The Sound Design of Nolan’s “Inception”

August 2, 2010 by PSE in Sound Design

The Sound Design of Nolan’s “Inception”

It’s always going to be difficult designing sound for a film that delves deep into the surreal and bizzare. Throw an unhealthy amount of slow-motion into the mix and you have something of a sound design nightmare. With the right sound effects in the right places, however, you can ensure that dreams stay dreams and reality a reality. Mix Magazine offers an interesting look into how Richard King – supervising sound editor and sound designer – did just that, tackling the challenges that this summer’s Inception presented him with:

“In one very unusual scene, an entire neighborhood in Paris appears to rise up and curl onto itself as if it’s being peeled off the earth’s surface—something we’ve definitely never seen or heard before. “That sequence could sound like anything,” King offers. “It could be a very sci-fi, synth-y, smooth sound. The shot could totally rely upon music. It could be very frightening or awe-inspiring. Chris’ direction was that he wanted it to sound like massive machinery, like a huge watch mechanism—again, using a relatable sound for an image we’ve never seen. Imagine a machine that would be massive enough to move a city like that. That’s the sound that I tried to make. What you hear in the film is composed of all kinds of different sounds: It’s big metal groans and giant, heavy machinery moving, pivoting, clattering. I tried to create a little [sound] suite that would progress as the city rises and folds over.”

King and his team also had to get creative when it came to sculpting the sound of the transitions from sleep to dreams—“a little bit of an audible cue that we’re transitioning somewhere,” King says. “We hooked two oscillators to a couple of giant subwoofers in a few different locations and recorded the result. We used Hennessy Street, which is a [Warner Bros.] back-lot street, to get a sense of an urban locale; inside one of the big WB soundstages; and also in a canyon in the mountains north of L.A. Then, using the oscillator, we dialed it from 10 or 12 Hz up into the audible hearing range—and not only does it start to activate and shake and rattle things in the interior spaces, but you hear this wave of sound that comes from nowhere that becomes quite massive as the sound comes up into 18, 20, 25Hz range.”

Read the whole article here. There are no spoilers, if for some reason you haven’t yet seen it.