Randy Thom – a gracefully orchestrated shifting of focus

The clip that Randy Thom showed to explain how the battle scene in Forrest Gump was put together at his talk at The University of Edinburgh demonstrated the days/weeks of work that goes into the shortest of sequences. Layers of sound tracks…

1) Dubbed in vocals only…… “one day, we was out walking, like always, and then, just like that, somebody turned off the rain and the sun come out.”

2) Footsteps and body movements only

3) Gunfire only

4) Bullet sounds and ricochet only

5) Mortar whistles and explosions

6) And then it all together

Step 6 Randy described as “a gracefully orchestrated shifting of focus”. It’s all to do with leaving things out rather than cramming things in. Shift the audio focus to help the audience. It was an exceptional 20 minutes listening to the various layers and then seeing the complete piece – the gracefully orchestrated battle chaos as the end result more than the sum of the parts.

I’ve seen Forrest Gump a number of times – I’d never seen the work involved before all I had seen was a good film – I felt a bit of an idiot that I hadn’t noticed that every single tracer bullet had a sound attached. Or that the American guns all sounded the same while the Vietnamese sounded varied and scarier.

And I hadn’t even considered that you can’t record a battle scene live – of course you can’t – but that’s the ability of the good sound designer – you can’t see the joins. Software development is a skoosh compared to this stuff – I’m off to Holywood.


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