The heightened reality drama series “Jungle” represents one of the most ambitious projects Hijack has ever worked on – depicting a vibrant, near-future world of breathtaking intensity.
Here Dubbing Mixer Rich Simpson walks us through the first episode, highlighting some of the exciting creative and technical decisions the team made to realise the show’s unique vision through mixing and sound design.
For the show’s introduction, the production team had a specific vision where a range of incidental sounds would crescendo, moving from sparseness to near-pandemonium at the end.
This would co-exist with a legible narrative which, for artistic reasons, needed to be delivered in a normal speaking voice despite the mounting chaos around it.
Thankfully, the actor Ezra Elliot was available to deliver a spoken word track for us in ADR and he was a real pro, getting it in one go.
That strong ADR track allowed us to build mounting dramatic tension around the voice, punctuating it with the incidental sounds of things like traffic and sirens, so they occurred in the spaces between the dialogue.
We were also fortunate because some of the softer elements – such as the sound of waves – were established in the footage quite early, as we would have struggled to make these cut through later.
The defining element throughout is a clock sound, as it lends the section its metronome, and it works on many levels as it acts as both a heartbeat and an accelerator, by harnessing how the average viewer associates a ticking clock with urgency and drama.
This aspect was complicated a little as the original music also incorporated the sound of ticking clocks, which we initially thought might cause comprehension problems for the viewer as there was footage of clock faces throughout.
We had the stems for the music, however, so we were able to edit the original tracks to give us more flexibility with placement and volume to meet the needs of both storytelling and audio.
You might ask how we managed to balance so many audio sources and the answer is both simple and enjoyably old-school – it was largely a matter of trial and error and experimentation, and getting it right was incredibly rewarding.
Something that heavily influenced the process was that we were mixing in 5.1, but needed to be aware that the intended audience would be watching on home TV sets, or even potentially on mobile phones.
We spent a lot of time ensuring it worked in a range of settings and finding a compromise regarding how “big” we could go.
This is illustrated right at the end of the sequence where the crescendo has reached fever pitch and we needed to keep the dialogue legible for one last line before it drops.
There’s a sound that follows that is intended to convey suspense and impact, but the production team were keen to ensure it was neutral – that it didn’t inspire “good” or “bad” feelings, which fits with some of the narrative themes of the show.
I completely understood their artistic vision, and it was interesting thinking about how we met this challenge: we could have had a “bigger” sound but we were concerned about how it would cut through on a TV without the heaviness of the bass.
Therefore we spent a lot of time on sound design looking for a sound with the tonality and midrange to work anywhere, and I’m happy with the result.
I think the biggest challenge overall was for us all to be able to pull back and see this section as a single piece, rather than as a series of interesting engineering and editing decisions, as the sheer granularity of the construction meant it was easy to get lost in the weeds.
As important as the first section was for introducing the show, the section that follows was vital for introducing the setting and, as such, this was where we locked down how the world sounds.
And the way that world sounds is noisy!
The production team was focused on keeping that intensity we established in the first section and so this piece remains very dense.
For example, even though it starts in relative peace with an interior bedroom section, it departs from convention as here are still a lot of low-level incidental sound sources in the mix.
I’ll go into more detail about that when we discuss the exterior, but I’m proud that even though there’s a constant hum of activity we were able to capture the little details, such as the sound of brushed cloth, which was foley work done by the excellent Sue Harding and recorded at Fonic.
It gives the scene a calmness that is further enhanced by the phone conversation that takes place there, which was deliberately delivered with low energy by both parties and allowed us to showcase some of the richness of the background we’d created.
That low-level richness is revealed in all its glory as our protagonist steps onto the street – we have so much going on!
There are people shouting, sirens, dogs, bins being knocked over… It’s a real audio soundscape intended to suggest a vibrant, living world and we spent a lot of time crafting a believable audio space.
We hired people to record various scenarios as custom loop groups, and the trick was to find the right level of “busy”.
In particular, we spent time building a library of sounds that played well in that space – aggressive sounds with a short duration that could be used to embellish the storytelling.
One thing that’s interesting to note here is that although the storyline indicates a near-future world with advanced technology we didn’t have to do too much in terms of sound design at this point as much was depicted in the distance or suggested by narrative elements that bring to mind a world that’s in a different place from ours ideologically.
The best example of this is the tannoys that are constantly speaking quasi-religious motivational slogans… I thought that was a clever touch; suggesting a future world through storyline rather than VFX and grounding what could be an alienating world in mostly familiar sounds.
That said there’s a nice piece of sound design by Enos Desjardins where the show breaks the fourth wall and passes through a television… it’s a nice little effect where the “world”, and in particular an alarm, bends as the transition takes place and enhances the narrative.
Once again we had to consider the listening medium and ensure it worked on all formats although, should you listen to it in 5.1, you’ll note a lot of spatial detail, such as muscle cars tearing off in the distance.
There’s a third section in the first episode that will likely catch a lot of people off guard, so you can consider this a spoiler warning! Ok, you’re warned so… if you’ve watched the show you’ll know there’s a performance aspect to Jungle, with characters delivering important exposition via rapping to hip hop and drill music.
It’s a bold creative decision as nothing up to that third section in the car prepares the viewer for it.
Perhaps to highlight this factor, the production team didn’t want it presented like a musical, with crisp, rich instrumentation and vocal isolation, and didn’t want sound from a recognisable source – for example, in this scene the music is definitely not intended to come from the car stereo.
What’s interesting is that the physics of the scene still work – the vocals are still presented at the same level as the rest of the show and when the camera drops outside the car the vocal becomes muffled… all in service of the artistic vision from the production team that the beat isn’t “really” there.
It’s an innovative departure from convention and one that was interesting to facilitate.
For example, the vocals for the tune were recorded on large diaphragm condenser mics in studio conditions so we artificially degraded the sound, countered the proximity effect and altered the perceived distance from the mics to match the lav mics used elsewhere.
Once again we were balancing a believable world of ambient sound with the vocals and the music, which required a nuanced approach here as the strong beats meant that anything that had, for example, the same frequency as the snare would be lost when that snapped.
To resolve this we returned to what worked in the initial intro section, thinking in terms of the chronological placement of the supporting audio to achieve the desired result and ensure you get a sense of the world outside the vehicle.
On a personal note, there’s a particularly nice section near the end when the vocals fade and the music lets up slightly to reveal the depth of the world sound below that pays off nicely and makes all the work worthwhile.
Once again I need to remind you we’re deep into spoiler territory here! There’s a section in the first episode that depicts a robbery gone wrong which, perhaps because it’s a scenario (I hope!) most of us aren’t familiar with, allowed us some creative licence.
I mentioned earlier that it’s a near-future world but that, in general, we didn’t have to do too much sound design… This scene is the exception.
There’s an electronic keypad that’s hacked for which JM Finch created a unique sound. We got this footage early and this was one of those situations where he nailed it right from the off, and it survived to the final edit.
I think this might partially be because it plays almost musically with Richard Watson’s score for this section… It was a happy accident that they worked so well together.
I’m always a fan of when we can weave storytelling into the audio mix and this section is a perfect example of this, as we get to contrast Gogo’s laboured breathing with Slim’s absolute silence, foreshadowing their characters.
There’s also a sort of dream sequence bit with oozing blood that was a challenge – running blood, in reality, would be silent, and we were keen to avoid veering into parody with the foley, so that was a fine balance to strike.
For the murder scene Enos was charged with designing a dramatic gunshot, which is so important as it’s the focal point of much of the series that follows.
The production team had said that they wanted it to sound as a gunshot would FEEL and, although it’s intentionally slightly larger than life, I think that the sound design does exactly that.
One last thing to say is kudos to Matt Young – the actor who’d been shot in the scene – as the team didn’t want any traditional soundtrack stings, and his foley work to create the gurgling death rattle of a man shot in the throat sells the horror of the killing.
Near the climax of the first episode we revisit the musical aspect with a rap that takes place simultaneously over three different locations with four different actors.
Before I talk about this challenge though I’d just like to mention the section where Gogo enters the safe house to pawn stolen goods, as it was oddly one of the most interesting creative decisions.
For the first time, we’d got a location where the intensity had to subside… There was no plausible reason for the background sounds that had been a constant throughout here.
We did a few test runs trying to accommodate the idea of there being ambient sound but it just didn’t work, and I’m pleased we were able to take our foot off the accelerator and let this scene breathe.
It’s a nice break in the episode and has a narrative purpose too – It’s the first time this guarded character can step outside the world and confide to someone that he’s in trouble.
But back to the four-way rap.
This represented, in many ways the culmination of every decision we’d made up to this point. We essentially had rapid changes between three imagined locations that, as dictated by the team’s vision, all needed their own attendant audio spaces in addition to the music and vocal performances.
When I spoke about the introduction section earlier I explained how it taught us how to build the world going forward, and I believe this scene represents the culmination of that journey and a solid footing upon which to build the rest of the series.
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