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Creating sound effects for The Lego Movie

The challenge of working in any animation is the ability to bring characters to life. Animation differs from live-action as there are no sounds ‘captured’ during the filming process. Just like pixels are used to build the imagery, the sound also needs to be created from the ground up. With a film like The Lego Movie, part of the creative process is to derive unique sounds that are already familiar to an audience, yet are still original and represent what it would sound like if we were living in the Lego world. Everyone is familiar with the sound of the plastic clicks made when joining Lego together or the sound of Lego being poured out of a box.

Lord Business

With the responsibility for creating the sound effects for several elements of the film including the cars, spacecraft, Wyldstyle’s motorbike and Lord Business, I was conscious of creating sounds that were both realistic and still had characteristics of the familiar Lego sounds. The challenge here was to find, record and create a hybrid sound that was both realistic and also aligned with the narrative of the film.

The character Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) differs from the other characters of the film as he transforms from being the regular Lego-sized President Business to the towering, flame-bursting Lord Business. When creating the transformation sounds I wanted to portray both the sound of Lego pieces building and clicking together as his legs extend and also a mechanical transformation sound.

Using exclusively RØDE microphones, I first started experimenting with both the NTG3 and the Procaster. My recording subject was a broken children’s toy car that had noisy broken cogs inside it. This was the ideal sound as these broken cogs ‘clicked’ and grinded allowing me to rotate the wheels in time with the transforming images. Although capturing a clean sound, due to the minuter of the cogs inside the car, the detail of the inner workings of the car was lost. Having a smartLav on hand, I attached this directly to the car. To my surprise the smartLav sounded amazing capturing all of the additional detail from within the car. With its supplied clip, the smartLav allowed me to attach the microphone in very close proximity to the sound source, allowing the sound to be ‘larger than life’, something that complimented the character of the film.

smartLav used to record sound effects for The Lego Movie

Some of the numerous toys Damian used to build his sound effects

With such surprising results I continued to use the smartLav as my microphone of choice for almost every sound that I created for the Lego Movie. Building on from the Lord Business extension sounds, I used the smartLav to record all his mechanical walking moves. For this particular effect I rigged the smartLav onto a cheap toy motorbike. This allowed me to rotate the rear wheel on the bike back and forth synchronised with the onscreen walking – creating a mechanical servo sound. Again, having the microphone located only a couple of millimetres from the source sound allowed this tiny (2cm) wheel to sound as if it were the hydraulics for a giant robot.

Hear Damian's final sound design for Lord Business in this clip from The Lego Movie

Without doubt the RØDE smartLav allowed me to capture and create sounds not possible with other more conventional microphones for The Lego Movie. Being able to place a microphone literally only a few millimetres away from the sound source without any distortion, great frequency response and very low noise allowed for crisp rich recordings that complimented the narrative and scale of the film.

Damian Candusso is an international multi-award winning sound designer, Senior Lecturer at Charles Sturt University and RØDE ambassador. He has over 17 years industry experience in film, television, animation, games, music and installation with credits including: The Lego Movie, The Great Gatsby, Australia and Happy Feet. Damian has been nominated for several Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) Golden Reel Awards for his work and in 2002, received the Centenary Medal for Contribution to Australian Culture for his work in the Australian film industry. Damian is currently completing a PhD investigating current sound design practices in relation to digital 3D films. You can find out more about Damian at his website - www.damiancandusso.com.

Products mentioned in this article:

smartLav