We had the pleasure of working with Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale of Haxan Films on their entry for the sequel to 2012’s indie found-footage anthology horror V/H/S.
V/H/S/2 is about two private investigators, searching for a missing student, who break into his house and find a collection of VHS tapes. Viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realize there may be dark motives behind the student’s disappearance. The anthology style horror film has a main story that is held together through shorts from various directing teams that are all executed in a “found footage” style. Among Ed and Gregg, other directing teams include Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto on the segment “Safe Haven”, who also helmed “The Raid: Redemption”.
Having worked with Haxan on “Lovely Molly” and more recently “Exists”, Studio Unknown joined the team to bring some sonic love to their V/H/S/2 segment “A Ride in the Park”. The short follows a GoPro-clad mountain biker who gets turned into a zombie and goes on a rampage in the woods. Due to the style of shooting (first person POV), the audience experiences the short AS a zombie…which of course opened the floodgates in terms of how crazy we could get with the sound work. There’s entrail eating, flesh ripping, bone crunching and a ton of cool surprises along the way, all which gave us some fun and imaginative footage to work against.
So lets start at the beginning! As we love to do with all projects, we got with Ed early in the process to figure out what these zombies should sound like. Over the years zombies have had somewhat of an evolution in design due to their popularity and some ingenuity in the filmmaking community. 2002’s incredible “28 Days Later” (a personal favorite) introduced an intense virus-fueled type of zombie that put a new spin on the classic creature type; screaming, gnashing and chasing. Flashing forward, with the popularity of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” a great amount of detail in both the look and sound of zombies has been established in the mainstream.
With all this in mind, we went to work collecting various zombie sounds to start the creative juices flowing*. As Sound Designer and Foley Artist at the studio, I hopped in the sound booth with a list of common zombie types, ranging from old-school “Night of the Living Dead” moaning zombies to weird variants like Half-Life 2’s HeadCrab Zombies, which sound like a hyperactive zombie trying to shout a well articulated sentence (and failing) while inhaling…yeah, pretty strange.
What ended up working the best were in line with the now modern standard you hear on productions like “The Walking Dead”; a very wet, throaty, gurgly sound that tends to sit somewhere between a growl and sick, phlegmy cough. To see and hear how some of this process went check out the video below:
While I covered most of the supporting zombies throughout the film, the main character needed to be performed by the actor himself. Playing the role of “The Biker” was Jay Saunders who we’re introduced to in the beginning of the film before the…zombification? In order to have him mirror his excellent physical performance once turned, we had him step into the sound booth, where he had already provided traditional ADR for the english dialog lines.
Usually when actors perform ADR it’s under very controlled circumstances, perched in front of a microphone with little movement so as to get a clean vocal performance. All accounted for (including co-star Devon Brookshire), StUn Owner and Re-Recording Mixer Kevin Hill, Ed Sanchez, Jay, and myself approached the ADR session from the typical standpoint; place Jay in the booth and let him work. That’s when we decided to mix it up a bit. In order to get back into this unusual and hyper-grotesque zombie character, Jay needed room to move and perform to match the screen performance.
As ADR mics are usually attached to a stand and don’t follow the actor, I ended up jumping in the booth with Jay and actively boomed the 2-3 hour, rather sweaty, session. This process allowed us to get clean sound, but more importantly let the actor be as physically expressive as possible making for an energetic, real performance.
So with all the Zombie performances complete came the task of adding custom foley for gore, movement, footsteps and the like. What would a zombie film be without some nauseating gore FX?
In the history of Foley FX/Performances for blood, guts, gore and bones there are many approaches to getting the perfect sounds for the right application. Often, you’ll find Foley Artist using fruit and vegetables to get the right sounds, and most of the time this works; celery and carrots for bones breaking, hitting a watermelon with a hammer for skull/brain impacts.
In the case of “A Ride in the Park”, some fruit (an apple) was sacrificed in the creation of the sound, but more importantly a bowl of what lovingly became known as “Foley Pudding” was used. On the way there, we tried out different ingredients like cornstarch, which not only didn’t produce the cool, sticky sound I was hoping for, but was AWFUL to take a dry spoonful of.
We considered Jello, but it has the tendency to liquify quickly. So then came cheap, chocolate pudding; It’s thick, gloppy consistency takes a while to break down into liquid, and once it does it has a great sonic quality. Getting in the booth, tarp covering the floor, I went to town gnashing at the pudding combining at times a latex hose and even attacking my own hand to get the desired effect. For the transformation sequence gagging/vomiting sounds needed to be created; all I’ll say is that I still smell and taste chocolate pudding when hearing the sounds…For a look behind the scenes, check out this short photo/audio video:
So there you have it, a look into the sound creation for one of our favorite projects to date. V/H/S/2’s “A Ride in the Park” has many more sound gems in it, but we don’t want to give too much away. So far it’s becoming a fan favorite of the anthology at festivals, and for good reason! Like everything we work on, we put a ton of care into the creation process, making sure the film “feels” right with the sound we provide. In this case we also had an absolute blast working on it and we hope those who see it experience that.
* apologies for using “zombie” and “juices” in the same sentence.