Post Magazine

March 2011

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sound artists were able to say, ‘Ok, this is a punch to the face, and within that punch we have a base layer sound,’ but then there are probably 10 to 20 sweet- eners that they can choose, give it more bone, crunch or growl, that says to the viewer,‘Without knowing it, you threw a heavier punch, because it had more low end to it, as opposed to a high-end punch that was just a jab.’” The team referenced Rocky (“A good target because it was pretty over-the- top arcade-style,” says Ouano); Ali (“Really good, hyper-realistic reality, but amped up just a bit.”); and Raging Bull (“Excellent in terms of giving us creative ideas, like ‘Did you hear that train sound in there?’ Or, ‘Let’s use organic sounds like a growl.’”). So the goal was to blend all three, and that’s the challenge of the artists, and nothing pleases them more than fulfilling that vision.” EPIC MICKEY Some might consider a gritty, dark version of Mickey Mouse a national sacrilege, but that was the challenge Disney presented in a phone call one day to Soundelux’s ( super- vising editor, Scott Gershin. “We had worked with Martin Galway on numerous projects over the years, and he knew about previous work on Disney movies such as Pocahontas,Tarzan, Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mulan, so we'd already lived and created within the Disney para- digm, and had a feel for their aesthetics. So he asked us if we'd be interested in dealing and mixing a number of cinematics for Dis- ney's Epic Mickey.When I saw it I was blown away and said,‘Yes!’” The sound design for Epic Mickey, an open-ended platform game where Mickey Mouse negotiates his way through a harrowing netherworld while combating antagonists with a magic paintbrush, began in spurts.“My crew and I worked with Martin and Disney in Austin for close to six months, on and off. For the first of the three cinematics, the ‘intro,’ we wanted to set a tone for the following movies to come, to give this game its own character while paying homage to Disney classics. For the ‘outro’ cinematic,we had multiple endings based on if the player succeeded or not, which had its own unique tones, especially if you didn't succeed.We found we all shared a similar creative approach, and it was a great relationship.” Gershin, a Berklee grad, got his first positive impression about the project the minute he listened to Jim Dooley’s soundtrack.“When I first heard the musical soundtrack, I thought they had taken old Disney music and edited it in. I was told that it wasn't prerecorded material, it was all brand-new music by Jim Dooley, and I told them, this music is amazing... pure classic Disney. I received music stems from Jim and enhanced it to really play theatrically with the sound design and dialogue in a multi-channel and stereo environment. It was a joy to design against and mix to.” But this classic Disney had to be tempered by new Mickey’s more mischie- vous side, not an easy task without references to draw from. “This is a darker version of Mickey, especially the outro movie if you don't succeed in the game,” explains Gershin.“This was a slightly new take on something classic and we needed to be sensitive and careful — we knew it had to be fun, a little dark, but not too dark. It has to play well for adults, teenagers and kids. Not too goofy, not too corny, not too cartoony.A fine line that the audience will ac- cept and enjoy. I try to give each of these projects its own voice, but because we're dealing with Mickey, the icon of Disney, [as well as] Oswald the rabbit, we wanted to pay homage to classic Disney, and find that line between some- thing old and something new.” What Gershin wanted to avoid was any sound that smacked of Hanna-Bar- bera,Warner Bros., or anything similarly cartoony.“We wanted to look back at what Disney did sonically, and to go in that style, but also at the same time do something that was contemporary that wasn’t merely a throwback, we wanted to reference the old times and put a new flair to it.” For this new flair, Gershin referenced what Disney had been doing recently with Pixar, and then looked to the choices made in classic Disney films. “Our biggest challenge was not making this sound like another videogame or an aggressive com- bat game,” he says.“We wanted to create a theatrical, cinematic experience on the Wii, both the two-channel version and the 5.1 version, that transported players back to when they were kids watching Mickey Mouse movies for the first time, or, as in the case of my 7-year-old son, experiencing Mickey Mouse for the first time in an interactive medium that is a contemporary form of entertainment.” Gershin says,working on this project was like being in a band,“finding that right balance and the right tempo when you're in the pocket; that's what we needed to do, to find out what that pocket was. I'm a huge Disney fan, and I've watched them all, and I kept thinking ,‘God this is fun.’” The project just won Soundelux a Golden Reel award from the MPSE. CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS When Activision’s war-themed Call of Duty: Black Ops grossed $360 million 24 hours after it hit the market in November of 2010, the game’s composer Sean Mur- Soundelux’s Scott Gershin: Straddling the sounds of the present and past for Disney’s Epic Mickey. ray ( was not alone in being flabbergasted. After five days, the tally reached $650 million; after three weeks it hit a billion and shattered all records.“Then I stopped counting,” says Murray.“It was mind-boggling.” His career had already been on an upward swing since scoring Call of Duty 5: World at War. “It’s put me in a different league of composers than where I was,” he says.“I couldn’t have asked for anything better to happen to my career.” While World at War — scored with an 80-piece orchestra in Prague — evoked the bombast and fear of American soldiers fighting in Okinawa and Ger- many in World War II, Black Ops changed the mission. “We’re following a main character who is a CIA operative who’s been through some very interesting training techniques — brainwashing, basically,” says Murray.“So my goal was to translate his frame of mind, his confusion over what happened to him in CIA training. I also had to approach it from the Russian per- spective, since we’re dealing with a character from World at War,Viktor Reznov, so I had his state of mind to play with musically.” Murray’s main challenge was to evoke stealth and surprise attacks, the sound of being invisible and remaining in the shadows.“So I had to really bring in some power that translated that, but I also wanted to experiment musically. In preparation for scoring, Murray listened to iconic Cold War composers like Gyorgy Ligeti (2001:A Space Odyssey), a product of the Hungarian avant garde, and an American Jacob Druckman.“Druckman was a very powerful orchestral composer, hugely bombastic but interesting, sort of influenced by Stravinsky. I im- mersed myself in this Cold War music that was instilled with paranoia and thoughts of nuclear annihilation. It was imperative for me to get across not only power and being a bad-ass, but also paranoia.” To evoke paranoia musically, Murray used an array of string techniques.“String effect techniques are always a great way to achieve agitation and unease,” he says. “And using harmonic bends, different harmonic clusters and structures where you’re slowly bending them away from each other, that creates a lot of tension.” Murray also realized tension with percussive techniques.“On the end of a stick you have a super ball and when you drag that across a gong, you get the strangest, March 2011 • Post 31

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