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How Peter Jackson's team created the Oscar-nominated soundscape of 'Smaug'

How Peter Jackson's team created the Oscar-nominated soundscape of 'Smaug'

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was just nominated for two Oscars relating to its sound design — it's up against some tough competition in the form of Gravity and a number of other excellent films, but a new mini-documentary from SoundWorks makes a good case for Peter Jackson's latest adventure into Middle-earth. The video contains interviews with a number of sound mixers at Park Road Post Studios in Wellington, New Zealand who walk you through all aspects of the movie's audio track, including dialogue, mixing, music, and making each environment sound "right."

One of the film's highlights is undoubtably Bilbo and the dwarves' encounter with the titular dragon in the dwarf kingdom of Erebor, and the sound designers looked at that as a particular moment to shine — everything down to the sound of the air to how both quiet and loud the cavernous environment could get was taken into account, with Smaug of course being a significant part of the challenge. "Smaug is all about Benedict Cumberbatch's voice, but in addition to that, he is a creature — he is a growling, rumbling, fire-breathing dragon," says sound re-recording mixer Christopher Boyes. Making sure the sound effects and dialogue worked together in harmony was a key part of bringing the dragon to life.

There are also some details about how the Dolby Atmos sound system can be used to help draw viewers into the film more — for example, the film's giant spiders can both scurry over the top of a character visually in the film, with audio going up across the ceiling to match. It's certainly a much more subtle sort of effect compared to the film's visuals, particularly the controversial 48fps 3D version of the film — but judging by the Oscar nominations, Jackson's audio team is certainly doing something right. While Gravity, which relied so heavily on its own excellent sound design, may ultimately walk away with the awards, this SoundWorks feature shows that Smaug should provide some tough competition.