The Marvel Cinematic Universe ends not with a bang, but with a snap. So when it came to the sound of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the biggest job was to turn such a tiny noise into a huge emotional moment.
I caught up with Skywalker Sound re-recording mixer Juan Peralta to find out how movie sound and music are combined to help tell the story. In his 25-year career, Peralta has worked on everything from Marvel movies to animated films like Wall-E and TV shows like House of Cards. As a re-recording mixer, his job is to blend the various sounds heard in the film, finding the levels where the audience can clearly hear what they need to at each moment.
On big films like Endgame, there are two re-recording mixers. One takes care of dialogue and music, while the other handles everything else: effects, everyday sounds known as "Foley" and background noise. Peralta took charge of the latter, which means he was responsible for that infamous snap.
Infinity War and Endgame both build up to characters changing the universe with a snap of their fingers. It's a simple, everyday sound, but it's also the shocking culmination of the MCU's emotional roller coaster.
"We needed it to be an event," says Peralta. "We wanted to make sure the snap is felt as well as heard."
To maximize the impact of this relatively small noise, the filmmakers surrounded it with an intimate moment. After the bombastic explosions and dramatic music of Infinity War's final battle, Thanos is impaled by Thor's ax and his voice drops to a whisper. It's a moment of quiet.
Only then does Thanos click his fingers.
The sound designers added a metallic note to the noise to signify the metal of Thanos' Infinity Gauntlet. We see a flash and hear a thunderous boom as Thor cries out in horror, and then the music fades away so the only sound is the desolate wind... scattering our heroes to dust.
Endgame is a surprisingly intimate superhero movie, but the spectacle and action of Infinity War made Peralta's job more taxing.
"I was very conscious of making sure the audience wasn't just hit over the head with the sound," he says. "When we got to Endgame, it was refreshing to start the movie off with a lot of character development and a lot of emotions."
EndgameDavid Farmer and Nia Hanson and their team recorded or created the film's various noises from scratch. That gave the re-recording mixers their catalog of audio elements to decide how big each sound should be, how loud and for how long it should ring out. They also worked out how impactful low-end noise should be heard in punches, gunshots and explosions.
It's much more than a question of volume. "I'm here to help tell the story," says Peralta. "I'm not here to make loud sounds... I want kids to enjoy it without being scared. There have been some movies in the past that have been obnoxious with the sound and I try not to do that."
The re-recording mixers can also make individual sounds come from different places around you as you watch the movie. Films mixed using the multi-channelsystem can push out up to 128 individual sound objects from the different speakers ranged around the theater, giving the filmmakers very fine control over the way you experience the film's audio. For example, if you hear a noise from speakers to your left and it then gets louder through speakers to your right, that can enhance a sense of movement across the screen.
Peralta works on a mixing stage, which is essentially a mixing desk in the middle of a room the size of a movie theater, equipped with a big screen and multiple speakers.
Sadly, not all of us get to experience movies in such ideal surroundings.
"Yeah, it's a little sad," laughs Peralta, "that we work really hard on making these movies sound what we hope is great, and when you go into the theaters out in the world it's not represented the way you're used to."
He appreciates the theaters that do play the audio at the right level, but is frustrated that manyso it doesn't leak into other screens.
"There's no real work-around for that," he says. "My job has turned into making it as detailed and clear as possible so that if you play it a little lower you still get the sound and the story."
Clocking in at three hours, Endgame is about 11 reels long, Peralta estimates. Sound designers haven't worked with actual reels of tape for years -- everything's done digitally -- but the term has stuck around to break the film down into more easily manageable 20-minute chunks.
"Constantly paying attention to every single sound all day can be, believe or not, a little exhausting," laughs Peralta.