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Conquering ‘Everest’: Intense Soundscape Brings Audiences to the Heart of the Action

“We needed to make this story as real to life as possible," says sound designer/sound editor Glenn Freemantle.

Director Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest depicts the events that took place in May of 1996, when several teams attempting to summit Mount Everest were assaulted by an unexpected and exceptionally violent storm atop the mountain. The climbers faced near-impossible obstacles to survive, trapped in the “death zone” of Everest 25,000 feet up. Universal Pictures’ Everest was released in theaters in September.

Sound designer and supervising sound editor Glenn Freemantle and his team faced a range of challenges on the project. Using Avid Pro Tools and an Avid Pro Tools | S6 control surface, the team established a workflow to conquer the film’s epic sound requirements.

“We needed to make this story as real to life as possible, but using natural elements to build a soundscape for a two-hour movie is a big challenge,” says Freemantle. “It was all about keeping it simple. We followed our design concept and made some tough choices along the way, always conscious not to play with too many ingredients in the mix.”

Josh Brolin as Beck Weathers

To understand the real sounds and atmosphere on Mount Everest, the team set up microphone systems more than 18,000 feet up at Everest’s base camp. “Similar to our sound design for 127 Hours, we went to the extreme of recording for 24 hours a day to get a feel for the nuances of the place. It gave us a real reference point to begin working from.”

Sound design editor Niv Adiri explains that their goal was to bring the audience to the heart of the action. “For close-ups, it was essential to make viewers feel the pain that the people in this terrifying ordeal were going through, and it took us countless hours to perfect the various levels of snow spray. To build a portfolio of effects that would make the film sound as real as possible, we froze jackets and shipped in real snow and large blocks of ice so that we could mimic these noises.”

Adiri continues, “There’s actually a 20-minute section of the movie with no music—the overpowering, thunderous storm takes over and knocks you off your feet. We had to build the right levels of intensity throughout the storm, and with multiple deaths [in the film], we still had to be in contact with the characters in this bleak and desperate situation.”

“We treated Everest differently than other projects,” notes Freemantle. “We used intricate sounds to make audiences feel exactly what the doomed climbers were experiencing, like they’re there on the mountain with them. We strived to create dynamics throughout the film, to portray the true human emotion of this horrific ordeal, and to ensure the right sensibilities and sentiments are created with the right sounds.

“Watching Everest should make people feel uncomfortable and intimidated,” Freemantle concludes. “The huge soundscape really makes viewers feel the film.”