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Sound Design for Coraline

The year 2009 was a successful one for the film industry – with numerous blockbusters and spectacular 3D movies. Standing out from the crowd was the stop motion animated adventure Coraline, which was directed by animation genius Henry Selick (Nightmare before Christmas). Combining a wonderful story with stunning animations, Coraline grossed more than 100 million dollars at the box offices. Since early 2010, the film is also available on Blu-ray and DVD at Universal Pictures.

Some doors better left unopened…
11-year-old Coraline Jones is bored in her new home until she finds a secret door which leads to a parallel existence much like her own life – but much better. The adults, including the solicitous Other Mother welcome her warmly. And Coraline gets far more attention there. She begins to think that this Other World might be where she truly belongs. But when her wondrously off-kilter, fantastical visit turns dangerous, Coraline must summon all her resourcefulness, determination and courage to get back home – and save her real family.

The animation for Coraline was realized with great attention to detail – the same applies to the audio post production. Steve Tushar and Ron Eng were the ones in charge. In the interview, they tell us everything about the production and their daily work with Nuendo.

Hello Steve, hello Ron! You’ve recently worked together on the film Coraline, which was directed by Henry Selick. What was special about the collaboration with him?

Ron: The best thing about working with Henry was his creativity and dedication to detail. He has very acute hearing and knowledge of sound design.

Steve: Plus, Henry really stepped it up a few notches with this film compared to “Nightmare before Christmas”. It looks so good that I don’t think the average person would even realize that it’s stop motion animation. Sometimes even I forgot that fact while looking at the scenes. I would only be reminded when I saw an unfinished scene to work on.

What were your roles in the production process? How did you use Nuendo in that project?

Ron: My role as sound designer was to create sounds for things that you wouldn’t normally find in a sound effects library, for instance, making a sound for a haunting mirror squeak, weird crickets or a world crumbling around us. Steve Tushar’s role was to concentrate on all of the real world sound effects such as impacts, cars, doors, hits, bangs, squeaks, etc., and organize them for the final mix.

is a 3D film using the elaborate stop motion technique. The film is often described as a “visual masterpiece”. What was (technically) the biggest challenge during the post-production work on Coraline?

Ron: The biggest challenge was to cut sound while only having a storyboard and unfinished pictures. Some of the more complex scenes we didn’t even see till late in the final mix process.

Steve: I agree with Ron here 110%. That is always the biggest challenge for animation jobs. Especially when they drop in a rough sketch that is only one frame per three or four seconds and they expect you to come up with the sound for it and you end up scratching your head for an hour.

Was it in any way different to work on an animated film in comparison to a “normal” one?

Steve: The main difference is you really have to find the right sounds to sell the scene and to make the audience really feel like they are there. Plus, you don’t get a reference of what anything sounds like that you are trying to replace. Normally you just listen to the production guide tracks to get a vibe for it, but not in animation.

Ron: Yes, there are several differences when you work in animation as opposed to live action. The biggest one being in live action is that all the audio is built in relation to the production audio recorded on the set, whereas in animation there is no set production audio – all the dialog is recorded in a quiet studio with no ambient noise married to it.

Why is Nuendo the software of your choice?

Steve: That’s mainly the flexibility, customization and editing speed of the program. The ability to undo offline processes is great. Chains of offline processing can be saved, assigned to a key command and fired onto other clips – that really saves me time. Slipping audio through fades and cross-fades like liquid is something I use daily. It’s amazing that I can open the same 155 track project on my laptop that I just had running on my workstation. Plus, having the clip volume assigned to the jog wheel of my Euphonix MC Pro is something I could never work without.

Ron: I chose to use Nuendo for sound design because the file management is simply great. Nuendo’s host-based architecture provides unlimited potential, and the plug-in collection comes with gems like Vocoder and Roomworks reverb along with great sound altering tools such as Acoustic Stamp and Pitch Shift.

Are there any current trends within the film industry?

Ron: There are fewer “big” studio pictures being produced and more medium to small films with a substantial rise in independent film production. The other not-so-current trend is that everything is to be done better, faster and – most of all – cheaper!

Steve: Yep, budgets are shrinking for sure. So to not have to pay for painful upgrades is great, which makes Nuendo an even better choice today. Honestly though, if Nuendo cost more than a Pro Tools HD system, I would still use it since it would pay for itself with all the time saved during the whole post process.

Thank you very much for your time!