?

I got involved with Westworld because of my relationship with Jonathan Nolan on Person of Interest. And I’ve had a long relationship with the production company, Bad Robot, having done shows like Lost and Alias. Person of Interest was a Bad Robot production so I was able to meet Jonathan Nolan and that’s where our relationship started.
 

You’re no stranger to sci-fi/fantasy series, having worked on The Leftovers, Lost, and Once Upon a Time, where you got to explore worlds beyond our own reality. How have those experiences prepared you for Westworld?

Every one of those shows was different in its own way, but the one common thread that runs through them all is that they wanted a real feeling to the show.

We wanted the sound to feel grounded and real

They didn’t want anything too sci-fi, too over the top. We wanted the sound to feel grounded and real. And that idea also carries over into Westworld.
 

This series is inspired by the 1973 film, Westworld. Did that film have any influence on your sound for the series?

Not really. We wanted a clean slate. We had to create a whole new world and we wanted it to be all fresh and new.

Video Thumbnail

The original trailer for the 1973 Westworld film


 

Workflow – did you get all the episodes at once to work on, or were they delivered weekly?

The episodes are delivered on a weekly basis. It’s an ongoing process where we are constantly getting picture changes. We are working on each show individually, but we really have to pay attention to the reoccurring scenes throughout the series. So we have these robots in the western world, called hosts, and they’re on a loop. They live a certain life, and they do certain activities, but these things will be similar from day-to-day. But however, based on how the guests interact with these hosts, their routine will slightly change. So we have to keep everything consistent, and this happens over the course of the entire season. We have to revert back to those episodes, see what the action was, and reference back to that.
 

Have you devised a way to do that efficiently?

My sound designers Mark Allen and Marc Glassman have built these reoccurring scenes as one huge session. This way they can go back and see how they did that scene, bring that into the new episode, and tweak it. We keep things consistent to a point and then vary them ever so slightly. It’s a very efficient way of handling that.

What are some challenges for sound design on this show? How did you and your team handle them?

The main sound design challenge of the show is that we have a future world, and for that, we didn’t want it to sound cheesy. We wanted to keep it real and not sound like the typical science fiction show.

The main sound design challenge of the show is that we have a future world, and for that, we didn’t want it to sound cheesy

It needs to have a realistic feel, and not go over the top. It took a little bit of experimentation to find that balance. With every episode, we do change things slightly. There will be a new wrinkle that gets thrown into it, but for the most part, we wanted to keep it believable.
 

Dr Ford from Westworld

You have two disparate worlds in the series — the western world inside the ‘experience’ and then the sterile glass-and-steel laboratory world of ‘reality.’ How did you design those two worlds? What are some sounds that populate those different worlds?

Designing the two different worlds was pretty straightforward. As far as the western part of the world, it’s very gritty, with old cowboy dirt and grime. You have horses, and carts, and blacksmiths, and those types of things. While in the laboratory, the environment is very sterile. We wanted to keep it clean, just using light ambiences. We didn’t overload the show. In fact, when we are in the western world it’s much noisier and grittier than when we get into the inner workings of the park. For that space, we really wanted to keep it nice and clean and quiet.
 

How about processing for these two worlds? It seems that reverbs or any other processing/filtering on ‘reality’ would be very clean, and bright. While the reverbs, processing/filtering on the western world would be warm, and maybe a bit dirty? What was your approach there? And what are some of your go-to tools for processing/filtering on this show?

My sound designer Mark Allen says one of the main tools that he used for the laboratory reverb was Audio Ease’s Altiverb, which is a convolution reverb. Our effects mixer, Scott Weber, uses other reverbs on the stage. But here, we tend to use Altiverb for our design. It comes with some very unusual reverbs, for example, sometimes we will use the ‘trashcan’ or ‘vacuum cleaner’ presets to give an ordinary sound a more distinct sound. But when we are out in the western world, the reverbs are more natural.
So we tend to choose sounds that have a more natural roomy tone that’s appropriate for that scene. Instead of doing anything artificially with plug-ins or processing, we try to find a sound that fits the space on-screen. We accomplish this through field recordings — recording the sounds ourselves and not miking them too close. We want to get a little air so that the sounds feel real.
 


Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
  • Ultra High-Res Binaural QuadCopter Drone Flight Sound FX Elements

    Quadcopter Drone Flight in Binaural shows off these buzzing electronics from near and far captured with a precision microphone as well as a binaural stereo microphone system. You’ll get that hair raising ASMR tingle on the back of your neck as you feel the wind from the drone pass-by from left to right in this very unique drone flight recording. Recorded in ultra-high resolution of 192kHz / 24-Bit, you’re sure to have the highest quality drone recordings ever captured.

    25 %
    OFF
    Ends 1592517599
    Add to cart
  • A boutique sound library of indoor tennis stadium crowds.

    The recordings include:
    – Crowd cheers with low, medium and high energy.
    – Clapping and vocal reactions to the match
    – Atmosphere/Backgrounds of the game

    Total duration of 52 minutes 18 seconds and all files are meta tagged.

    Add to cart
  • Environments Nature & Weather Environments Play Track 60 sounds included, 173 mins total $149.99 $104.99

    Immerse your audience into realistic NATURE settings of the highest quality! This audio library offers you hours of different background ambiences, including:

    • Fields & Grasslands
    • Lakes, Rivers, & Waterfalls
    • Deserts & Wastelands
    • Jungles, Forests, & Swamps
    • Lightning, Thunder, Hurricanes, Typhoons & Rain Storms
    • Underwater
    • Beaches, Oceans, & Islands
    • Insects
    • Heavy Wind & Snow…

    …and much much more!

    NATURE & WEATHER ENVIRONMENTS is the perfect choice to transport your players or users to any natural environment around the Earth you require!

    GET IT NOW to 100% immerse your users into perfect scenes and settings!

    EXPLORE the EARTH’S ENVIRONMENTS
    Whether your adventure takes place on in the GRASSLANDS, COUNTRYSIDE, FOREST, JUNGLE, BEACH, ISLAND, or DESERT WASTELAND, we’ve got you covered! Each ambience contains MULTIPLE VARIATIONS & WEATHER CONDITIONS, and MULTIPLE INTENSITIES to cover each and every setting. This sound effects library is perfect for any environment on Earth you can imagine.

    MULTIPLE CHOICES for a PERFECT FIT
    Our expert team of sound designers have meticulously crafted each ambience into CONTINUOUS, NON-REPETITIVE, DRAG AND DROP-READY LOOPS that will serve as perfect background audio for your game, film, animation, live event, or even as relaxing background audio! We have even included FULL and SIMPLIFIED MIXES, SHORT and LONG non-repetitive variants, multiple choices for INTENSITIES, and numerous other options for your convenience!

    30 %
    OFF
    Ends 1592431199
    Add to cart
  • There is simple two step process to download this library.

    The following is a 17 foot Medium engine boat single license sound effects library with Metadata (6.4 GB compressed .zip file, 8.5 gb Uncompressed wave files).

    This boat has a 2004 Mercury 90 horse power, in line 3, 2 stroke motor. All 53 wave files were captured in 32 Bit, 96 kHz. External sounds are in stereo. Onboard sounds are in 4 separate mono wave files. drag & drop or import each of the files into your audio editing software, then align them for creative mixing. There are also stereo mix versions of the OnBoard recordings. The combined recorded time is 74 minutes long.

    Onboard Settings:

    Channel 1 – Helm Port Side
    Channel 2 – Helm Starboard Side
    Channel 3 – Stern Port Side (next to motor)
    Channel 4 – Stern Starboard Side (Next to Motor)

    Notes: If you need specific shots of this boat, Watson is available for hire to re- record this or similar sounding watercraft.

    Definitions

    OnBoard = Recording perspectives on and in the watercraft

    External = Recording perspective from bystander view

    Helm = where the captain operatives the watercraft
    Bow = front of the watercraft (more cutting through water and bounce sounds) stern = back of the watercraft (mixed of motor & water churning sounds)
    Port side = left side of the watercraft
    Starboard side = right side of the watercraft

    Special thanks to Captain Nelson Italiano!!

    Add to cart
  • 6 men were recorded to create this unique sound library. With various breath emotion, speed, and intensity.

    Great malleable source material, recorded from up-close in 192KHz with high-end microphone in an acoustically controlled space.

    52 %
    OFF
    Ends 1591739999
    Add to cart


Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

So you got to do field recordings for the series? Where did you go, what did you capture, and how did you capture it?

We went to the Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita, CA, where they were shooting the series and we were able to record a lot of practical effects, like various doors, blacksmith hammering, people walking up and down the wooden boardwalk, et cetera. One thing that was really interesting in the show was this player piano and we were able to go and record the actual player piano and all the inner workings of it. That made for a nice, authentic piece of sound.
 

What was your field recording kit like?

We used Sanken CS-3 shotgun mic, as well as Sanken CSS-5 stereo mic. We recorded onto a 4-channel Edirol recorder. We wanted it to be really straightforward miking. For the player piano, we were able to get the mics right up into the inner workings and mechanicals of it. That made for a very fun, real element for the show.


Robot Maintenance

The park is closed for a little robot removal

You have this great sci-fi element in the series; essentially they’re making artificial life forms in this high-tech lab. What are some of your favorite science-esk sounds for the show? How did you create them?

As for the sci-fi sounds, the manufacturing of the robots is one of my favorite things. Most of the time the robots are being made off-screen, while dialogue is happening. Part of the challenge in designing that sound was creating a sound that could sit between the dialogue. A good example is when our character Dr. Ford (played by Anthony Hopkins) is talking to Bernard (played by Jefferey Wright), in Manufacturing. We had to create the idea that the robots are being manufactured all around you.

We used the sound of wet paint, oatmeal, and mud mixed together for the vat in which the hosts are dipped

Visually, we have lights flashing on and off off-stage. So we had to create a sound that was quiet enough to let the dialogue be heard between the characters. We used the sound of wet paint, oatmeal, and mud mixed together for the vat in which the hosts are dipped. The fluid in the vat builds a skin around them. We also used explosions, microphone taps, electrical arcing, and other sounds like that. Mark [Allen] manipulated the sounds by pitching and reversing them. We wanted to create an interesting sound that wouldn’t overwhelm the scene.

Another example of a sound design challenge for the show was creating the sound of the character Old Bill. Old Bill is an antiquated robot that Dr. Ford created when he first built the park. Old Bill has a more primitive technology due to his old age. This challenge ended up being very difficult. After many attempts we ended up using adding machines, clocks, and old typewriters synced to Old Bill’s movements. The sounds were manipulated with iZotope’s RX 5 primarily to remove artifacts, such as the ring of bells on the clock chiming, just leaving us with the whirring sound of the clock mechanism. So that made the sound for this antique robot’s movements, to make it feel like he’s moving with this servo-clicking sound.
 

After many attempts we ended up using adding machines, clocks, and old typewriters synced to Old Bill’s movements

What’s one audio tool you couldn’t live without on Westworld? Can you give some specific examples of how you used it?

Mark used a number of plug-ins but really Pro Tools and Soundminer were indispensable. While Soundminer is mostly known as a sound effects database program, it’s also a very handy design tool. Soundminer has a built-in VST rack where you can stack effects plug-ins, to pitch, and effect, and loop sounds in real-time while recording your performances in the background. There were many sound effects in Westworld that were created this way. It’s very quick and handy. Some of his go-to processing tools are iZotope’s RX 5, Serato’s Pitch n’ Time, Audio Ease’s Altiverb, Eventide’s H3000, and Soundtoy’s FilterFreak and EchoBoy plug-ins.

For me, I use a lot of iZotope, Pitch n’ Time, and VocALign by Synchro Arts.

western sounds
 

Any highlights in regards to Foley?

The Foley is handled by Geordy Sincavage at Sinc Sound. He’s been working with me since Lost. I really love working with him. The Foley was pretty straightforward but it was also a lot of creative, fun stuff that we get to do. Because this is a western, everything is so tactile and real. We wanted the Foley in the park to feel as if the props were manufactured in a time where production tolerances were not very precise, so everything is a little bit heavier, a little bit clunkier. ‘Grit’ seems to be the word of the day. That pretty much describes the whole feel of the park and how we want it to be.

In terms of weapons sounds and Foley, we aimed to make things sound bigger than they are. In one scene for example we have a Gatling gun. The mechanism of the Gatling gun had to sound big, and nasty, and not smooth and pretty.

In terms of weapons sounds and Foley, we aimed to make things sound bigger than they are

The mechanisms did not move as smoothly, and so we wanted to carry that same feeling into the weapons. Everything sounds a little bigger and clunkier than you think they would. The firing of the gun was done with sound effects, by Mark Allen, and Foley was used to sweeten various elements like the cranks, and the shells dropping out. We actually went with bigger shells then would’ve normally been in that gun just to give it a little bit bigger sound. There’s also the main villain, played by Ed Harris. He is this big, mysterious guy and he has this big, mysterious handgun. It’s a unique Civil War pistol called a LeMat. It’s a very large handgun with a shotgun shell in the center. We needed a big, boomy sounding gun because he is this very menacing guy. So we were able to have some fun with that.
 

A big thanks to Thomas deGorter and his sound team for the Westworld sound story, and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

Please share this:


 


 
 
THE WORLD’S EASIEST WAY TO GET INDEPENDENT SOUND EFFECTS:
 
A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement - a few highlights:
 
 
  • Genres Vintage Anime SFX Play Track 350+ sounds included $69

    The Vintage Anime Sound Effects Library brings all of the excitement of your favorite Japanese animated series to your fingertips. Inspired by classic cartoons from the 80’s and 90’s, these recognizable and versatile sounds will instantly enhance any FX collection. Vintage synths were used to create the auras, beams, mecha blasters, atmospheres, magic spells, guns, sonic blasts and explosives that makeup this pack of over 350+ custom 24bit/96khz .WAV files. Perfect for film, video games, podcasts and any project that could benefit from a power up!

    Both designed sounds and source recordings:
    • Classic anime sfx from the 80’s and 90’s

    • Auras, mecha, beams, blasters, spells, explosives and more! 350+ sounds!

    • Tons of source material for experimentation

    • Expert crafted metadata

    • Vintage Anime PDF

    Add to cart
  • Water & Oceans Tropical Oceans Play Track 44+ sounds included, 218 mins total $50

    in stereo, binaural, ambisonics (incl. 5.1 surround )

    11.88 GB of original sounds, 26.55 GB with the encoded ambisonic files in 5.1 and stereo included

    • rough & authentic recordings in remote locations
    • 99.9% free of any human-made noise
    • immersive & suitable for VR productions and mobile applications
    • real binaural and ambisonics recordings
    • clean edited, but not designed
    • including long takes >20 minutes with a lot of sounds for further editing and looping
    • with beach atmospheres, pure waves, and tropical wildlife
    • incl. seamless loops
    • metadata added
    • incl.. 5.1 surround & stereo versions of the ambisonics B-Format AmbiX files for instant use
    • captured during three recording expeditions over the past five years in Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia
    • Microphones: 2xDPA 4060, Sennheiser Ambeo, H2a-XLR hydrophones

     

    Add to cart
  • Game Audio Packs Gamemaster Pro Sound Collection Play Track 8076 sounds included, 189 mins total $49

    Pro Sound Collection is the highest quality and most affordable sound library you will find. The ultimate collection of 8076 ready to use sound effects!!!

    This is the perfect collection of sounds for all types of sound designers, game developers and video editors who need a large range of high quality sound effects ready to use. Designed specifically for games, film and other media by award winning sound designers.

    What’s included? EVERY sound Gamemaster Audio ever made! ALL our other other sound libraries (plus other sounds) have been packed into in this amazing sound collection.

    Pro Sound Collection Includes:
    Fun Animal Voices $25
    Explosion Sound Pack $10
    Footstep and Foley Sounds $10
    Fun Casual Sounds $15
    Fun Character Voices $10
    Gun Sound Pack $19
    Guns, Bullets and Explosions $35
    Human Vocalizations $25
    Magic and Spell Sounds $25
    Punch and Combat Sounds $29
    Retro 8 Bit Sounds $15
    Sci-Fi Sounds and Sci-Fi Weapons $25
    Silenced Gun Sounds $25
    Troll Monster Vocalizations $10

    Total value $278!!!

    Sound Categories:

    • Alarms • Ambience • Animals • Beeps • Bullets • Buttons • Cartoon • Cinematic • Collectibles • Comedy • Doors • Electricity • Explosions • Fire • Foley • Footsteps • Guns • Hums • Items • Levers • Magic • Misc. • Nature • Powerups • Punches • Retro/8Bit • Sci-Fi • Snow / Ice • Switches • User Interface • Voice • Water • Weapons • Whooshes + MANY MORE!

    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Ultra High-Res Binaural QuadCopter Drone Flight Sound FX Elements

    Quadcopter Drone Flight in Binaural shows off these buzzing electronics from near and far captured with a precision microphone as well as a binaural stereo microphone system. You’ll get that hair raising ASMR tingle on the back of your neck as you feel the wind from the drone pass-by from left to right in this very unique drone flight recording. Recorded in ultra-high resolution of 192kHz / 24-Bit, you’re sure to have the highest quality drone recordings ever captured.

    25 %
    OFF
    Ends 1592517599
  • A boutique sound library of indoor tennis stadium crowds.

    The recordings include:
    – Crowd cheers with low, medium and high energy.
    – Clapping and vocal reactions to the match
    – Atmosphere/Backgrounds of the game

    Total duration of 52 minutes 18 seconds and all files are meta tagged.

  • Environments Nature & Weather Environments Play Track 60 sounds included, 173 mins total $149.99 $104.99

    Immerse your audience into realistic NATURE settings of the highest quality! This audio library offers you hours of different background ambiences, including:

    • Fields & Grasslands
    • Lakes, Rivers, & Waterfalls
    • Deserts & Wastelands
    • Jungles, Forests, & Swamps
    • Lightning, Thunder, Hurricanes, Typhoons & Rain Storms
    • Underwater
    • Beaches, Oceans, & Islands
    • Insects
    • Heavy Wind & Snow…

    …and much much more!

    NATURE & WEATHER ENVIRONMENTS is the perfect choice to transport your players or users to any natural environment around the Earth you require!

    GET IT NOW to 100% immerse your users into perfect scenes and settings!

    EXPLORE the EARTH’S ENVIRONMENTS
    Whether your adventure takes place on in the GRASSLANDS, COUNTRYSIDE, FOREST, JUNGLE, BEACH, ISLAND, or DESERT WASTELAND, we’ve got you covered! Each ambience contains MULTIPLE VARIATIONS & WEATHER CONDITIONS, and MULTIPLE INTENSITIES to cover each and every setting. This sound effects library is perfect for any environment on Earth you can imagine.

    MULTIPLE CHOICES for a PERFECT FIT
    Our expert team of sound designers have meticulously crafted each ambience into CONTINUOUS, NON-REPETITIVE, DRAG AND DROP-READY LOOPS that will serve as perfect background audio for your game, film, animation, live event, or even as relaxing background audio! We have even included FULL and SIMPLIFIED MIXES, SHORT and LONG non-repetitive variants, multiple choices for INTENSITIES, and numerous other options for your convenience!

    30 %
    OFF
    Ends 1592431199
  • There is simple two step process to download this library.

    The following is a 17 foot Medium engine boat single license sound effects library with Metadata (6.4 GB compressed .zip file, 8.5 gb Uncompressed wave files).

    This boat has a 2004 Mercury 90 horse power, in line 3, 2 stroke motor. All 53 wave files were captured in 32 Bit, 96 kHz. External sounds are in stereo. Onboard sounds are in 4 separate mono wave files. drag & drop or import each of the files into your audio editing software, then align them for creative mixing. There are also stereo mix versions of the OnBoard recordings. The combined recorded time is 74 minutes long.

    Onboard Settings:

    Channel 1 – Helm Port Side
    Channel 2 – Helm Starboard Side
    Channel 3 – Stern Port Side (next to motor)
    Channel 4 – Stern Starboard Side (Next to Motor)

    Notes: If you need specific shots of this boat, Watson is available for hire to re- record this or similar sounding watercraft.

    Definitions

    OnBoard = Recording perspectives on and in the watercraft

    External = Recording perspective from bystander view

    Helm = where the captain operatives the watercraft
    Bow = front of the watercraft (more cutting through water and bounce sounds) stern = back of the watercraft (mixed of motor & water churning sounds)
    Port side = left side of the watercraft
    Starboard side = right side of the watercraft

    Special thanks to Captain Nelson Italiano!!

  • 6 men were recorded to create this unique sound library. With various breath emotion, speed, and intensity.

    Great malleable source material, recorded from up-close in 192KHz with high-end microphone in an acoustically controlled space.

    52 %
    OFF
    Ends 1591739999
 
FOLLOW OR SUBSCRIBE FOR THE LATEST IN FANTASTIC SOUND:
 
                              
 
GET THE MUCH-LOVED A SOUND EFFECT NEWSLETTER:
 
The A Sound Effect newsletter gets you a wealth of exclusive stories and insights
+ free sounds with every issue:
 
Subscribe here for free SFX with every issue

4 thoughts on “How the futuristic, gritty sound of ‘Westworld’ is made:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.