Sound as a storytelling device: making 'The Hut'
When it comes to films, the music and sound are really what elevates the experience from something watched, to something fully experienced! When it comes to films, music and sound (and even the lack of) are everything! In order for the story of 'The Hut' to work, to get under your skin, the film needed to be immersive and atmospheric, with sound and music acting as another character, another storytelling device within the world we see on screen. An invisible language, a foreboding character whose presence is constantly felt, but never seen, untouchable even...so where to start?
Enter, the experts - sound designers and composers Jack Wingad and Sarah Adnan. These two musical geniuses did such a beautiful job that I wanted to share their process with the world. Here's how they dived deep into the story-world and created the eery, dark, yet comic atmosphere that's so essential to the film. Over to them...
Angel asked us if we’d like to talk a little bit about the Score & Post-Production Sound for The Hut, so for those who might be interested in the story behind the story, carry on reading!
Singing From the Same Hymn Sheet
We began by brainstorming ideas with Angel via Zoom, to help establish a collective creative vision. This included: sharing reference material, spotting session’s, establishing themes, vibes, narrative, etc…
We find that dialogue is usually the best place to start getting stuck in with a project. One of the biggest challenges we had was trying to create the feeling that Ray (the main character) was isolated in a confined space. After applying some EQ, dialogue clean-up, reverb, blood, sweat, and earache; we like to think we got to a stage where the audience could digest the story.
As well as some of the more on the nose, supernatural detuning of the dialogue, we also used some subtle, naturalistic detuning to enhance the split-personality element of the story. “Evil Ray” (The name we coined for the more sadistic side of the character) was pitched slightly lower than “Nice Ray” for example.
The wind textures not only function to set the scene, but they also function to add tension, emotion, and dynamics. Simply by taking away or adding different wind textures can change the mood of the scene, in addition to grabbing the viewers’ attention.
For one of the more notable wind layers, we recorded an accelerating London Jubilee Tube Train, as it producers a gnarly, demented wind sound. Once we edited out the “We are now approaching Green Park Station” tannoy announcement, it started to work well in the unforgiving, dark, trippy world of The Hut.
In addition to performing & recording most of the: Footsteps, clothes rustling, pillow hitting, match striking, shoe tying, floor creaking, door slamming, bottle screwing, lip smacking, card shuffling, wood tapping, bottle shaking, page turning, pen writing, coin tossing, finger clicking, hand rubbing, stool creaking, suitcase zipping, blanket tossing, we also created the radio frequency sound with a theremin, and much, much more…
It was around this stage of the production when we started to respect how much detail goes into making films sound effortlessly real, yet bigger than life. We may as well have been losing our minds with Ray in The Hut by this point…
One of the exciting things audio wise, was the psychotic elements that we could create. Whether it be the more diegetic ear ringing sounds, to big impactful sub-bass; we weren’t afraid to explore dark, comical, larger than life sounds.
The textures used consider the environment that The Hut was set in. For instance, a pan pipe emulation is used because it has a particular resemblance to the wind sounds, as well as it being a similar sound to the native New Zealand (the setting of the film) instrument, the Pūtātara. A lot of the percussive elements have a certain wooden texture to them, blending in with the wooden cabin environment. The vocal textures you hear in the music have been taken from Ray’s dialogue, before being processed in a musical way, yet remaining subtly coherent and familiar with the film.
We like considering the musical textures in this manner, because it helps the music work symbiotically with the story.
Themes, Motif’s, Coherency
Once themes like the “Evil Ray” motif (consisting mainly of low-rumbling Tuba swells), and the “Comedy Theme” (a waltz driven by harp and scatty panpipe toplines) were created; we recycled & rearrange these themes accordingly to establish consistency, and to create emotive associations with the sound, by repeating.
A lot of the music cues (such as the end piece) were composed by Sarah on the piano in the traditional sense, before being arranged with more fitting sounds. Weirdly however, there is an upright piano being played through-out, but not in the traditional sense. We recorded a lot of piano string plucks, scrapes, and percussive banging elements which were used through-out the score.
Upon finishing the sound & music edit, the final dub mix began. When doing the various mix laps of the film it was hard not to want to turn up the beautiful footsteps we recorded… Apparently, the story narrative is the most important thing?!? Listen out for those footsteps though, they’re amazing. All jokes aside, big-up the mix engineers of the world, it’s such an under-appreciated subtle art-form.
All in all, it’s a project that we’re both very proud of. We look forward to seeing it live its best life in the world!