Randy Thom interview: ‘The Midnight Sky’ sound designer
“Every movie presents new challenges,” admits veteran sound designer Randy Thom about the bespoke nature of mapping out the soundscape of every new project. “George’s expectations for this movie were very high,” he explains. “What is space going to sound like? What the really severe, terrible Arctic Earthbound experience going to sound like?” Watch our exclusive video interview with Thom above.
Ever since starting out as a fledgling sound effects artisan on “The Empire Strikes Back” back in 1980, Thom has amassed over 50 credits as one of the most prolific sound designers in Hollywood, racking up a staggering 15 Oscar nominations, including two wins; for Best Sound (“The Right Stuff,” 1984) and Best Sound Editing (“The Incredibles,” 2004). Notwithstanding his vast experience and knowledge in the field, Thom says that, like every film before it, “The Midnight Sky” posed new demands that required innovation and problem solving.
“The Midnight Sky” is based on the Lily Brooks-Dalton novel “Good Morning, Midnight,” directed by leading man George Clooney, who plays Augustine Lofthouse, a lonely scientist secluded in an isolated Arctic base. The contemplative sci-fi drama takes place in 2049, three weeks after an unnamed apocalyptic “event” has decimated Earth, in which Augustine has remained on his ruined homeworld to warn a returning spaceship not to return home after its two-year mission.
Thom reveals that while designing the sound for the scenes set in space and the hostile Arctic location presented many challenges for his team, “one of the biggest challenges, it turned out, was a dialogue challenge,” he says. As the film flashes back to Augustine as a younger man, Clooney and Thom’s sound team realized that they needed to subtly alter the voice of the actor playing the younger scientist (Evan Peck).
“Ethan’s voice was different enough to George’s voice that it sounded a little odd to make that transition,” he explains. After the “usual bag of tricks, like processing and pitch-changing,” Thom says it was decided that the best way to harmonize the two actors’ distinct voices so that they sounded more organic was to “use this bleeding edge technology of using artificial intelligence,” he explains. “We ended up studying, using AI very meticulously, George’s voice and Ethan’s voice, and we mapped certain characteristics of George’s voice onto Ethan’s voice, and vice versa. The sound that you hear coming out of the young Augustine’s mouth now is quite literally a composite of Ethan Peck’s voice and George Clooney’s voice.”