Cinema Online goes behind the scenes with Malaysia's first stereoscopic 3D animation "War Of The Worlds Goliath" ("WOTWG") with Mike Bloemendal and Luka Kuncevic, the men in charge of the film's sound and music. We find out how they manage to find time in between sledgehammering car bonnets to give the local 3D animated science fiction the cinematic impact to its sounds that we hear in cinemas.
Cinema Online's interview with Mike Bloemendal and Luka Kuncevic was conducted on 22 October at Tripod Entertainment Sdn. Bhd.
Q: Hi, Mike and Luka! First things first, can you guys tell our readers how you are each involved with the audio processes for "WOTWG"?
Luka: Hi, Cinema Online. Sure! I am mostly involved with the music for the "WOTWG". It is sort of an orchestral action score similar to the kind you find in big blockbusters. In the movie, there are actually two songs which are covers of Jeff Wayne's "Forever Autumn" from the musical "The War Of The Worlds". The song is about 30-40 years old but I turned it into a modern rock song with electronic elements. It's really cool to listen to the original and then listen to this version. I was initially a little worried about how the fans would react because sometimes they really treasure the original. But so far, I'm glad to say that the reaction has been good and quite encouraging. For the end credits we have the same song with a totally different arrangement. It will be in full, and is sort of like the theme song for "WOTWG".
Mike: Nice to meet you too, Cinema Online. My job is to oversee all the audio post-production, making sure that everything gets done and nothing is missed. I also wrote a couple of small music pieces for the movie as well. One of them was a 1912 war song played over a gramophone as if someone was going to war, the kind that would be played in the barracks. I also look into the sound design although it's actually largely taken care of by a team of sound engineers who did a fantastic job. Basically I just ticked the boxes and made sure we didn't miss anything.
Q: How was it like working on the movie?
Mike: It was a long process. The first thing you do about animation is work with the voices. Everything should already be locked in place before going into the animation stage. What happens generally, right before we get to the final post-production phase is to do any pick-ups needed for the voices. These include additional lines or changes in the script. Then there is a mad rush to the end for the rest of us handling the music, audio and sound remixes.
Luka: An interesting thing to point out is that when you look at the credits of some blockbusters, you can see a really long list of maybe hundreds of people working on the audio alone. But for "WOTWG", we only have a handful of around seven or eight people doing all that stuff and trying to get as close as we can to the standard of an international blockbuster.
Q: So is this your first time composing music for something this large scale?
Luka: For composing, yeah. I mean, I did some things for live action stuff and TV series before. I've worked on the project for "Saladin: The Animated Series" which was also quite cool. But this is the biggest so far.
Q: Luka, are there any particular composers that you look to for inspiration?
Luka: I would say classical composers, especially those from the romantic periods. I love Russian composers, like Tchaikovsky and Johann Strauss. I would say they are more of an influence rather than inspiration. Of course, there are always the bigger guys in movie composing that inspire me like John Williams and Danny Elfman.
Q: What stumbling blocks have you met along the way in production?
Mike: Anything that takes this long (four years) is never easy. Every time something is edited, you have to rethink everything in terms of audio, voice and mouth movement synchronisation, position of the effects, the music cue-ins and the transitions between scenes. There're no automatic processes for doing that. If you were doing something with CGI, there are ways to handle it a little easier. But when it comes to 2D hand drawn animation, you have to manually go back and sync everything if they change something. Doing the dialogue for me in particular was a challenge. Also, we have to do re-recordings for the same characters three years later. Even though it's the same person, their voices will change a little. Some of the recordings are done in different studios, which also affect the recordings. It's up to us to match the tone of their voices to the original performances. Another thing about working on an audio project for animation is that every single sound has to be created, unlike live-action films. Every piece of sound you hear from every footstep to every cloth rustling, EVERY single piece of sound you hear is created.
Luka: And also with the music. With live action, when there's no music, it feels okay, right, but with animation, when the music suddenly stops, it feels like something is missing. So with animation, if you really want to make it good, you have to play it all the way through, from the beginning to the end. So I think out of 84 minutes, there is 82 minutes of music for "WOTWG".
Mike: There was also the challenge of creating something unique for sound design. We have large 80-foot tripods stumbling around New York and around the fields. You need the right kind of sounds for the footsteps and the right kind of mechanical sounds for the alien tripods. Then you have biplanes with jet packs on the back. You got massive Leviathans, the airships; it all has to sound unique. I guess the other thing, which I think we all had difficulty with was trying to find different sounds for the explosions because there are so many explosions in the movie that you got to be careful not to repeat them. The interesting thing in doing a mix for a movie like this, is that sometimes what you see on screen is not necessarily what you are hearing because you have to pick your moments. You have to pick what comes forward and what is pushed back so that you can draw attention to something.
Q: So when you say that you are looking for unique sounds such as for the footsteps, what exactly does unique mean?
Mike: Well, these sounds don't exist anywhere. I can't go to a sounds effect library and search for an 80-foot tripod's footsteps on grass. We talk to the director and mix up some samples. Then he'll comment about it not having enough weight, or people needing to hear more mechanics, there should be more steam in it or I need to hear the engine more. It's a process of talking to the director and finding out what he's looking for, so we all have an idea of what it should sound like. It might take 10 sounds to create one sound and you may not notice it but we know there is a low frequency sound added for that very low impact, and then there's a squeaky sound, and then there's a 'clunk' sound. It's a number of layers of sounds put together to make an impact.
Q: How do you guys come up the sounds for the explosions? Do you have to blow up something?
Mike: We do also have a Foley room where we did all the footsteps, clothing movements and any intricate things, those little sounds that make a difference, that makes it real. The explosions are largely pulled out of our library and combined and changed and put back into the film and we add a lot of Foley to make it sound real.
Q: What's the most ridiculous thing you had to use to create sound for this movie?
Mike: Well, we hit a sledgehammer against car bonnets and car doors, things like that. We actually do own a car bonnet and a car door in our Foley room and we whacked them to see how it would sound. It's surprising because sometimes what you think shouldn't work actually does. Some of the best punches are pieces of wood smashing some celery and the best walking on grass sound is scrunching up tape pulled out from a cassette.
Q: Thanks for sharing your experience with us. All the best with "WOTWG"!
Mike: No problem! Thanks, Cinema Online.
Luka: Thanks you, Cinema Online.