I am proud to present to you all, this fine guest article for Upcoming Pixar on sound designer and director of Lifted, Gary Rydstrom. This article is by Santiago Méndez. Thanks Santiago!
By Santiago Méndez
As the loyal Pixar follower I’m sure you are, you have very likely seen Luxo Jr numerous times in the production logo. And maybe also, the first Pixar short of the same name.
If that was the case with you, then your ears are familiar with Gary Rydstrom’s work. As the animators where able to bring an inanimate object (a desk lamp) to life, Gary was able to achieve the same thing through sound design (creating its “voice”). Especially to shorts like this one, which have no dialogue at all, sound is very important (just try watching some of the non-dialogue shorts without sound, and you’ll notice it right away).
A deep tremble announcing a storm is coming. A soft breeze on a sunny afternoon, birds singing and flying around. The intimidating roars of a creature extinct over a million years ago.
The objective of good sound design is to help telling a story, and in the field, there are very few as great as Gary Rydstrom.
He has been contributing sound to Pixar since its conception. While he was at Skywalker Sound, he worked on every single Pixar film from Toy Story to Finding Nemo. So, Gary had a great relationship with John Lasseter, and was really familiarized with Pixar’s approach in film making. He was eventually offered a position on the director’s chair.
It’s still amazing that being at the peak of his career (with 7 Academy Awards under his belt) he made such a transition. For you to picture how oddly unusual this is, it would be like Steven Spielberg leaving his directing career to start doing sound post-production. Can you imagine Spielberg sitting behind a 72 channel mixing console and actually using it?
But Gary ended up doing sound because of his love for movies, and once he was offered this opportunity I can perfectly imagine how hard it was for him to refuse it (even though he was at the top of his game on a different career).
After finishing his last project at Skywalker Sound doing the sound for Peter Pan, he went to Pixar to start working on his first project as a director. Lifted, tells the story of a young alien practicing and learning the difficult “art” of abduction. This apprentice (Stu) uses a huge console that to no surprise looks as intimidating as the mixing consoles used in film post production. The instructor’s judging presence makes Stu even more nervous while trying to fulfill his task successfully.
This later made me think that possibly this master-student relationship reflected Gary’s own experience in both situations. He learned from big names such as Ben Burtt (Star Wars) and Randy Thom (Forrest Gump), and eventually taught to Ethan Van Der Ryn (The Lord of The Rings), Tom Myers (Cars) and Chris Boyes (King Kong), among others.
Surprisingly, Rydstrom managed to find time in his schedule to handle the sound of Lifted himself (which might as well be one of the first times a director does his own sound design). There is little music in the short, which allowed him to show his wonderful sounding skills. From the quiet sounds of the night in the middle of nowhere, to the heavy sounding spaceship that clearly feels out of place.
It’s a very funny Pixar short and a great start for Gary Rydstrom as a director (Lifted was nominated for an Academy Award).
Apparently his next task will be on Up as one of the writers. So fortunately we will definitely keep hearing about him… and who knows, maybe we will also hear his work again.