Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio Sound Designer On Developing The Sounds Of Each Character [Exclusive Interview]

In your experience, what’s the difference between designing sound for a live-action film and designing for an animated film?

In live-action films, there’s a certain amount of production. There is a little bit of air, a little bit of noise that plays into a microphone. So you have a little bit of depth of field and you have what we just call production noise. There is none of that in this, and not only is there no production noise, but they’re always stagnant in front of a mic. So if [their characters are] moving across a room or they’re far away and then come up close up, they’re always at the same point on that mic. So it could create a very flat dialogue response. I think John Taylor did an amazing job of giving us some depth of field. So we have to take each word of dialogue and sort of place it within the scene and within the depth in which they’re in.

But at the same time, it’s not formulaic, because sometimes there’ll be a shot where Pinocchio with Geppetto is distant and then they’re close. If we cover that, sometimes it sounds great. Other times, we just accentuated a cut that we didn’t want to do. So we had to choose in any given moment, “Does that work emotionally, even though it’ll work literally?” And there were discussions throughout the show of, “Let’s not point out that we just did a cut [or a] camera perspective change, because we don’t want to accentuate that.” And other times, “No, no, no, different characters are in different places in the room. Let’s build that depth of field to really make it feel like production.” And I think the more we make things sound like production, from manipulating the dialogue to having the right movements in foley and treating that correctly, you stop thinking of it as animation or stop motion and it starts feeling more like production.

So we have to create every background, every little noise nuance. Something that Guillermo said and was very inspiring, when you look at the film, the animation and the movements are epic. What I mean by that is, it’s not just somebody sitting in a chair. They come in a chair and then they scoot a little bit. All of their movements have a human factor to it because not everybody is exactly robotic. There’s always a little subtle, a little thing, a little nudge, and all these little human imperfections that he wanted to capture that actors would capture in the live performance, but animation would many times not think of because it’s an extra little something. So it’s a little imperfection. We wanted to do the same thing with audio, too. Just have these little humanistic sounds to compliment what we were seeing.

I think what makes the show special for me and harder — Guillermo goes, “Ah, this shouldn’t be too hard for you,” and I’m like, “It’s a different set of challenges.” Because before, I spent a lot of my career making things sound big and cool. This is all about minimalistic, delicate, little sounds, and it’s amazing how you think, “Oh, I’ll take this, I’ll put that there.” And it doesn’t work. You find all these things that don’t work until you find the right sound, then you go to the next sound. This one I found quite challenging to get it to the point that I wanted it to and to get it to the point where I felt it equaled the visuals.

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