Soundtrack: <I>Dune</I>
January 27, 2022

Soundtrack: Dune

Denis Villeneuve directed Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ Dune, the big-screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s bestselling book. The film tells the story of Paul Atreides, a gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. The sound team that worked on the film recently weighed in on its challenges and highlights, as well as the gear they used to complete the epic feature.

Photo (back row): Doug Hemphill, Theo Green; (front row) Mark Mangini, Ron Bartlett

Theo Green - Supervising Sound Editor & Sound Designer 

“Dune is a compellingly realistic vision from a visionary director, based on a strange and wonderful book full of bizarre details. I wanted my work to evoke all the strange details from the book, both inside and outside the frame of the picture. But also to feel as familiar as our own reality, so as never to distract the viewer from the characters and story.”

Gear: “Everything from underground seismophones, hydrophones, to microphones that can capture ultrasonic frequencies.”

Challenges: “Creating The Voice. The Voice was the most important feature of the sound to get right, for Denis. It took over a year to get exactly what he wanted.”

Highlights: “Working with a team like this, led by a director who is so excited by the possibilities of sound.”

Theo Green and Mark Mangini  recording in the desert.

Mark Mangini - Supervising Sound Editor & Sound Designer 

“Denis encourages experimentation. Failure was always a creative option. Dune should sound real and relatable. Our design aesthetic was called FDR - fake documentary realism. Denis intuitively understands the fickle nature of creativity and the need to try something or to break something to find what works. 

“Part of the success of our soundtrack lay in the ability to design sound early and in collaboration with VFX, handing off developments and iterations of sounds and images to each other, creating symbiotic improvements that created a sound/image unity that wouldn’t be achieved in traditional paradigms; where sound waits to respond to the image after its created.

“By the time we get to the final mix, the sounds Theo and I have designed are, as Denis puts it, ‘old friends’. He has lived with them for months and has a deep understanding of their history, relevance and narrative value. They are far from the strangers most directors encounter upon arrival to their final mix, ones that confound efficiency when success relies on ‘all’ the elements working as harmoniously as possible. This approach allows the director to do what they do best: make narrative decisions about sound and its effect on pacing and storytelling.

“The sound of Dune began with a deceptively simple mandate from Denis Villeneuve: the film should sound organic, believable and grounded in a reality we recognize. Avoid tropes, eschew ‘fantastical’ sound as is common in science-fiction, and make it sound familiar.”

Gear: ProTools Ultimate 2021.12, Avid HDX3, Sound Devices recorders, Schoeps microphones, Hydrophones and
JBL monitors.

Plug-ins: iZotope RX, Low Ender, Stratus 3D, BlackHole, Traveler, Speakerphone, Altiverb and FabFilter.

Challenges: Make science-fiction sound real, acoustic and relatable. Avoid the use of synthesizers. Eschew science-fiction sound tropes. Ground science-fiction in a relatable aural reality. Create the sounds of things we’ve never heard before sound like they had been heard before.”

Highlights: “Recording sound for the Worm and the Thumper in the Mojave desert. Making the worm not sound like a monster.”

Doug Hemphill, Re-Recording Mixer

Challenge: “Convey the beauty of the desert with sound.”

Most Rewarding: “Having kids who are not interested in (whatever it is I do) suddenly becoming interested because of Dune. It was nice to be cool for just a minute. Now, it’s back to being just dad again.” 

Gear: “We worked within the Pro Tools world. Because of that, mixing from beginning to end lived in a virtual realm; that is, every bit of sound shaping was carried through to the end or developed into something better. It’s a sensible approach, because if a director likes something from a ‘temp mix’, it does not have to be replaced for the final mix. We save it.”

Ron Bartlett, Re-Recording Mixer 

Challenge: “Helping to design the sound of The Voice. That process took months of trial and error to find just the right compliment of power and emotion. We experimented with that right up to the last few days of the final mix.”

Most Rewarding: “Finding a very dramatic balance of a powerful, dense score with creative, rich sound design elements and dialogue. Keeping big dynamic moments to help drive the story. Seeing the satisfaction of Denis after our first playback.”

Gear: “Pro Tools was our DAW and we used many plug-ins like Cinematic Rooms reverb, Izotope RX, Slapper delay and Fab Filter EQ and compression. Using these tools in new and creative ways helped us to experiment with thematic material like The Voice and other key design moments in the mix.”