Lesson of the Day: ‘The Secret Sounds of “Dune”: Rice Krispies and Marianne Faithfull’

Featured Article: “The Secret Sounds of ‘Dune’: Rice Krispies and Marianne Faithfull” by Kyle Buchanan, Photographs by Peter Fisher

Do you ever notice the many sounds in films that help enhance the mood, atmosphere and tone? Do any films stand out to you for their use of audio?

In this lesson, you will learn how far Denis Villeneuve, the film director, and his Oscar-winning sound team went to achieve a powerful and memorable aural experience for the sci-fi blockbuster film “Dune.” In a Going Further activity, we invite you to act as a sound designer to create your own sounds for common activities like walking and running, as well as more fantastical ones like an alien spaceship flying and landing.

Part 1: Watch a scene from Dune.

Did you see the new version of “Dune”? What did you think? Did you notice the sound design?

First, watch a scene from the film above, “Sardaukar Eaten By Sandworm” — but TURN OFF the sound. Then, write down your reactions:

  • What was the experience like without sound? How engaged were you as a viewer?

  • How easy or difficult was it to follow the story the scene told? Could you tell what was happening?

  • What emotions did you feel as you watched? Was the scene suspenseful?

Next, watch the scene again, this time with the SOUND ON:

  • How was the second viewing experience different? What did you notice? Wonder?

  • What specific sounds did you hear? How did they enhance your experience?

  • Does watching the scene a second time with the audio make you appreciate the role of sound in movies more?

Finally, time for conjecture: How do you think the filmmakers recorded the many sounds in this scene?

Part 2: Watch a video on the art of sound design.

Now, find out how filmmakers record the sounds used to help create the mood and feeling of a scene by watching the seven-minute video “The Magic of Making Sound,” above, by Great Big Story. Then, share your responses to the following prompts through writing or discussion with a partner:

  • What are two things you learned about sound design?

  • What was the coolest or most surprising “foley” sound in the video?

  • What is one question you have about sound design or the job of a sound designer?

Read the featured articlethen answer the following questions:

1. What role did Rice Krispies play in “Dune”? What does their use tell us about the job of a sound designer on a movie?

2. Look closely at the photos: What story do they tell about the sound designers? Which image stands out and why? Do you think being a sound designer is a fun job?

3. What was Villeneuve’s vision for his cinematic adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel, according to the article? How does the sound design fit that vision?

4. The article states that “Dune” features 3200 “bespoke” sounds but only four were made with electronic equipment. Why was it important to the sound editors Mark Mangini and Theo Green to record real life and natural sounds and noises? Which of the sound-gathering techniques described in the article were most fascinating or memorable? Would you want to be a sound designer?

5. Revisit your conjecture from the warm-up activity about how the sounds in the film were created. Did you imagine any of the actual efforts required to achieve the powerful aural landscape? What’s your reaction to the story of how the sound team created the movements and maw of the sandworm?

6. What did you learn about movie making from the article? What surprised you most? What was most fascinating? Did it make you appreciate the role and power of sound more? Do you think you will pay more attention to sound and sound design in films in the future?

Now it’s your turn. Take on the role of sound designer and create and record Foley sounds for at least five of the following things: (Feel free to add your own items.)

  • Walking

  • Running

  • Water

  • Wind

  • Thunder and lightning

  • Two people fighting (punching, kicking or wrestling)

  • A futuristic weapon being used or fired

  • A spaceship flying or landing

  • The first steps on a strange new planet

  • A sandworm (or other sci-fi creature)

Be creative. And remember, you can’t use the actual sound for this activity. Use what you learned about the creativity of the “Dune” sound team as inspiration. Also, keep in mind Villeneuve’s words for why he brought on his sound team early in the process of making the film: “I wanted Theo and Mark to have the proper time to investigate and explore and make mistakes.”

Try to be as specific as they were for each sound you create. For example, for the sound of someone walking, think about who’s walking, where and why? Is it a small child, who weighs very little and who has a very distinctive gait? A teenager? A grown up? What kind of surface are they traversing: A hardwood floor? A cement playground, snow-covered ground or a sandy beach? Experiment with each sound and the placement of your microphone. Consider the mood or feeling you are hoping to evoke with the sound.

For tips on how to create your own Foley sounds: How To Make Your Own Foley Sound Effects with Peter Burgis

Excited about sound? Want another challenge? Submit a podcast to our Fifth Annual Student Podcast Contest and creatively design sounds to engage and excite listening audiences. The runs contest from April 6 to May 18.

Additional Opportunities for Teaching and Learning:

Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.

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