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Bringing The Legend of Tarzan to Life with Pro Tools

Written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, with Harry Potter director David Yates at the helm, The Legend of Tarzan depicts a previously untold story of the infamous ‘King of the Jungle’ many years after he leaves Africa, where he was raised by great apes. Featuring an all-star cast, Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood, Battleship) takes the lead as Tarzan. Now living an aristocratic life in Victorian London as John Clayton III, his wife is played by the infallible Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street).

John Clayton III is invited back to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary for the House of Commons. Here he uncovers that he’s a pawn in a deadly convergence of greed and revenge, masterminded by the corrupt Belgian Captain Léon Rom, played by Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Spectre), and is forced to embody his former identity of Tarzan.

Academy Award-winning sound designer/supervising sound editor Glenn Freemantle (Gravity, Everest, Slumdog Millionaire) led a highly acclaimed team including fellow sound designer and sound re-recording mixer, Niv Adiri, to create the stunning soundtrack to The Legend of Tarzan. Helping them overcome the challenges of a demanding sound design and workflow, Freemantle and Adiri relied on Avid Artist Suite solutions, including Pro Tools and the Pro Tools | S6 control surface, powered by the MediaCentral Platform, to bring the far-off realms of the jungle to life.

We’re big champions of the Avid S6 control surface and have been using the desk for some time now. Having now invested in our own console, all our processes are built around what Pro Tools continues to offer us and we embrace these every step of the way. This helps us to develop our workflows and better equip us for the next time we start a project.

Niv Adiri, Sound re-recording mixer

For Freemantle and the team, this was their first time working with award-winning Harry Potter director David Yates. Yet again though, they returned to their trusted Avid workflow, mixing The Legend of Tarzan in the box on Pro Tools with the powerful Avid S6 control surface.

“We approach every project and build all our workflows around Pro Tools, and it’s been that way for a long time,” exclaimed Adiri. “On The Legend of Tarzan, we kept everything live from start to finish. We’re big champions of the Avid S6 control surface and have been using the desk for some time now. Having now invested in our own console, all our processes are built around what Pro Tools continues to offer us and we embrace these every step of the way. This helps us to develop our workflows and better equip us for the next time we start a project.”

It’s a constantly evolving soundscape, that’s made even easier thanks to Pro Tools. Communication with the picture department was key as we relied on them to keep us updated with relevant imagery and give us a heads up on updated VFX.

Niv Adiri, Sound re-recording mixer

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Sound vs. picture: gaging the perfect soundtrack for CGI

Making a start on the sound for the movie back in November 2014, the final edits were wrapped up in May 2016. This soundtrack has been a real labour of love for the Sound24 team, with a movie created almost entirely of CGI, it was a fine art striking the perfect balance to ensure the imagery on screen came to life.

“With CGI heavy movies like this, it very much describes what you see,” said Freemantle. “CGI movies allow us to be more colourful and precise with the sound, but also make us work harder to make these creatures feel present and real. We always have to be conscious about gaging the right tone, and not to go over the top. David was also very considerate about making sure that the sound worked with the imagery and making it all feel grounded.”

“On The Legend of Tarzan, we had a decisive approach. We wanted to reflect on the lush, intense ambiences and atmospheres of the Congo, but also provide a very sharp and flowing soundtrack, but also ensuring that there was not too much density,” Adiri explains. “It’s a constantly evolving soundscape, that’s made even easier thanks to Pro Tools. Communication with the picture department was key as we relied on them to keep us updated with relevant imagery and give us a heads up on updated VFX.”

Freemantle adds, “As the visuals become more complete nearer the end of the picture editing process, we can become a little less descriptive with sound, and it makes the overall effect much more real. During the early stages of any edit, we’re trying to describe everything due to the lack of imagery, so that’s a constant changing battle that Pro Tools helps simplify. It’s all about ensuring the audience feels present in this story.”

Editing the sound on Tarzan was a challenge, but was one that Pro Tools and the S6 made a lot easier.

Niv Adiri, Sound re-recording mixer

Sound from the ground up

The Legend of Tarzan is set in a multitude of locations, and sometimes the sounds of these places can be polar opposites. From the bustling streets of Victorian London to the tropical ambiences of the depths of the Congo, it meant that Freemantle and the team faced multiple sound challenges along the way.

“Editing the sound on Tarzan was a challenge, but was one that Pro Tools and the S6 made a lot easier. The most important factor in any project like this is making it believable through sound. This relies on a few important factors, such as changing speeds, and how the high-octane action of the jungle would take place against music,” said Adiri.

“When we were working on the jungle ambiences, we wanted the audience to feel that they were surrounded in this dense environment and that it was closing in around them. It’s also important not to fill up every space – quieter and more tranquil scenes were some of the most difficult. We like to take the audience on a journey, travelling through the sounds, rather than be limited to one place at any given time,” he explains.

Freemantle added, “One notable feature on the sound in Tarzan, was that the jungle settings allowed us to experiment a lot more. Panning through the heights of these enormous trees, coming through the jungle canopy, down to the depths of the tropical undergrowth, it gives the audience an experience of the highs and lows of these spaces.”

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Creating a powerful presence with the sound of the apes

During the movie, there are multiple chase scenes with a strong focus on the apes and gorillas swinging through the jungle with Tarzan. Freemantle discusses how these sequences had a very different concept to that of other action segments of the storyline.

“These creatures obviously have immense power, and it was vital to capture that feeling within our mix. The audience need to feel the imposing presence of these majestic, creatures, good or bad, pulsate around the room and draw them in with every expression and movement.”

“We build action sequences with sensitivity,” Freemantle continues. “We like to use tight sounds and elements to make striking and memorable noises that resonate, intertwined with a powerful soundtrack to keep the energy up and story flowing with pace. It’s important to be decisive, with the music driving the sequence, rather than filling up the entire score.”

And finally, what would a story about the most famous King of the Jungle be without Tarzan's signature yell? “There was a big decision making process behind the creation of the iconic sound of Tarzan. It had to be a very masculine roar, but also resonate an almost superhuman power,” said Freemantle. “It was a play on the original, and we didn’t want to step too far away from that. It was a mix of ADR combined and blended with other recordings we made, but after a few tries, we reverted back to something quite simple, but clearly recognizable.”

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