As a prequel series to Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s dark fantasy film, the Netflix TV series Dark Crystal Age of resistance takes us back to the land of Thra and its inhabitants. Sound Designer and Re-recording Mixer Tim Neilsen of Skywalker Sound and Supervising ADR Editor Tim Hands took time out of their busy schedules to talk to Audiofile about creating the audio for the iconic show.
Tim Neilsen performed several roles on the series. “I had three to be exact” said Neilsen. “As the Supervising Sound Editor it was my job to organize the entire sound team, handle budgets and schedules and the like. As the Sound Designer, it was my job to help bring this world to life sonically by creating new and unique sounds, by carefully shaping every aspect of the sound. And as the Re-Recording Mixer my job is to then take all the elements, dialog, sound effects, foley, music, and to render the final soundtrack with the guidance of the director and filmmakers.”
In March 2018 I Tim Hands was approached by Karen Payne (the Post Production Supervisor of Dark Crystal) to see if he was available to attend voice tests for actors being cast as the new voices for the Dark Crystal characters. “At this stage the series was still being filmed, but in order to get ahead with Post Production the Director, Louis Leterrier, wanted to get a feel for how the final voices would sound” said Hands. “We got on well and Louis asked if I would be available for the role of ADR Supervisor, once Post Production went into full swing later in the year. I had a prior commitment to Game of Thrones but fortunately my schedules worked out and I joined the crew in January 2019 as Supervising ADR Editor recording, fitting, and QC checking all of the Dialogue sessions that were to be delivered to Tim Neilson. Every episode went through me before delivery for mixing.”
On bringing Thra to life Neilsen’s goal was to bring as much detail and uniqueness to the sound as the rest of the teams brought to their discipline. Visual FX, Sets, Costumes, Performers, Music, all of them bring their artistry to help create this elaborate world to life. “Our ultimate goal is that you never once question the reality of this world. You should absolutely believe while you watch, that this world exists” added Neilsen. “To do that we find and record as many new sounds as time allows, make new sounds and carefully blend them and match them to the vision of the filmmakers. We look especially for unique sounds that you haven’t heard before, but always grounded enough in the real world that you believe that they exist. We spend hundreds of hours adding in the tiniest of details in the attempt of making this world come to life. From the smallest movements of grass and leaves, to the myriad of creatures and environments. Not a single piece of sound that was recorded on the set was used in this series; every single piece of audio you hear was added in by hand by somebody.”
With familiar characters in the show such as Augrah, Chamberlain and the scientist Skeksis it was imperative that the characters kept their familiar and much loved voices. However with the like of Mark Hamill, Simon Pegg and Helena Bonham Carter in the cast it was a fine line ensuring character familiarity for the audience without compromising on the actor’s familiar voice. “In some cases like Chamberlain and Augrah, these characters have very defined and recognizable voices from the movie” said Nielsen.” Luckily the actors playing these roles did an amazing job getting us very close to the original performances. I did gently pitch and modify several characters just to get us that extra little step. Simon Pegg’s voice is amazing as Chamberlain, but his pitch is just a bit lower than Barry Dennen, who was the voice in the original movie. Deet was slightly pitched up, and the Emperor slightly pitched down, to make one a bit friendlier and the other a bit more menacing. A few other characters also had mild work done, but the voices you hear are for the most part the voices of the performers as is!”
Having to do some ADR for the series Hands had the task of ensuring the best possible performance for all the actors. “Every actor I have ever worked with has been different in their approach. Some hate the ADR process and find it quite difficult, others relish the challenge and really enjoy it. Since the work on Dark Crystal required finding and shaping a character voice all of them enjoyed the process, well mostly” said Hands. “The most important thing is making sure that the actor is comfortable in the studio. Hearing and seeing yourself on screen, remembering the situation and all those details of the set are pivotal, but that’s not what this was. It’s not a pre record either, and the characters were puppets that already had a voice, just not one we were going to use.” We worked with the actor to find the nature the character and the kind of voice he had imagined and then start to record letting the character emerge as the session progressed. Some scenes were straightforward, other required physical action and reaction, sometimes to VFX that weren’t actually on the screen yet, occasionally a little physical interaction with me helped to get the feel of dialogue with efforts more believable, shaking the actor about a bit can help sometimes. Sometimes we ended up replacing almost everything we had chosen on the stage. You have to remember that the actors were re-performing the dialogue recorded by the puppeteers, so not only were they to a certain extent locked into that timing, they also only had the other puppeteer voices to react and respond to, and not the other cast who were also being recorded in other studios on different days. The new recording would often differ in delivery from the existing performance on the guide track.”