Adventures In Audio

How do you get crowd effects like these?

by David Mellor

It doesn't matter how many plug-ins you have. Sometimes what it takes is the effort to go the extra mile.

The movie is Spartacus, from 1960. It's big in every way possible including its stars such as Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Jean Simmons, Peter Ustinov and Tony Curtis, also including its duration at over three hours, and its film format Super 70 Technirama, which uses 35 mm film like ordinary movie cameras, but sideways so that the image can be significantly larger.

And with a big movie, you need big sounds. The motto in film is often 'see an action, hear a sound'. So if there's a big crowd scene, the sound needs to match the scale of the spectacle.

So here are a couple of sections that I've edited out of the soundtrack...

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Remembering that this is 1960 and today's sounds would be rather more hi-fi, the crowds certainly sound huge.

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So how did director Stanley Kubrick get this effect? Did he use a crowd effect plug-in? No, as far as we know he didn't have a time machine he could use to get one. Did he use multitrack? No, apparently just a 3-track stereo recorder. Did he assemble all of the cast and crew to make all of this noise? Well, you're getting close.

To record these crowd effects that make up just a few seconds of the soundtrack, Kubrick and his team went to a football game between Michigan State University (whose team is seemingly appropriately named Spartans but unfortunately the real life Spartacus was Thracian) and the University of Notre Dame where he found 76,000 volunteers willing to shout at the top of their lungs and create "the most thunderous offstage dialog in the history of motion pictures", as said a press release of the time.

To me, this sounds like a lot of fun. Next time a creative thought pops into my head I'll remind myself of this and tell myself to think bigger. Kubrick certainly never had any problem with that.

Friday March 29, 2019

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David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

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