LONDON – Sona (www.sona.co.uk), the sound collective made up of supervising sound editor Matt Skelding (Black Mirror), and sound designers Luke Gentry (
Aladdin, Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard) and Ben Meechan (
Last Night In Soho), recently provided audio post services for Amazon's new original fantasy series,
The Wheel of Time.
Based on Robert Jordan’s best-selling fantasy novels, The Wheel of Time is set in a sprawling, epic world where magic exists and only certain women are allowed to access it. The story follows Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a member of the powerful all-female Aes Sedai organization, as she arrives in the small town of Two Rivers. There, she embarks on a dangerous journey with five young men and women, one of whom is prophesied to be the Dragon Reborn, who will either save or destroy humanity. The Wheel of Time is co-produced by Amazon Studios and Sony Pictures Television, and was directed by Uta Briesewitz, Wayne Che Yip, Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Ciaran Donnelly.
Photo (L-R): Sona's Luke Gentry, Matt Skelding and Ben Meechan
Here, the Sona team talks about their work on the series.
What was your prompt for the sound of Wheel of Time?
Matt Skelding: “The initial aim was always to create a world that felt familiar but with a slight twist. We wanted to create something unique that enveloped our characters and took the viewer on a journey. However, within a fantasy series, there’s a lot of new information for a viewer to absorb, particularly if you’re not familiar with the story - strange names/customs, etc. - so we had to be careful not to overload the viewer with strange sounds (or) make it feel too science-fiction.”
Ben Meechan: “So all of the backgrounds, which play intentionally louder than you’d perhaps expect, contain real birds/insects/animals that have been slightly twisted or used in locations that are unusual. Large amounts of time was spent by our sound designers sourcing these animals/creatures from different recordings and isolating them using Izotope RX and then pitching/treating to sound a bit ’other’.”
Luke Gentry: “We then had the opportunity to use these pronounced backgrounds to lead the viewer through the series. The series starts in the Two Rivers, which is a beautiful/pretty/comforting world, but then as the story develops and our heroes go on their journey, the environment twists and becomes stranger/weirder and more threatening.”
Skelding: “The Trollocs were obviously one of our signature sounds - and a large amount of work was done in early R&D, getting sounds and sketches over to the show runner and picture department early.”
Meechan: “They’re described in the books as human/animal hybrids, so we tried to stay faithful to this - so Luke and Ben used lots of recordings of their own voices/screams/crying, alongside lots of different animals - pigs, dogs, elephants, dolphins, donkey. We also supplemented these with other pitched recordings - our own pets and babies, etc.”
Gentry: “After a large amount of experimentation, we ended up adding in a performed musical element as well - recording with a daxophone player to add an extra level of expressiveness.”
Skelding: “Hopefully it all comes together to give the Trollocs a strong character. It was a difficult balance, keeping the animalistic feel but giving them basic communication at specific points in the story. We carried this idea through to the Foley, where their armor and sword-play had a slightly rougher, more clumsy feel to Lan’s precise sword-play.
“I think everyone on the show really wanted the sound design to be a strong driving force throughout the series. There are many sequences that could have been music led, but we were encouraged to experiment and see what design could bring to the show. We’re really proud of the moments where the sound design leads the story and helps with the character development - such as the listening to the wind in 101 and the end sequence in 105. The battle in 101 was obviously a big challenge and it had to be a sequence where we transitioned back and forth between music and design. I really think we managed to achieve a nice blend between the music and our sound design, particularly as the design was very musical at certain points. This is credit to all departments, including the amazing score by Lorne Balfe and the hard work of Doug Cooper, our re-recording mixer.”
Gentry: “The channeling presented an interesting opportunity, as from an early point it was clear it had to be fundamentally ‘feminine’. At all times we had to consider how this channeling would sound compared to the male half of the One Power that’s tainted and ‘dark’. The channeling of the One Power by our Aes Sedai had to feel beautiful and light, but with a sudden aggressive shift in gear with the power is released. We recorded lots of Mark trees, glass chimes and human vocals, supplementing with bits of synthesis here and there. Having the delicate/beautiful sounding channeling of the Aes Sedai contrasted nicely with the tainted male half, which sounds much more aggressive, leaning heavily into demented vocal elements.”
Can you talk a bit about your audio tools?
Skelding: We worked in Pro Tools throughout, and track layed within 7.1.2 beds. Ninety-nine percent of the ADR was recorded via source connect, with Skype used as a video link to help make it seem less remote. Loop group was primarily recorded via Cleenfeed. As with most productions these days, we take on a large amount of the premix process with our track lay. The more work we can do prior to our re-recording mixer coming onboard, the more time they can spend creatively working the detail into the soundtrack. So a large amount of work is spent shaping the dialogues, matching ADR, setting up reverbs prior to the ‘official’ premix process.
“The design team used many plug-ins and outboard gear throughout, special mention to Native Instruments - Mysteria - which we used for some of the more ghostly voices in the sound design, particularly around Shadar Logoth. Outboard we had the H9000, GR-1, Moog One and Thermionics compression and distortion.
Skelding: “We did a lot of recording with the Sanken CO-100k for both dialogue and design (Trollocs). On the dialogue side, we re-recorded in ADR all of Loial’s dialogue using this mic at 96kHz. That gave us a bit more flexibility for the treatment, lowering his pitch whilst still maintaining the human characteristics and clarity.”
How many episodes did you work on?
Skelding: “Eight episodes.”
What was the timeline to complete each episode?
Skelding: “The timeline varied across the episodes, particularly due to COVID. We tried to keep the team really small and focused, and this worked on the first six episodes, as the schedule was extended due to the shoot shutting down during the pandemic. The last two episodes were turned around a lot quicker once the shoot restarted, so we had to work with a much larger crew, particularly on the dialogue side. We worked very closely with the picture department and delivered a lot of mixes as they were editing for screenings, etc. We were also working within an Atmos environment, so we decided to pull the premix process quite early - getting the mixers input at an early stage.”
The Wheel of Time is now streaming on Prime Video.