Sound Design for The Warrior’s Way

Great news! The Warrior’s Way is released next week!!! As is fitting, the film is first being released in the directors own country, Korea, on December 2nd, followed by USA and UK releases on December 3rd. Australia has to wait for January 26th 2011 and the locals for April 2011…

Here is the trailer, I’ll describe some of the creative challenges the film presented for sound below….

The Warrior’s Way is one of the largest and most complex films that I have worked on. With a budget of approx US$45mill we always knew the expectation and requirements would be demanding, but when you also add in the fact that the film has over 1600 VFX shots you start to get an idea of what might be involved & the resources required to fully realise it.

WW stills

We started sound editorial at the beginning of May and did an initial 10 week stint (including 1 week of temp foley) culminating in a temp mix, and what a temp mix it was! I documented it at the time with screenshots simply because it was the largest session I’ve ever presented to a temp mix! Check the two sessions I was wrangling (dialogue/ADR and music were running from seperate ProTools rigs)

Temp Mix FX and Foley Session (click here for fullsize)


Temp Mix Atmos and Fixes Session (click here for fullsize)


So you can see the film is in six reels, and you can also see where the most intense scenes are – Reel 5 is busy!! From the outset we worked with predub stems in mind, which for FX were: FX1, FX2, FX3, SD, SWORDS, MOVEMENT, VIOLENCE, GUNS1, GUNS2, IMPACTS. So in the temp mix we bused each set of source tracks to a 5.1 output – I knew we wouldn’t have time to get amongst the source elements too much so I also did as much panning as possible (there were some scenes that only worked properly when panned for surround). As it was all running live into the mix I minimised the track count as much as possible, whereas as we developed the elements further and headed towards the final predubs, each stem would be fed from a standard 32 track layout.

Two weeks after the first temp mix we did temp mix number 2 although this was comparatively easier for me as when we did temp mix 1, we printed seperate stems for FX, Ambience, Foley so I conformed those 5.1 stems and presented those to temp mix 2, with additional tracks for patching cuts and/or adding new material. So temp mix 1 took us 5 days to mix, whereas temp mix 2 took 2 days.

We then had three weeks before predubs for the final mix started, giving us a total of 18 weeks of sound editorial. We did three weeks of predubs, with dialogue/ADR in one theatre and Ambience, Foley & FX predubs in another. That was followed by 2 weeks of final mixing/mix screening & fixes prior to a week of deliveries…. For me & the sound editorial team it was 25 weeks from start to finish… So thats the how – now the what and why….

The synopsis for The Warrior’s Way is “a warrior-assassin is forced to hide in a small town in the American Badlands after refusing a mission.” As you can see in the trailer both the hero, his allies and his many enemies employ a huge range of different weapons in the film but our initial work focused on building a large pallet of sword sounds.
Heres a few of the props from the first record session:


We did a number of recording sessions at Park Road Posts huge foley studio – apart from obvious things like sword hits, scrapes & slices we also did some interesting experiments with suspending a sword on light string & hitting it, which produced some incredibly resonant hits. The two props beside the crow bar on the right were also useful – the bowl with the beater is a Tibetan singing bowl, while the two small bells tied together are finger cymbals. Both produce beautiful pure tones and the finger cymbals especially were interesting to set resonating and then move past the mic and play with proximity.

WarriorsWay swords by timprebble

We also did a lot of swish recording with these props (bear in mind this was a year or so before I recorded the HISSandaROAR Swish library) and we also decimated a few vegetables too! This initial pallet of sounds was what got us through the first temp mix, but one advantage of having such a great producer as Barrie Osbourne is that he can easily make things happen that would otherwise be very difficult. A simple example; after the temp mix we had a discussion with Barry and SngMoo, the director about the sword sounds and Barry made a call to Richard Taylor at WETA workshop and got us access to their amazing sword collection. I obviously couldn’t take photos while there but I got to borrow a number of swords from WETA and we did another series of sword recordings using beautiful sounding spring steel swords.

As a lot of the action takes place in the desert we also decided to do some exterior FX recording and headed up to Foxton beach, an hour or two north of Wellington.

Foxton FX1

Matt Lambourn (Sound FX editor) left and Simon Riley (Assistant FX editor) right

Foxton FX2

One sound we recorded at Foxton almost by mistake which proved to be very useful was slicing a sword through sand, which layered with vegetable sounds worked well for some of the body slices involved during battles…. Heres a fight scene from the film:

As you can see from that clip, some of the fights are stylised and involve radical movements & speed ramping – I spent a lot of time creating new stylised movement wooshes and was very aware that such sounds would need to rate over score, that being action sequences would be fairly energetic. Heres a few examples of some of the wooshes I made:

WarriorsWay wooshes by timprebble

WW stills

Apart from the hero swords we also had to develop sounds for Kate Bosworth, who tended to use shorter swords – here is a scene of her practicing knife throwing blindfolded (you really need to hear this in surround – we had fun in the predubs & final mix making the knife swishes pass through the audience!)

Another challenge with the swords was in one scene where the director wanted them to be pitched and timed with the score – the scene involves a practice fight and was choreographed & cut to the score and I spent a lot of time creating light resonant sword hits with enough pitch content to follow the melody of the score without sounding too twee. I tried a lot of elements including those finger cymbals but it ended up being a combination of machete hits, xylophone decays and recordings of some of the lighter sword hits that worked.

Certainly The Warrior’s Way is the most complex VFX film I have worked on – effectively every single shot in the film is a VFX shot, as the film was shot on a sound stage so it was always fascinating to receive a new picture update and see eg the backgrounds for a scene suddenly appear etc…. Of course managing a constantly changing cut is a challenge (thank god for Conformalizer!) but so also is recutting sync for VFX action sequences! There was one sequence in particular that was troublesome, involving a gattling type machine gun. The sequence involved speed ramping as well as a number of different slow motion speeds, and because the muzzle flashes were being added as VFX, the first few iterations the timing just was not right for sound. Once I had developed the actual sound elements to work for the speed transitions and slow motion, the picture editor and I worked together to get the timing of the shots right for the cut and he then spotted the timing of these and issued a timing list for muzzle flashes to VFX. The next turn over of that scene was excellent – the speed ramps & changes in shot speed & sound worked perfectly across the multiple shots and perspectives. It was definitely a scene that I at first struggled with hugely – while I had clear ideas about creating the sounds for the weapon shots, I just couldn’t arrive at a balance that provided any form of clarity or shape. And then I had one of those realisations: it was ALL about point of view! I muted sound and crawled through the scene frame by frame, noting where the actual gun was located, where the bullet whizzes were travelling and where the impacts would be. It soon became clear that as with the speed & timing of the guns shots, the scene also required the same approach with the location of each element in the 5.1 mixing space. I had shown the director the previous version of the scene and he was happy with the development of sounds but the next time I showed him the scene I didn’t mention my realisation, nor the panning work I’d done – I just played it to him. After we watched the scene I asked: “Its better huh?” The best answers are always non-verbal = a huge grin! It was one of the most important lessons I learned on Warrior’s Way – when you are working through a complex scene, you really have to consider it at multiple scales – in terms of how it sits in the larger picture but also frame by frame, paying attention to every detail in terms of how it will be placed in the mix…

WW stills

Another interesting sound requirement from the film was the Sad Flutes – the hero of the film (played by Dong-gun Jang) is from a clan known as the Sad Flutes and as he explains in a scene in the film, the Sad Flutes are named after the sound created from the throat as the last air exits the lungs after death by a samurai sword! The director wanted this to not be a literal sound and I did a ton of development work, recording and manipulating a lot of source material. In my research I came across an article about an Aztec Death Whistle (I blogged about it here) and managed to find one to buy, so I imported it & used that as an element. I also hired a local genius collector and player of wind instruments, Bruce McNaught, who arrived with a suitcase with some of his collection including many flutes & whistles of different ethnicities…. On the left is a flute of Chinese extraction which employed some kind of onion skin, next is a Japanese Shakahachi while the other two were bamboo flutes of unknown origin:

Wind instruments

Three other good sources of material were: I had a sudden childhood flashback of using a blade of grass as a whistle, so I went outside grabbed some & after a few minutes remembered the technique; placing the blade of grass flat on the side of your thumb, and then pressing your other thumb against it and cupping your hands together to make a resonating chamber. Blowing through the slit between the thumbs (where the grass acts as a reed) produces a great shrill whistle. I also did some recording using one of those dog whistles that is a flat U shaped and the last source was via a local shop Trade Aid who amongst other things import musical instruments from all over the world (thats where I bought my Tibetan singing bowl etc) where I found a number of cheap wooden flutes and whistles, and experimented putting water and yoghurt into them & trying to play them. This process created some great wet gurgles with a varying degrees of wind & pitch to them….

WarriorsWay sadflutes by timprebble

Apart from all of the real sounds in the film, another aspect was developing stings and tones for particular moments. At the time I became very interested in bowed metal as a source element, which prompted this video:

I have plans to release a library of bowed metal on HISSandaROAR in 2011 it is such great source material,e specially when convolved and/or processed through impulse reponses… I also created more percussive stings for some of the fright moments (eg the one in the first scene of the film) and hunted far & wide for sounds with a sharp attack. Apart from actual sound effects I also used/manipulated what would normally be considered a musical element; Col lengo a string playing technique (violin, cello, viola, double bass) which is an instruction to strike the string with the stick of the bow. I found a great aggressive ensemble sample of this technique and used it as a layer in the stings….

WarriorsWay stings tones by timprebble

The score for the film was composed by Javier Navarrete and he has done a truly beautiful job, especially when you consider the film is simultaneously working within a few genres. Most of the score was recorded in Wellington with the NZSO although a taiko drumming group was also recorded at Abbey Road studios. We went & visited the score recording during their lunch break:




WW stills

Sngmoo Lee – Writer, Director
Barrie M Osbourne – Producer

Sound Department
David Madigan – production sound mixer
Corrin Ellingford – boom operator

Tim Prebble – sound designer
Matthew Lambourn – sound effects editor
Simon Riley – assistant sound effects editor

Carolyn Mclaughlin – foley recordist
Robyn McFarlane – foley recordist
Matt Stutter – foley editor

Ray Beentjes – supervising dialogue editor
Chris Todd – dialogue editor
Emile de la Rey – assistant dialogue editor

Neil Aldridge – adr recordist
Ron Bedrosian – adr recordist
Glen Bullen – adr recordist
Chris Burt – adr recordist
Buster Flaws – adr recordist

Gethin Creagh – sound re-recording mixer
Gilbert Lake – sound re-recording mixer
Tim Chaproniere – mix assistant

Music Department
Javier Navarrete – composer
Graham Kennedy – score recording engineer
John Neill – scoring mixer
Plan 9 – music editor

Park Road Post – Mix facility

25 thoughts on “Sound Design for The Warrior’s Way

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  2. Jed

    Very nice article Tim, I’m looking forward to watching it. When you say “we” or “us”, did you mix the FX predubs as well?

    1. tim Post author

      I don’t mix (other than drawing automation/virtually balancing components in ProTools)
      Gilbert Lake was FX/Ambience/Foley mixer and Gethin Creagh mixed dialogue/score

  3. Colin Hunter

    Great article Tim and congratulations on the project. Seems like a great film to have been involved in. Regarding the Col lengo techniques, which string instrument did you use? Did you try many different instruments? I’m guessing the results would vary depending on the resonance of the string? Or can the effect be achieved using any and then manipulating the recording?


  4. Glen Yard

    Cracking read!

    You say this is the longest edit you’ve been involved with, could I ask what the shortest turnaround you’ve been involved with is?

  5. Louise Brown

    Now THIS is an epic blog post.
    How exceptional, almost as exceptional as Park Road itself.

    Thank you for posting this wonderful insight Tim, looking forward to having my cinema tickets in hand upon release.

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  7. Davide Favargiotti

    Thank you Tim for taking the time to write this post and sharing your experience! Very inspiring.
    I was wondering how did you deal with reverbs, delays, etc in the temp mix 1 (the big monster session): did you have all your reverbs,delays printed to regions on tracks under the dry regions (and panned as necessary) or were they live (plugins/outboard)?


    1. tim Post author

      If it was a specific transition or part of a more sound designy moment I would print verbs (usually Altiverb or TL Space) but otherwise left it for the FX mixer to do – Park Road Post have much nicer reverbs than I could ever afford to own 😉

      1. Davide Favargiotti

        thank you. Let me be more precise: fx like swoosh or proper sound design were already reverbered by you, instead reverbs for e.g. doors, ambience, “the distant horse running in a canyon”, etc, were added on the console to the 5.1 outputs from protools, am I right? (I still refer only to your temp mix 1).

        I ask you this because in the studio we were talking about how to improve the quality and the schedule of the sfx editorial: here in Italy, unfortunately, it’s really uncommon to do sfx predub on the mixing stage.

        1. tim Post author

          hey Davide, yes that is correct!

          With my current film we had a very short FX predub time, so we setup for the final mix and then spent a day doing a virtual FX predub – playing down the reel of FX and only stopping to predub the scenes that really needed it ie where the FX were more complex & would be difficult to deal with live in the final mix. We didn’t print these predubbed scenes, just relied on the automation and it worked well. I know this is how people mixing on Icon desks etc often work and I can see the advantages… Although on a big complex film I would feel safer having stems printed as well…

  8. tim Post author

    “all supplies a great comedic feeling. Something which is only exceeded by the terrific use of sound. At one point Yang cuts off both the arms, awesome, of a machine gun wielding bandit – the gun falls to the ground, shooting wildly, and as each shot rings out it actually sounds like it’s forming part of the music. A sound I would equate to someone beating a drum with a burning phosphorus stick made out of pure awesome.”

    “Fascinating experiments are also taken with the film’s score. In a couple of instances, the sound and rhythm of gun fire is incorporated as part of the music, something that this reviewer doesn’t think he has ever seen attempted before.”

    Wahoo – someone noticed!!

  9. Igor Sá

    Hello! Congratulations for the great job! If you could please awnser this question: What is the name of the melody playing in the swords train scene??

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