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Transcript:The Northern Air Temple (commentary)

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Benjamin Wynn Hi everybody, my name's Benjamin Wynn. I'm one half of the track team, and we do music and sound for Avatar. The other half is Jeremy Zuckerman.
Dee Bradley Baker And this is Dee Baker. I do the sounds of Momo [Makes Momo sound.] and Appa [Makes Appa sound.] and all the creatures that populate the magnificent world of Avatar, and we're going to talk about this show together.
Benjamin Yes.
Dee It's the first time we've spoken together, so it's going to be really ...
Benjamin It's gonna be fun.
Dee ... kind of interesting.
Benjamin So, my particular duties on the show are sound design. Um, Jeremy does music, so that's pretty much what I'm gonna be talking about.
Dee And, so you do this after everything is already visually rendered, and they send it to you, and you ...
Benjamin Right, they give me all the animation when it's completely done, and then we just add all the sound and the music.
Dee And, uh, do you also do the music too, or is the music given to you separately?
Benjamin Uh, simultaneously, we do the music, so ...
Dee Oh.
Benjamin One of us is working on music, one of us is working on sound.
Dee Oh, so there's a couple of you?
Benjamin Two of us. Jeremy could not make it.
Dee Okay.
Benjamin So I am voicing his opinions.
Dee Okay, all right, okay. And, um, as far as what I do in the show, normally I'm given the show with no sound effects and no music, and I get to watch through it and see what Momo and Appa and any of the other creatures might be doing, and I just kind of come up with my ideas and, uh, then come into the booth and, um, see what happens.
Benjamin That's right, so you do your stuff before there's any animation. Is that correct?
Dee No, no mine's all done after the animation, in this show, almost always done afterwards, which is unusual.
Benjamin So give me your animation for Momo right there.
Dee Uh ... Well, there's sort of an ape-like look to the little fellow, and so ... which is a [Makes ape sound.], but like everything in this show, he's kind of a combination of things, so there's gotta be something weird to him, um, and he's kind of just ...
Benjamin And he's not just a lemur.
Dee No, he's not, and there's kind of a contemplative softness to him, and so I kind of added a purring [Purrs.] to him also.
Benjamin So, do you give him thoughts, or do you just kind of go for it? [Sarcastic.] Are you a method actor, I guess I'm asking?
Dee [Laughs.] Uh, I don't know, I think ultimately the show is specific enough, and one of the great things about is it's ... everything about it is very specific, and there's a real depth to it, even if it's a comedic thing or a light moment, and so any sound I make I'm trying to say something with that, I guess.
Benjamin Yeah, um, you know, I've known Bryan for a while and ... Bryan and Mike ... and when they were originally talking about this show, it turns out the sound design is very realistic. It's not, you know, it's not like you hear that magic sound, and then just magic stuff happens. It's supposed to be very realistic, very detailed. So, I mean, you know, which is pretty tough, it's pretty ... I think it's harder sometimes to make something sound realistic, than it is making it, um, sound magical, you know. Like all these glider wind sounds are ... you know, it's interesting, like, sound design, in lots of respects, it's successful if people don't really notice it.
Dee Mhmm. Yeah, I'm happiest too if, uh, if nobody thinks, "Oh what's ... it sounds like there's some guy doing an animal sound", if they just think of the animal making that sound.
Benjamin Mhmm. It's such a huge help for the show. It's amazing.
Dee I hope so.
Benjamin [Referring to Aang as he tries to outperform Teo in gliding.] There's Aang feeling a little ... a little competitive.
Dee I don't know how they do this, but part of what, to me, what makes Aang so appealing is he has these superpowers, and yet he's a very vulnerable, kind of a sweet vulnerable kid, and you're always kind of on his side, because there's a vulnerability to his superpowers.
Benjamin Again with this show, everything is just supposed, you know, it's just as intense as possible, as, like, hyper-real as possible. Which makes a pretty fun sound design actually.
Dee [Laughs.] I love the humor in this show. I just love it. I think it's a really funny show.
Benjamin Aha.
Dee [Referring to Teo as he reveals that he is lame.] The reveal.
No commentary for a short period of time until Aang thanks Teo for complimenting him as the Avatar.
Dee [Imitating Teo's thoughts toward Aang.] I just kicked your butt.
Benjamin [Laughs.] I was quite worried about how to do that wheelchair, to be honest, and luckily felt I did a really good job. This was kind of fun, this whole ambiance. This, like, um, kind of kooky noisemaker, inventor-guy ambiance, who kind of lives in this ... he invented this crazy world, so all these, like, pistons going off and, like, uh, industrial presses and stuff.
Dee Yeah, your right. It's something you never think about while watching it.
Benjamin It's fun.
Dee But it really does, uh, add the whole dimension to the world.
Benjamin Actually a lot of those sounds, like those motors or at least ... some reason ... my mom somehow started giving me all these, like, really silly little toys every Christmas. It turns out I use every single one in the show, so ...
Dee Ah, neat.
Benjamin ... so I have these funny little red lips that make a sound, so that was the elevator right there.
Dee [Laughs; imitating Aang's distress about the industrialization of the Northern Air Temple.] And you made it into a theme park.
Benjamin [Whispers, referring to the cloud of smoke emitted from the flying bison statue.] Scary. [Continue in normal voice.] We always wanted to do a show completely just with mouth noises.
Dee Yeah.
Benjamin I think that'd be awesome.
Dee [Imitating Teo.] Aw, you ruined it. Aw, Dad.
Benjamin There's the kooky ... [Repeats the mechanist while snickering.] What the doodle.
Dee You know that a guy that says, "What the doodle" is probably not evil. He's probably ...
Benjamin [Laughs.] I really ... I should start saying that.
Dee He's probably just misguided ...
Benjamin [Imitating the mechanist.] What the doodle.
Dee I mean, he's made some bad choices, but he's not a bad guy. What the doodle.
Benjamin Right, totally. He's got a good heart.
Another period of no commentary until the mechanist begins his story explaining why he and his people were at the air temple.
Benjamin You can feel the love for his son, you really can.
Dee Yeah.
Benjamin I would stay there too, if I stumbled across it, I think.
Dee [Imitating Aang.] Sorry about destroying your wrecking ball and blowing a hole in the side of the sacred temple. [Referring to Katara and Sokka after the mechanist's story.] Everyone's crying. [Pretends to cry.]
Benjamin I'm getting so wrapped up ... [Laughs.] I'm getting so wrapped up in watching this, I'm kind of just paying attention.
Dee The most boring DVD commentary ever.
Benjamin [Laughs. Refers to the spark powder in the candles.] This actually was a very hard sound design to do, believe it or not. I think we ended getting those, um, snaps. You know those little toy snaps, where you throw them down, and they kind of explode.
Dee Uh-huh, yes.
Benjamin That's what that is.
Dee [Laughs loudly at the mechanist as he takes off his wooden fingers and throws them to Sokka.]
Benjamin I guess if there's anything that we can ... that we can give to anybody watching this is that if you're a kid and you're trying to figure out what you want to do when you grow up, I think we're two good examples that you can pretty much do whatever you want when you grow up.
Dee As long as you follow it doing what you like.
Benjamin You can make sounds with your mouth or with your computer.
Dee makes weird animal sounds.
Benjamin [Chuckles.] What sound was that?
Dee [Referring to the hermit crab.] What would that little ... what sound would that make?
Benjamin Oh man.
Dee You know, that's all I do when I watch these. I just think, "What is that sound gonna be? What might that be?"
Benjamin How many takes does it take you to do these sounds?
Dee Usually they like my first idea. Maybe they modify it, or we end up modifying it a little bit, but they usually like what I do when I bring it ...
Benjamin So, you're sort of like a genius?
Dee [Laughing.] No. No, no. Nothing like that.
Benjamin Oh, sorry.
Dee I just like creatures. I always liked watching monster movies when I was a little kid.
Benjamin Can you do bees and insects and flies and stuff? Is it tough?
Dee [Referring to a sound in the show.] Oh that's me.
Benjamin Nice.
Dee [Starts making insect and buzzing sounds. Makes a flatulent sound after the mechanist says "natural gas".]
Benjamin [Laughs at Dee's many noises.] Kids, once again, you can do anything when you grow up.
Dee [Imitating the mechanist.] It's filled to the brim with this plug device. We'll release it later.
Benjamin Salami Studios is the mixing ... uh, the place where it gets mixed. They do a real good job too, the ... you know, mixing rave ribbon, the sounds, and sort of placing stuff in the environments
Dee Sometimes I do the ADR part over there, usually it's over here at Nickelodeon.
Benjamin [Referring to the background sounds before Katara glides.] There's another windy section. I love this music. So epic.
Dee Yeah, it really is. I mean, it's just got a beautiful, epic sense of spirit, and it's also got the comedy right. It's got the sweetness right. It's got all these different elements that just beautifully ...
Benjamin Yeah, and it's got you.
Dee [Makes Momo sounds.] It's so easy to let these images just suggest a sound to me.
Benjamin Yeah, same with me. I mean, you know, we do spotting suggestions each ... before each episode and, you know, we sit down and watch the whole thing and go over notes, and Bryan and Mike tell us what they ... what they're thinking for each scene, but honestly the images are so descriptive that ...
Dee Yeah.
Benjamin ... that I can get almost all the information from the images.
Dee The relationships are also so clear and the plight of whatever people is also so clear that you ... I'm sure that, um, suggests the tone that you want very well.
Benjamin Mhmm. I love Sokka. I think he's hysterical.
Dee Oh he's gotten really funny.
Benjamin Oh he's so funny.
Dee He's really kind of changed from sort of mister complainer to uh ...
Benjamin [Referring to airbending sounds to open the temple door.] These sounds are kind of fun. We took a flute.
Dee Ooh. Was that computer ... is that ... that looked like a computer animation right there.
Benjamin Yeah, I think ... yeah it was, I believe.
Dee I'm commenting on things I don't know anything about now. And those things are many.
Benjamin [Referring to Sokka and the mechanist.] They're best friends.
Dee makes more funny animal sounds.
Benjamin [Laughs.] They need to do a smellevision feature. [Referring to bell ringing.] There's my bell. [Laughs.]
Dee What ... what like your doorbell?
Benjamin [Laughs.] It was chimes, yeah.
Dee [Response to Aang's shock upon finding the Fire Nation weapons.] Uh-uh oh.
Benjamin Another ... another little tidbit about sound people don't generally notice is that howling ominous wind.
Dee Mmm.
Benjamin What would you do if your dad was ... if he was making weapons for the Fire Lord?
Dee I'd ... I'd turn my wheelchair aside, if I found out.
Benjamin [Laughs.] And shrug, with angst. [Referring to candle sounds.] Yet again another hard sound to do, for some reason. Candles don't make a lot of recordable noise.
Dee So what do you do in your stunt? Your just kind of ... start kind of knocking things over and ...
Benjamin Hmm.
Dee ... I don't know, where do you start looking?
Benjamin [Jokingly.] I start blowing stuff up. Um ... You know ...
Dee Do you start walking around the room and start flicking things and banging on things?
Benjamin No, you have a general idea what type of category of sound, so, you know, you just get a vocabulary of where to look for that category of sound. You know, I'm sure it's much the same with you and your vocal cords, or whatever, but, you know, the sound kind of dictates where you're gonna look for it.
Dee Mhmm.
Benjamin A lot of these ... a lot of the fire are voice actually. You might appreciate that.
Dee Hmm.
Benjamin We recorded a lot of, like, vocal explosions, like ... [Makes explosion sound.]
Dee Oh, neat.
Benjamin And then just processed them. Even for Aang a lot, we just did, like, a wind kind of deal, like.
Dee Wow.
Benjamin [Makes wind sound.] And then, um, you know, we'd take them and process them and use them.
Dee Neat.
Benjamin A lot ... a lot of the sounds ... almost all of the firebending sounds are ...
Dee Neat.
Benjamin ... from our voice. It's really amazing the, um, range of sounds that the voice can produce ... reproduce.
Dee It's insane the stuff you can do with your voice. I ... I work on trying to come up with stuff everyday, and I just ... it's just the freakish stuff that voice was never designed to do, it's just ... it's pretty amazing.
Benjamin [Interjects.] Mhmm, and something special.
Dee I'll probably ... I'll probably asphyxiate someday, just making some stupid sound.
Benjamin Another ... another way we'll use our voice is um ... if, say you have a fire sound, and it's, like, a raging forest fire, and you want it to follow the ... the animation, because the animation's, like, very dynamic. So you can take, like, a microphone, have the sound playing and then follow the envelope of your voice and imply it over to the sound. So, you just kind of go [Makes repetitive fire sounds.] ... if that's the action.
Dee Mhmm.
Benjamin And then the fire will do that. It will follow the envelope of your voice.
Dee Wow. Huh. [Responding to the mechanist's comment about never underestimating the power of stink.] Oh no, I've got two pugs.
Benjamin laughs at Dee's comment.
Dee I know that all too well.
Benjamin And a baby, don't you?
Dee Yeah.
Benjamin Oh here ... here we start the incredibly long, epic battle.
Dee makes Appa and Momo sounds while Benjamin is speaking.
Benjamin [Referring to Dee's sounds.] And the Appa burp. This scene was quite, uh, intense, sound design-wise and music-wise. We had to make that crowd sound huge [Dee affirms.], they gave us, like, the sound of like three people.
Dee [Referring to the music.] I love the syncopation there.
Benjamin Mhmm.
Dee counts out the beats to the music.
Benjamin Now these ... these crazy, huge tanks are coming.
Dee Yes, I just now remembered them actually. Yeah.
Benjamin With these crazy grappling hooks.
Dee They're digital, aren't they? As I remember, they're ... they're, like ...
Benjamin I don't think so.
Dee Really?
Benjamin These sounds were intense.
Dee [Referring to one of the Fire Nation soldiers.] Oh that was me.
Benjamin Oh you did the ...
Dee [In the character's voice.] Take them out of the sky, now!
Benjamin Lots of explosions. Avalanche.
Dee I really respect that this show doesn't have all these cutesy phrases, you know, like ...
Benjamin Right.
Dee When you're dumping snow on people you don't say, like, you know, "Hope you like your snow-cones cold," or something like that, you know, it's just ... they commit to the universe that it comes from.
Benjamin [Laughs.] There are those grappling hooks, I like that snow. Another trick is, like, when you have one sound and you need to make it lots of sounds, it's ... it's pretty ... it's pretty tough. But you can actually, I mean, we built these kind of things where you can repeat it, like, with all these random variables, like pitch and amplitude and ...
Dee Huh.
Benjamin ... and panning, and then you can turn, like, one sound into many sounds.
Dee I love how this show ... it just surprises me, it's just ... every show I just got ... there's these inventions that just continually ...
Benjamin Yeah
Dee ... emerge from the story, um ...
Benjamin Well this show ... the story in this show is incredible.
Dee See that looks ... that looks computer generated to me, so.
Benjamin All those fire Doppler sounds, those were fun. Man, looking back at this show, it just astounds me how much work goes into it.
Dee I can't imagine it. I mean, just conceptually.
Benjamin I mean, and the schedule is, like, you know, two weeks, so ... like you were asking about what if I can't come up with a sound? What do I do? I pretty much don't have time to, like, experiment, you know, like, think ... I don't have time to be stumped for too long.
Dee Mhmm.
Benjamin Which can be a good thing, because then you come up with stuff that you wouldn't ... you have less time to be scared.
Dee I mean, you've got a whole catalog of sounds in your head. You know where it all is, and where it comes from, and you just kind of dial it up, I imagine.
Benjamin Yeah, but on this show there's always ... like you said there's always something new that needs some new, crazy sound design.
Dee Mhmm.
Benjamin And it's always something hyper-realistic, you know, like ... like ice magic. There is no ice magic in the world, so ...
Dee And yet it's utterly believable. There's such a believability to all of this stuff ...
Benjamin Totally.
Dee ... and just the way it's rendered, that it just really knocks me out. And they maintain the drama of this so beautifully by ... you've got these big, metal, horrible machines versus kind of little, paper gliders ...
Benjamin Spirit, yeah.
Dee ... and these people with no armor, I mean, it's ... it's really ...
Benjamin I mean, he's twelve years. He's quite the underdog.
Dee It's all these seemingly incidental elements that just have been so thought through and fit together so beautifully.
Benjamin [Referring to the war balloon.] This thing was kind of fun to make sounds for, because, you know, it's, like, this huge thing, but it's supposed ... he made it, and he's kind of, like, rickety and crazy, so ... so it needs to sound huge, but also, um, kind of fragile, you know, like, not ...
Dee Mhmm.
Benjamin ... not built to specification. [Laughs as Sokka says "rotten eggs".] Smellevision.
Dee [Makes a flatulent sound. Referring to Sokka.] He's ... he's become a much more active element of the stories. He's actually helping out here. [Chuckles along with Benjamin.] As I remember earlier on he's ...
Benjamin [Referring to when the deposit of natural gas ignites.] Here goes the big explosion.
Dee ... he's just kind of putting the breaks on everything.
Benjamin [Satisfied with the explosion.] Oh yeah.
Dee Nice.
Benjamin Oh yeah. [Laughs.] That's what it's all about.
Dee [In a humorous voice.] That's a big explosion. The bad guys all went away.
Benjamin Honestly though, those huge moments are the most fun for me. The ones where they're just totally off ... off the wall. And, you know, um, this is really the first show that I've worked on like this, and so it's kind of fun. You can see how you solve these problems and all the things you've invented and how you did it, and it's ... and then you can keep on using it. You kind of build the vocabulary.
Dee [Makes hermit crab sound.] That's kind of a little ratchet sound I use.
Benjamin Yeah, I like that.
Dee Very small, very incidental, and yet it's nice to have a little life to it, you know.
Benjamin Yeah, totally.
Dee [Imitating the mechanist.] I wish I'd never have invented that trap door that ... that the Fire Nation people could come through.
Benjamin I like this ending. Very ominous. That leaves you wanting more, if nothing else.
Dee Nice
Benjamin Evil. [Credits begin rolling.] And here we are. Thanks everybody.
Dee Wow.
Benjamin Thank you Dee. I love this ending too.
Dee Whoa, what's this.
Benjamin You know it's ... [Referring to his credit.] and there I am ... this, uh, this ending never shows on TV, because they always make it smaller and, like, talk about what's coming up next.
Dee starts making sounds to go along with the ending music.
Benjamin This is like my favorite music. Yeah, we did ... we did Kecak. We did, like, Balinese monkey chant. So that's Jeremy and me on ... on vocals.
Dee You got the ... ooh, you got the triplet going in the background. I like that.
Benjamin Yeah. And that's Jeremy on flute.
Dee How cool.
Benjamin Actually, that was me and Jeremy on flute.
Dee Ah, that's cool.

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