In the year since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone wasreleased, it has gone on to become the second highest-grossing film ofall time (after Titanic), one of the biggest video releases everand the cornerstone for what should be a massively successfulfranchise. The second installment, Harry Potter and the Chamber ofSecrets — released in November to huge crowds —employed the same cast (with a few additions) and crew. Much of theall-British sound team who worked on Sorcerer’s Stone (coveredin detail in the December 2001 Mix) also came back for the newfilm, but was augmented by a pair of Yanks: Sound designer andco-supervising sound editor Randy Thom, who’s usually based atSkywalker Sound in Marin County, Calif., worked with Potterdirector Chris Columbus on Stepmom and Bicentennial Man.Co-supervisor Dennis Leonard, another Skywalker veteran, had workedwith Thom on a couple of Robert Zemeckis’ recent films, as well asThe Iron Giant and other projects.
In general, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is alouder and more intense film than Sorcerer’s Stone, withnumerous interesting set pieces and exciting action sequences thatallowed Thom plenty of creative opportunities. Thom did nearly all ofhis work in Pro Tools doing his initial conceptions at Skywalker, butthen headed over to Shepperton Studios in England for the bulk of theassignment. Here are a few of his sound effects secrets.
THE WHOMPING WILLOW
When Harry and his friend Ron Weasley fly to Hogwarts in a bewitchedcar at the beginning, they crash it into a terrifying tree that hasgreat moving limbs that attempt to crush the car and its occupants.“I was grateful that Chris [Columbus] was willing to drop themusic for most of that sequence, because that’s one of those scenesthat could’ve been a just a cacophony of music competing with soundeffects,” Thom says. “My position about a sequence likethat is, if the intensity and peril in a scene are explicitly beingshown, there’s really no reason to underscore it with music.” Asfor the willow’s sound, “There’s lots of creaking of the limbs,some of which is just the old balloon trick: If you blow up a normalparty balloon and you hold it in both hands and sort of twist it sothat your hands squeak across the surface of the balloon, and youclose-mike it, partly because of the resonance of the balloon, you getthese great creaking sounds. We also wanted to give the whomping willowa voice — this sort of rr-rr-rrr growl — so my voiceis in there, slowed down and EQ’d and bass-boosted, etc.”
In Professor Sprout’s class, the assignment is to re-pot thesebizarre plants that have roots that look a lot like human babies andscream so loud that the students have to wear protective ear muffs.“I told Chris that we’re sort of walking a fine line here,”Thom says. “Obviously, it needs to be intense, but it can’t be sointense that it chases the audience out of the theater. For the sound,we started with a baby crying. A woman whose husband was working on themovie had a one-month-old baby, and we recorded it in this littletrailer inside one of the shooting stages. We managed to get the babywhen it was waking up and really hungry. Then we combined that withsome female screams to make it just exotic enough so that you think,‘Hmm, I’ve never heard anything quite like thatbefore.’ Then we pitched both sounds up, so there’s a lot of 3and 4k in that sound.”
INSIDE THE CHAMBER
Early in the film, Harry is spooked by a strange voice whispering“Kill! Kill!” in Parseltongue, a snake language Harryunderstands. Thom notes, “This was really through Harry’s P.O.V.,because once you get the feeling, as an audience member, that the soundand the visual images are being channeled through the consciousness ofone of the characters in the scene on their way to you, then suddenlythe filmmakers have enormous latitude to stylize the sound. I sort ofwish there hadn’t been as much real language in the snake tongue asthere was. There’s something about hearing English dialog that kind ofgoes to a different part of your brain than either music or soundeffects does, and it kind of distracts you and pulls you back into theliteral world, as opposed to the stylized world. But we still had funwith it. We did backward treatments on it and put it in reverbs andprocessed it heavily. The principal trick was to play each word in somekind of deep reverb — usually a chamber, with a long decay time— and then reverse that so you hear the word sort of rush inbackward up to — in the case of the word ‘kill’— the first consonant. And then you hear it play out forward,also with a lot of reverb, so it gives it this odd, sinister,otherworldly quality.”
The evil snake monster that resides in the Chamber of Secrets“was quite a challenge,” Thom says, “because it’s agiant snake, but it’s also like a dragon — not many snakes haveteeth like that. He had to hiss, he had to roar and there were times atthe end when he was in pain. We used a variety of things, including myvoice and some horse vocalizations, elephants and various other things.The key, of course, is doing crossfades that allow you to believeyou’re hearing one thing instead of three or four things mixedtogether; one of the tricks is if both sounds have roughly the samepitch envelope, I’ll alter my voice and the tiger’s roar dynamically sothey’re changing at the same time. Likewise, if the volume envelopesare about the same, it’ll help the idea that that’s onesound.”
Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) and Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe)looking a little nervous in the Chamber of Secrets.
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Angus Filch (David Bradley) see thewriting on the wall.
Director Chris Columbus (center) provides some guidance on the set toRupert Grint (left) and Daniel Radcliffe.
Director Chris Columbus (right) and Professor Sprout (Miriam Margolyes)hold up a Mandrake on the set.
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has an encounter with Nearly HeadlessNick (John Cleese).
Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) supervises a dueling wand match betweenDraco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe).
Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Professor Sprout (MiriamMargolyes), Professor Dumbeldore (Richard Harris) and Professor Snape(Alan Rickman) get serious.
Sound designer and co-supervisor Randy Thom on the sounds ofQuidditch and magic wands:
“I thought we could be a little more bold with the sound of Quidditchthan they were on the fist film. Instead of primarily whooshes, we useda wider variety of sounds. It’s quite a bit more elaborate. I alsowanted the wand sounds to vary quite a bit, so almost every wand soundin the movie is different in some way from every other wand sound,because every time you see a wand it’s really doing a different kind ofjob, so I figured why not have each make a different kind of sound?
“Obviously you need to tip your hat to some degree to what was doneand the style of the work that was done on the first film. Forinstance, in Quidditch we didn’t change the sound of the Snitch,because I liked that I think it worked very well. But for almosteverything else about Quidditch, it sound fairly different than thefirst film.”
Randy Thom on the sound of Dumbledore’s rotatingstaircase:
“It sounds like this big, massive thing-actually the main sound for itis a bowling ball rolling across a scoring stage.”