Sound Design for EMPEROR

EMPEROR is released in the USA today – March 8th so I thought I’d collate some of my earlier photos and writing about working on the project.

“A story of love and understanding set amidst the tensions and uncertainties of the days immediately following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. On the staff of General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones), the de facto ruler of Japan as Supreme Commander of the occupying forces, a leading Japanese expert, General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) is charged with reaching a decision of historical importance: should Emperor Hirohito be tried and hanged as a war criminal? Interwoven is the story of Fellers’ love affair with Aya, a Japanese exchange student he had met years previously in the U.S. Memories of Aya and his quest to find her in the ravaged post-war landscape help Fellers to discover both his wisdom and his humanity and enable him to come to the momentous decision that changed the course of history and the future of two nations.”

Directed by Peter Webber
Produced by Yôko Narahashi, Gary Foster, Eugene Nomura, Russ Krasnoff, Tim Coddington
Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh (this film was shot on film, not digital!)
Film Editing by Chris Plummer
Original Music by Alex Heffes

From my perspective as Sound Designer, Emperor was a truly fascinating project to work on from the very outset. Apart from reading the script I put a lot of thought and research into pitching to do the film – being aware of the previous great work by the director, Peter Webber, and the history of the producers and the subject matter, I knew it was going to be an amazing experience, and I was right!

Given the historical nature and multi cultural aspects, the film required a lot of careful research and respectful consideration for subtleties, before even the first actual sound work was started. I really felt that all of my time previously spent in Japan was a huge asset, not that in any shape or form I claim to be deeply knowledgable about the incredible complexity and subtle layers of Japanese culture, but without my previous experiences I am not sure I would even be aware of just how much I do not know. And as with many things, it is often awareness that creates opportunities – knowing the right questions to ask, and how to ask them.

Some of my research was deeply disturbing, such as reading personal accounts of the relentless fire bombing of Tokyo and the use of atomic bombs by the USA on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And while the film is focused on the aftermath of the war, having an understanding of the back story and events leading up to that point, from both sides of the conflict, was vital.

In a practical sense, we had a 16 week sound post production schedule which included a field trip to Japan for me to collect ambiences and FX and meet with local sound designers and recordists, and for Dialogue/ADR Supervisor Chris Todd for ADR & loop group recording. That 4 month period also included one full temp mix, and predubs and the final mix.

While I have worked with re-recording mixer Gilbert Lake at Park Road Post many times before, it was my first time working with re-recording mixer Lora Hirschberg, who did an excellent job and was a pleasure to work with. Interestingly due to her availability we predubbed in almost reverse order, in that all ambiences, FX and Foley predubs were completed by Gilbert prior to Lora starting the Dialogue/ADR/crowds predub. This meant she had a lot of context available to work with and I suspect contributed to the fact that our final mix went very smoothly! I wish I had taken a photo but on the last day of the final mix I brought in a selection of sake that I had collected up, and we had a drink with literally all of the sound team present. It is a good sign of a well scheduled and resourced project when you can reach the end without any stones being left unturned, but no one feeling exhausted or burnt out.

Lastly I am indebted to all of the sonic collaborators and new friends I have made in Japan. Their help was absolutely essential with respect to licensing sounds for the project, but also (& in many ways even more importantly) with their very generous support and advice. A simple but profound example of this was for an idea I had, originating from when in the film Fellers is searching for his lost love Aya, who was a teacher. We see in flashback him waiting outside a primary school for her class to finish, and later on in the film there is a transition to a similar flashback, so I started to research what was used in Japan for schools bells, back before WWII. While I did a lot of research online, and discovered that immediately after the war the school bells were changed to melodic electronic tones (due to the bells association with air raid warnings and the horrors of war) this still did not tell me exactly what bells they might have used. So after making careful enquiries, my good friend & senior sound designer KT-san took some options to his mother (who was a girl at the time of WII) and on my behalf asked her advice! Arigatou gozimasu KTsan!

Sound Department

Lora Hirschberg – sound re-recording mixer
Gilbert Lake – sound re-recording mixer

Tim Prebble – sound designer
Matthew Lambourn – sound effects editor
Simon Riley – foley editor
Tom Scott-Toft – assistant sound editor

Takuma Ito – additional sound recordist (Japan Ambiences and FX)
Someya Kazutaka – additional sound recordist (Japan Ambiences and FX)
Hide Aoki – additional sound recordist (Japan Ambiences and FX)
Eric Nagy – additional sound recordist (Japan Ambiences and FX)
Nature Sounds Society of Japan – additional sound recordist (Japan Ambiences and FX)
Jim Petrak – additional sound recordist (DC3 in Johannesburg)

John Simpson – foley artist
Pete Smith – foley mixer
James Carroll – foley assistant

Chris Todd – supervising dialogue editor
Emile de la Rey – adr editor
Chris Winter – assistant dialogue editor

Fred Enholmer – production sound mixer

Tim Chaproniere – mix assistant
Buster Flaws – adr mixer
Russ Gorsline – adr
Ryan Young – adr recordist
Toby Lloyd – sound recordist
Nicolas Williams – sound recordist

Mixed at Park Road Post
With special thanks to Tokai Sound

Some photos & links to earlier posts from our work on the film:

Vehicle recording during the shoot
EMPEROR Sound Post

– Field trip to Japan: recording setup & gear
Record Kit 6 channel: 744 + 302 + 722 + MKH8040×2 + DPA4060x2 + MKH70x2 + tripod + 2 nano stands
EMPEROR Sound Post

– Field trip to Japan: Kansai

EMPEROR Sound Post

EMPEROR Sound Post

EMPEROR Sound Post

– Field trip to Japan: part 2

EMPEROR Sound Post

EMPEROR Sound Post

– Field trip to Japan: Nikko

EMPEROR Sound Post

EMPEROR Sound Post

– Field trip to Japan: Ryokan

EMPEROR Sound Post

EMPEROR Sound Post

– Field trip to Japan: Ambience recording & the gentle art of perseverance

EMPEROR Sound Post

– Field trip to Japan: Shishi odoshi

EMPEROR Sound Post

– Field trip to Japan: Okayama Haikyo

EMPEROR Sound Post

– Vehicle gravel tyre recording
EMPEROR Sound Post

– recording a DC4 – we also commissioned the recording of a DC4 in Johannesburg by Jim Petrak, one of the very few DC4s still flying!
EMPEROR Sound Post

– Ambience Predub session:

10 thoughts on “Sound Design for EMPEROR

  1. John Tudor

    Hi Tim
    I notice that in some photos, the cable with the red heat-shrink is going into the left mic. And in other photos the right mic.

    Are you using any colour reference for left/right?

    The reason I’m asking is that when I started with stereo I decided on Nautical colours for channels Left/Port/Red – Right/Starboard/Green. Now I’m looking at upgrading to a 788 or Nagra VI, I think I need to re-think my scheme a bit.


    1. tim Post author

      to be honest I use it more for fault checking than necessarily worrying about left/right, since left/right has no real meaning with an ambience that is used in many different contexts…. but if there is a problem, it makes checking faster… channels 1,2 are red/blue channels 3,4 are yellow/white and 5,6 are green/white&green stripes…
      If I do purposefully set up left/right I would rely on the two Rs ie red=right

  2. John Tudor

    I’ve got a SLIK stand too. It’s great for extending the legs out wider than normal. I also have an Ambient Quick Release installed on it.

      1. Pablo Aset

        thanks Tim
        And do you get a gooog stereo image with different distances betwen mics and angles than 17/110?.
        Recording ambs of course.
        I’m thinking to buy a setup like this (2x Mono Extended Ball Gag Kit).Maybe is it more versatile than the Rycote ORTF Kit?.I´m sorry but your opinion is sacred to my.

        1. tim Post author

          I would never buy the set ORTF rig as sometimes I want to record discrete, eg imagine recording a machine where you dont want to record a stereo image, you want to record dual mono and put one mic way over there to get a discrete element and other mic way over here to get another discrete element. Why limit yourself to one fixed use of the mics?

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