Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Soundscaping a Whimsical World of Penguins, Aliens, Zombies and a Human Bear

Music & Sound
London, UK
String and Tins take us behind the sonic scenes on Samsung Galaxy’s musical spot, ‘I’m Open To That’

From crafting a realistic bear-to-human growl, to teaching an entire crew of dancers to lip sync on the fly, String and Tins’ music supervisor/audio producer, Laura-Leigh Smith and sound designer/mix, Joe Wilkinson share the highlights and challenges of Samsung Galaxy’s playful musical masterpiece, ‘I’m Open To That’.

LBB> What was the initial brief from the client and what were your thoughts?

Laura-Leigh Smith> “It’s a musical!” This was the first sentence of the music brief in Alaska’s mega treatment - and boy were we hooked. The music was to be the spine that everything else was built on top of. It was to be entertaining and to stick to the one genre, but not feel overwhelming.  

We were asked to play within the framework of the composition to find moments where the protagonist interacts with other characters through the lyrics and create moments of pause, where the protagonist stops singing and turns to the camera with the repeated hook “I’m open to that”... with a cheeky grin in tow!  

Kudos to our wonderful partners Nikki and Joe Davidson (Auburn Jam) for their incredible musical chops on this one. They wrote the first draft in about three days, and I think in the end, only a few lines were tweaked.

Joe Wilkinson> The sound brief here was all about adding an extra layer of fun through the sound. The music would always be the driving force but there were moments for playful sound design to break the flow and provide a little of the unexpected.

LBB> What was your ideation process like? How did you break it down, and what were your inspirations?

Laura-Leigh> After a creative call with the directors and agency, we came up with the brief for our composers to dive into: “A contemporary, musical theatre-type, whimsical tune. A catchy piece of music that has real energy, fun, Willy Wonka ‘magical-ness’, that doesn’t take itself too seriously and makes you smile.”   

The directors loved the idea of an ear-worm, coin phrase, repetitive hook that you might hear in a Flight of the Conchords or Bo Burnham sketch. We loved how the script had both a male and female protagonist as well as other hilarious characters for us to bring to life with song - a grizzly bear, dancing penguins, an alien and a zombie - what a delicious combo!

Joe> I think instinctively as sound designers we have a language for slapstick comedy that goes back to the classic sounds of Hanna-Barbera. In fact, we went super cartoony at one point including a full 8bit treatment for the alien’s sequence. It was a useful exercise as some of those sounds stayed, but the film needed a balance of fun without being silly so a selective approach was required.

LBB> The sound design in the film includes an array of different creatures. How did you achieve this on a technical level?

Joe> The opening sequence was really important as the rug-pull-out of the bear suit sets the tone for the whole film. We tried a few different approaches. The main consideration was, when should we reveal the bear as a human? We tested different yawns, growls, warming up to sing, anything that could provide an extra layer of comedy. For the final version I processed a real bear roar with a human vocalised roar for the transition moment.

LBB> How did you craft the sound and music to aid the pace, storyline and different scenes? 

Laura-Leigh> Musically introducing different characters to compliment the visuals was a really fun part of the composition process. Once we had approval on a particular vocoder effect for both the alien and zombie, there was back and forth on how much of each effect to use, as the client rightly didn’t want their voices to sound too effected. We also had fun recording/experimenting with some “bear-to-human” growl sounds for the opening scene, which really helped smooth the visual transition and bring this creative idea to life.

Joe> Sound wise, I tried to get a fairly busy track-lay so we could think about which scenes should be more sound-led than others. The moon landing sequence was a nice opportunity for the track to fade into the cosmos behind the Apollo beeps, which comes at the right moment for a breather before the final build.

LBB> What is your favourite scene, from a sound design or music point of view?

Laura-Leigh> The ‘falling scene’ at 01:29: “Take a leap to the unknown, all the stuff that’s on your phone, that’s truly all your own, it’s not open like that”. This was both a challenge and a hilarious musical experience at the same time. 

As we filmed this falling scene at double time (50 FPS), Micah was required to sing/mouth the words at double time as she fell from the ceiling (go girl!). Micah and I spent a lot of time practicing these lines off-screen and Alaska, our directors, were very grateful and impressed with the end result.  

Joe> I enjoyed designing the spinning worlds scene with miniature airplanes, helicopters and background dialogue. I wanted it to just poke through the mix to bring it to life without distracting from the big vocal.

LBB> What was the trickiest part to get right? Or most time-consuming?

Laura-Leigh> As we were essentially shooting a music video style film, my main role as music supervisor was to ensure all on-screen talent lip-synced perfectly in time to our pre-recorded track.  

We had our two lead British talents - Micah and Martin - as well as an incredible group of local Bulgarian dancers as our chorus talent. In the final scene: “we’re hoping you’re open, It’s doper like that… We’re open like that!” The entire cast was required to lip-sync these lines. As the talent were lip-synching on the fly and with some speaking little English, I was standing right behind the camera-man on set, mouthing the words with huge facial expressions to try and help (looking like a complete clown), and somehow it worked!

Joe> The opening sequence certainly required the most thought and trial and error.

LBB> What was your reaction to the finished piece?

Laura-Leigh> Marvellous, bonkers, an incredible team effort, how did they make paper look so much like snow?!?!

Joe> It’s totally bonkers and weird in all the right ways! I am pleased with the result from a mix and sound POV! With the track being so great that it is always the hero, but I like the moments where the sound pokes through and gives it the extra dimension.

LBB> Any other interesting sound insight you would like to add?

Laura-Leigh> On behalf of String and Tins, I was fortunate enough to accompany W+K Amsterdam, Alaska and Iconoclast on the shoot in Bulgaria. A joyful, positively challenging, phenomenal experience that I really cherish. We had two days of rehearsals and a mega five-day shoot to capture 45 shots of epicness for our two minute film. Gung-ho!

I learned an invaluable amount of knowledge on set as music supervisor. The hierarchy of roles on set, when the best time is to pipe up with your opinion, and most importantly, to be prepared before each day. I was lucky enough to have my amazing colleagues helping back at base in London if we needed a swift file supply (for example slowing down the music to 80% for the finale dance scene). 

The shoots were long days/nights and you need to be alert the entire time. One memory I have is from 2:00am on the final night, shooting the very last scene of the week (which happened to be the opening scene: “If you’re open to a person unzipping themselves out of a grizzly bear…”.  Action - shoot - cut … The 1st AD called it, we were wrapped! However I miraculously noticed that our talent accidentally said “polar bear” instead of “grizzly bear” (which with such different vowel shapes may have been very tricky in post), so we did one more take. Phew!

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