Audio: 'Crimson Peak'
Issue: October 1, 2015

Audio: 'Crimson Peak'

Over the course of his career, sound designer Randy Thom, at Skywalker Sound in Marin County, CA (, says he’s been lucky to work with a few directors who really respect sound as a collaborator, but none so much as director Guillermo del Toro. Thom, who likes getting involved as early as possible on a film, visited director del Toro on-set during the filming of Crimson Peak, a supernatural horror romance film about young horror novelist Edith Cushing (played by Mia Wasikowska), who moves into her new husband’s dilapidated, and exceptionally haunted mansion.

Thom notes that during his visit to the set, director del Toro was shooting a scene with actress Wasikowska in which her character is alone in her room and senses a ghost in the house. Between takes, Thom suggested to del Toro that if Wasikowska pressed her ear against the door or a wall, it might help put the audience even more into her point of view. “It blew my mind when he said, ‘Absolutely; let’s do it,’” says Thom. “It almost never happens that a director would be influenced by a sound suggestion to set up an entirely-new shot. That is how much Guillermo [del Toro] respects sound’s power in storytelling.”

Crimson Peak, distributed by Universal Studios, is set in the Victorian-era. It’s a combination of a period film and a horror flick, two aspects that meld beautifully together. “Let’s face it, there was a lot of creepiness about the Victorian period! All kinds of repressed urges are bound to explode to the surface eventually. It was also an age of great discoveries in science, and a blossoming of various kinds of mysticism,” says Thom. “People relate to sound in primal, emotional ways, so it was up to us to design a sonic landscape that reflected all of the tumult of that era.” 

Director del Toro wanted Crimson Peak to sound organic, real and completely terrifying. One of the biggest sound design challenges was creating the haunted mansion, known as Allerdale Hale, located in a remote section of North England. “The house had to sound like a living thing, a very unhappy living thing, and we went to extraordinary lengths to make that happen, including collecting thousands of recordings of winds moaning through structures of various kinds, like, creaking wooden structures,” says Thom.

To create believable ghost sounds, Thom and the Skywalker post sound team focused on their breathing. “The sound of breathing is incredibly important for almost any “creature” character, including ghosts,” explains Thom. “We (humans) relate to the sound of breathing in primal, visceral, emotional terms.” Breathing is a very malleable sound, and altering the tone, rhythm, tempo, dynamic range, and harmonic quality of the breathing can change the sound’s emotional impact. Thom used Serato’s Pitch ‘n Time Pro to manipulate the breathing sounds.

Since breathing sounds are an essential element of Crimson Peak ’s ghost sounds, Thom and his team needed access to numerous breathing options. “We collected just about every kind of wheezing sound you can imagine, from ourselves, our sick children, animals with respiratory problems, you name it. The more congested and sick it sounded, the more it enhanced the sickness at the hearts of those ghosts,” he says.  

You don’t have to hold your breath for Crimson Peak ’s release; it opens in theaters October 16th.