By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood January 3, 2014 at 2:07PM
As we approach Wednesday's Oscar voting deadline, at least one thing's certain: "Gravity" will dominate the craft nominations. And rightly so for the creative and innovative contributions. We've already covered production design, cinematography, and VFX in depth, so now let's look at the corresponding design for sound and music, which was perfect for the immersive Dolby Atmos surround experience, along with the editing of what was essentially an animated movie.
"Gravity" is all about transmitting sound through vibration and following Sandra Bullock in space. Who will ever forget the sound of her breath or heartbeat; her fiddling with the Hubble telescope or the crashing debris that provides ongoing jeopardy?
"Gravity" contains the most complex spatial direction in recent memory, thanks to the work of supervising sound editor/sound designer Glenn Freemantle and re-recording mixer Skip Lievsay, among others. Voices and other sounds constantly change in relation to Bullock's POV.
"Space sound can't be transmitted through atmosphere but through other elements," Freemantle explains. "We came up with the idea of vibration through touch and when she's in contact we hear it through her [as a muffled sound]."People picked up on this straight away. The concept works and it doesn't distract from the beauty of space when a barrage of things happen. We did research of what tools they used and how they used them. We recorded vibrations using contact mics at General Motors and medical plants. We tried to be as real as we could using signal bases, and we had space suits as well with all the gear when we were shooting it. We tried to have a contact within her suit.
"Actually, the sound never stops moving around. We contact Ed Harris, the voice of the commander, who's on Earth in mission control. And if you listen to it every time, there's a geography to the way sound moves. It's like a road map. And there are rules. Even when you go into her helmet, and the whole thing opens up like a magic life support machine around her, the spectrum of sounds move with her. The theater becomes her helmet and you are inside that. It's claustrophobic, like theater, evoking the experience of being there with her."
Atmosphere filtration inside the Russian space station moves as well. When Bullock gets inside the station, she takes off her suit and gets in the fetal position. It's a beautiful moment, encapsulating everything from sound to music. She comes in and first turns the air on; the helmet comes off and there's the air release; and all the sound rushes back in crystal clear. It's like life, getting into the womb.