Joon-ho Bong‘s film ‘Snowpiercer‘, was an unexpected and pleasant surprise at the end of 2012. I was approached by Seoul based Supervising Sound Editor, Tae-young Choi, to help with the sound design for the film. I asked Tim Nielsen if he’d like to collaborate on the design and with four allocated weeks each, we got stuck in.

snowpiercer-53622270c9e26My job was to bring the train to life. I was visiting my Mum in Hamilton, New Zealand, when I found out I was working on the film. I called the local train yard to see if there was any chance of setting up a record. They told me if I was there in 30minutes I could get a few hours of heavy rail action. I’m not one to miss an opportunity and I usually travel with a record kit so I set off. I got great coupling impacts, grinding, shrieking and shunting. I managed to jump on a few trains and really recorded a great starting palette for the film.

Turns out a couple of weeks into the film the talented folks at ‘Boom Library‘ recorded an awesome palette of trains which meant we were spoilt for choice. I still experimented with alternate sources for the train on the rails and the slow moving, groaning carriages as several times in the film we go to an ethereal space.

First I drilled and chiseled out a cavity in a bowling ball big enough to fit an Sony M10 PCM Recorder. This was no easy feat, kids don’t try this without an adult!


Left: Carving a hole in a bowling ball to fit a Sony M10 recorder in. Centre: Screws to keep the recorder in place. Right: Metallic motion.

I then devised a system to keep the recorder stable in the ball and rolled it on all sorts of surfaces i.e. metal, linoleum and long solid wooden hallway. Some of it was awful, but there were a few gems that had a great perpetual motion to them. I created a series of quad ambience files that you could push into the mix if you wanted to lose the heavy train, but still needed a moving presence. They were also great for making whooshes.

The interior groans of the carriages were made using a big old rusty toaster I got from recycling centre and some trusty DPA 4060‘s bunged inside. Mixed in with the other recordings we had great ambient motion and all the bits for the heavier train.

snowpiercer-sceneDirector Bong wanted the engine of the train to have an ethereal feel and we decided to try organ and choir as the key ingredients for the core. He said he gave Marco Beltrami a similar brief, but wanted to see what came from both of us heading down the same path. You generally try and stay clear of tonal material as it can cause all sort of mayhem in the mix, but we seemed to find a happy balance.

All in all it was a flying ‘rockin’ roll’ type job, where the film was cut and we just had fun. I look forward to working with the whole crew again sometime. The sound team at ‘Livetone‘ in Seoul did an amazing job and it was great to meet re-recording mixers, Terry Porter and Anna Behlmer at Technicolor at Paramount in L.A. when I was there last.

It was a pity it took so long to come out in the US, but it seems the audience like it as much as I did.

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