Erik Aadahl Presentation at Savannah Film Festival 2016

November 03, 2016 2:27pm

Sound Designer and Supervising Sound Editor Erik Aadahl recently joined Michael Coleman of SoundWorks Collection on Friday, October 29, at the Savannah Film Festival, where sound-savvy SCAD students and intrigued festivalgoers packed the SCAD Museum of Art theater as Aadahl discussed his work on such films as Transformers, Godzilla, Kung Fu Panda, Argo, and Tree of Life.


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What do a flying dumpling, an irate mob, and an asteroid striking Earth have in common?

The answer, of course, is Erik Aadahl.

As sound designer on “Kung Fu Panda,” “Argo,” and “Tree of Life,” Aadahl created the aural experiences for those on-screen events. On Friday, October 29, at the Savannah Film Festival, sound-savvy SCAD students and intrigued festivalgoers packed the SCAD Museum of Art theater as Aadahl discussed his work with host Michael Coleman (SoundWorks Collection).

SCAD, the first and only university to confer B.F.A., M.A. and M.F.A. degrees in sound design, provided the ideal venue for Aadahl’s insights.

“Think of sound like painting,” explained Aadahl. “If you use too many colors on your canvas and smear them together, it turns brown. A lot of times the trick is simplicity and imagining beforehand what you might be going for.”

Having worked with directors as diverse as Michael Bay (the “Transformers” series), Terrence Malick (“Tree of Life”), and Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”), Aadahl pinpointed commonalities in his process: “It begins with the script. Read the script and start a discussion with the director. A lot of times filmmakers won’t even hear the sound until they get to the mixing stage, which is terrible. As soon as a scene starts to get cut together, do a pass on the sound and get it into the Avid. That allows sound to evolve with the picture. Sound affects the emotion of the scene, it affects the tempo. It helps inform the rest of the process.”

Aadahl enhanced his “Creating the Sound for Hollywood Movies” presentation with audio and film clips, emphasizing the interplay between sound and image. Running a serrated plastic knife down the tracks of a rubber tire, he revealed, led to one of his team’s most terrifying monster movie motifs.

“One thing we really enjoy doing is trying new things. A lot of experimentation went into creating the sounds for the characters from ‘Godzilla.’ We pulled in hundreds of props and played with them. One technique was using high-resolution microphones five times the range of human hearing. So there’s all this invisible sonic information in those recordings, but once it’s slowed down it becomes audible.”

Aadahl often records small things to massive effect, whereby “micro becomes macro.”

“In ‘Transformers’ we’ve got these enormous footsteps. One of my favorite ‘footsteps’ is made by slamming the door of my dryer at home. Slow it down and beef it up and it becomes huge.”

A ripple of delight ran through the theater when Aadahl screened the “Kung Fu Panda” sequence where pupil and teacher grapple over the last steamed dumpling. Every chopstick click and slurping tongue sounded epic.

“When Po catches the dumpling and tosses it and says ‘I’m not hungry,’ then Shifu catches it and throws it off-screen,” Aadahl pointed out. “We were finishing the film and screened it for the Chinese distributors. They said, ‘That’s very disrespectful to throw away food.’ It was a big cultural issue. So we added the rrring! sound of a dumpling landing in a bowl off-screen.”

Sound decision, master.