‘Sound helps filmmakers achieve narrative value for their films’


Three-time Academy Award nominated sound designer Mark Mangini said that digital sound is nothing but improved sound for cinema, and the only thing he misses about analog sound is the help it renders to sound designers in creating the exact kind of sound they want in their head before putting it in the film.

“I have been working for forty years now. I started my career editing analog sprocketed film, what we called mag stripe, on which only one sound could be edited or listened to at a time, and therefore I developed an ability to hear a mix of sounds in my head as I couldn’t do it in actuality,” he said, pointing out that anyone who learned in this methodology became a very successful digital sound editor.”

“In fact, many people waste their time in this digital era fooling around as there is so much flexibility in digital sound and one can do hundreds of tracks on the digital work station. And if one is not disciplined a lot of time can be wasted,” the sound designer nominated for Academy Award for ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’ (1986), ‘Aladdin’ (1992) and ‘The Fifth Element’ (1997) said. He maintained that today we have a greater dynamic range, a greater frequency response and fidelity in theatres as well as an improved ability to immerse audiences in high fidelity audio, through the best of consistent sound reproduction. “In case of analog sound, if the optical track on the film – which was rife with problems – was a little misaligned, high frequency would go away thus damaging a perfectly good mix of sound, all because the theatre was not set up properly.”

Speaking further Mangini said that sound plays an integral role in storytelling in a film and it helps filmmakers achieve narrative value for their films.

The renowned sound designer known for recording and editing a new roar track for Leo the Lion – the MGM lion mascot – sharing this experience said that the project was an arcane piece of his filmography. “Way back in 1981, when I worked with Steven Spielberg for the horror film ‘Poltergeist’ (1982), the MGM people gave us the image of Leo, the lion, accompanied with his original sound, recorded probably in the 1930s. Around the same time, I also happened to be out in the field recording lions and tigers, and collecting source sounds for the creatures in ‘Poltergeist’. It occurred to me that the existing sound for Leo was very old and not high fidelity, while ‘Poltergeist’ was a film that had very high fidelity sound, with stereo and magnetic 70 mm prints,” he recalled, stating that he then remade the voice of Leo for the MGM logo. The studio loved it and adopted it as the official logo for its films produced during the subsequent 15 years.

“Fifteen years later, once digital sound became ubiquitous, I remade its digital version. Then five years ago, I re-remade it again at the request of the studio for their fiftieth anniversary, because they wanted a big and impressive 7.1 audio version of their logo,” he said, revealing, “The little known fact about the MGM logo was that the original sound of the lion was actually that of a tiger as lions don’t make that kind of ferocious noises, and the logo needed to be ferocious and majestic.”

Mangini, who is presently attending the ongoing International Film Festival of India, said that although sound waves cannot travel in water or in space, films having these premises in their stories do not create problems for sound designers. “That’s because movie making is an artifice and audiences are asked to suspend their disbelief when they enter a theatre,” he said, maintaining, “You wouldn’t want a space film to be silent for two hours, or it would be a Charlie Chaplin film in space. And there is nothing interesting about that.”

A special mention was made about the “extraordinary work of sound design” in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) directed by Stanley Kubrick, who used sound evocatively in so many untoward ways.

Defining sound design, Mangini said that it is a way of approaching sound for cinema, a term actually coined by the great film editor and sound designer Walter Murch, which was developed during the making of the film ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979). “The sound designer is one individual who is creatively, artistically and aesthetically responsible for everything that you hear in a film,” he concluded.