<I>Jumanji's</I> VFX Reinforced Through Sound Design
January 5, 2018

Jumanji's VFX Reinforced Through Sound Design

CULVER CITY, CA — In Columbia Pictures’  Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle , four high school students discover an old video game console and are drawn into the game's jungle setting. The teens assume the outer form of their game avatars (Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan), while retaining their adolescent personalities, and contend with a variety of menaces, including oversized hippos, rhinos and elephants.

Director Jake Kasdan introduces many clever twists to the action-adventure, and that created many opportunities for the film’s sound crew. All sound services were completed at Sony Pictures Post Production Services.

“The land of Jumanji is fictional,” says supervising sound editor Joel Shryack, who led the sound team alongside sound designer/supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Julian Slater and re-recording mixer Kevin O’Connell. “The environments and animals aren’t exactly like they are in the real world. That gave us creative freedom, but it also challenged us to bring this world to life, sonically, in a way that’s believable and exciting for the audience.”

The sound team devoted much of its attention to the huge assortment of jungle creatures featured in the film. Slater explains that the animals needed to appear both familiar and larger than life, and that led to some imaginative sound treatments. “They’re real animals, but they’re 50 percent bigger because this is Jumanji,” he explains. “Many of the animal sounds were designed from scratch and involved a cocktail of sounds blended together. For the hippos and rhinos, we blended in the sounds of tigers and even moose. We pitched them down and put them through filters to make them sound completely different from what we started with. I also used my own voice quite a bit.”

One of the film’s most challenging sequences, from a sound perspective, has the four heroes in a helicopter zooming through a jungle cavern while being pursued by an angry herd of albino rhinos. The whirl of the copter’s propeller and whine of its engine alternate with the snorts and pounding hooves of the animals as they clatter through the brush. At several points, the rhinos bash the helicopter with their horns. 

“The shots come fast and include a lot of detail,” notes Shryack. “Our object is to make the audience imagine they are inside the helicopter with the actors. It feels like an amusement park ride. You are completely immersed in the sound design and Henry Jackman’s beautiful score. It’s exciting.”

The sound team also took a novel approach with human sounds. One scene is set in what appears to be a crowded bazaar - but because it is happening inside Jumanji, it wasn’t meant to represent any real-world location. To create the right sense of geographic ambiguity, Shryack instructed crowd actors taking part in ADR sessions to speak in an improvised language.

“We brought in actors who could speak a second language and had them make things up, using the cadence of Spanish or an African language, but not the words,” Shryack explains. “The crowds sound foreign, but it’s not a real language.”

The scope and intricacy of the sound design combined with layered dialogue tracks and buoyant score made for a complex mix. O’Connell, who won an Academy Award for his work on Hacksaw Ridge, says the film’s veteran crew kept the project on track. “Joel and Julian did a fantastic job in preparing and organizing the dialogue and sound elements,” he says. “That left us with a lot of room to get creative with the mix. It was especially beneficial to have Julian working the sound effects side of the mix console, since he had designed many of the elements himself.”

Slater agrees, calling the completed soundtrack a collaborative effort, driven by the sound team’s passionate desire to bring the world of Jumanji to life. “Joel, Kevin and I are kindred spirits,” he says. “We’ll do whatever is necessary for the betterment of the movie. We put a lot of time into the sound design, editing and mixing and when we finished the movie, we all had massive smiles on our faces because it had been such a fun and positive experience.”