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Creating the sound of 'Green Lantern'

June 24, 2011
Creating the sound of 'Green Lantern'

HOLLYWOOD — Warner Bros. Pictures’ summer action adventure Green Lantern brings the popular comic book hero to the big screen for the first time. Directed by Martin Campbell and starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard and Mark Strong, the film serves up the tale of a cocky test pilot who comes into possession of a ring that gives him super powers and sweeps him into an intergalactic conflict threatening the Earth.

For the sound team at Soundelux (www.soundelux.com), Green Lantern posed a number of significant challenges. Academy Award-winning supervising sound editors Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers led the team and were challenged with augmenting the film’s many spectacular visual effects sequences, including several titanic battles between the film’s lead, who has the ability to create anything he sees in his mind, his nemesis, Hector Hammond, and a mysterious, malevolent force known as Parallax.

“This film was quite busy and there were a lot of things to attack,” recalls Hallberg. “One thing that the director was clear about — and we had the same feeling — was that it couldn’t be a crowded track with too much all at the same time. We had to pick what was important and what would make it through.

“You might have a spaceship with a monster-like alien in it, music playing full tilt, and everything blowing up or falling apart all at once. We quickly came to the simple realization that if we tried to cover everything, we would not hear any of it. So we worked to create a track that was really clear, really sharp and detailed. It was a great accomplishment.”

Additionally, Hallberg, Baker Landers and their team were tasked with creating soundscapes for several alien planets featured in the film. “The different planets needed a tonality that separated them and made it feel as though you are not on Earth,” Hallberg explains. “That was achieved through tonality and things in the background. On Earth, we have car-bys, but on Oa, they don’t have cars, they have flying vehicles, so we created fly-bys with very different tonal sounds — there is a beauty to it.”

The film’s sound is also used to reinforce one of its principal themes: the struggle between willpower and fear. The force of willpower is represented by the fantastic green emanations that spring from Green Lantern’s ring, while “fear” is associated with the shape-shifting Parallax.

“Willpower has a comforting sound,” Hallberg notes, “and it is incorporated into everything Green Lantern does, when he uses the power of will as a weapon, or when he creates a ‘construct’: he thinks about a sword or a gun and suddenly it’s in his hand. He uses his power in many different ways, but the feel of the sound had to be similar in every case so that we recognize it.

“On the flip side, the power of fear is sharper and edgier. It needed to be reflected in the things Hector Hammond does and in Parallax, whose sound is created by the thousands of souls captured inside it. The director described it as thousands of people with emphysema.”

Baker Landers noted that the sound of the green energy was multi-layered. “We needed to find something that we could add to, because the green energy needed to grow as the character grows,” she notes. “We used electrical sounds, wind, musical sounds, things that shifted in pitch — and some vocals.”

For Baker Landers, the most difficult sound was one associated with Green Lantern’s ring. “The ring communicates. It transfers information and makes a sound when it does that,” she explains. “And we worked very hard to get the ring to sound a certain way. We looked at about 1,200 effects and listened for hours. We initially approached it logically, but ultimately it came down to a feel. It had to feel big and it had to feel powerful, and it had to change each time you saw it because the message it communicated was different.

“The missing ingredient that ended up helping us achieve the effect we wanted was a low-end whamp. That gave it the power that it needed.”

At its peak, the sound crew numbered more than 20 people and coordinating their efforts posed a logistical challenge for Hallberg and Baker Landers. “As supervisors, we have to keep the whole story in our minds to ensure everything makes sense and is working together,” Baker Landers explains. “We had an amazing crew who were all seasoned veterans. They were fantastic.”