What does magic sound like?
That's only one of a million questions that those who brought the world of Harry Potter to film had to answer.
I don't envy them. When you bring a beloved story to life you're, in a sense,
collapsing the millions of movies that already exist in the imaginations of readers into one.
It may not be your intention to create a definitive version but
if you do your job right,
that's what's gonna happen for a lot of people. So every little technical question matters.
Like this one. (Ex-pelliarmus!)
Though there are some precursors in literature, before Harry Potter, film had never really seen such a
formalization of magic, such a variety of possible spells cast with specific gestures and feelings.
And if the filmmakers didn't quite know what all that
should sound like, they at least knew what they didn't want it to sound like.
[electronic blaster sounds]
In preparation for the first film, director Chris Columbus told supervising sound editor
Eddie Joseph that he didn't want anything
modern, futuristic, or electronic;
the Star Wars blaster and lightsaber being, I think, key points of reference.
And though the sound profile of magic spells changed throughout the series
that was a mantra that subsequent filmmakers and sound designers for the most part held to.
For example, here's the very first wand magic in the series.
Umbrella magic, I guess.
The filmmakers use a technique here that they return to again and again.
When the magic being created has a specific sound already associated with it, they use that.
[fwip] [fire sounds]
(Petrificus totalus) [crackle]
[whistle] [water rushing]
In a lot of these cases the spell doesn't really need a sound of its own.
If the thing it's impacting is immediate enough, that'll do the job.
And there are others like levitation that work just fine silently.
But Harry Potter has plenty of spells that do need sound effects;
ones that don't have any obvious connection to sounds in the real world.
It's in these cases that the filmmakers and sound designers get to be creative.
In the first two films you can tell that there was a fair amount of experimentation going on.
Here are all the sounds from Sorcerer's Stone back to back.
[poof poof] [pwoof]
[woosh] [woosh] [squeak]
Now, what did you hear in there?
I heard some whooshes, some explosives, some firecrackers, some electricity and even a couple
animal noises. Now take a listen to Chamber of Secrets.
[just a lot of explosions and wooshing]
What's interesting here
is that the team on the second movie appears to be
consolidating the styles from the first movie into one; what you could call the explosive-whoosh sound effect.
It sounds like a combination of rocket boosters,
explosives and air jets. And it's not unreasonable to assume that this style may have dominated the series going forward
if not for a radical change in the Prisoner of Azkaban.
[humming] [soft woosh]
[high pitched noise]
[chorus of soft, high pitched hums]
(Expelliarmus!) [high pitched flute]
(Expelliarmus!) [high pitched flute] [crash]
[angelic chorus] [hum]
Alfonso Cuaron and his team completely redesigned the sound of magic for the third movie.
Gone are the explosive whooshes replaced with soft flute-y sounds for just about every spell. It makes the magic feel less aggressive and more
mysterious, like it's just a wisp of wind on the air.
That serves as a good foundation from which the movie builds its central spell, the Patronus charm.
The Patronus is a projection of your happiness; a positive force built from your fondest memories that repels Dementors
which feed on despair. In Azkaban, the Patronus is built out of
voices; a chorus of angels that fits with that heavenly projection of your soul without fear.
I think the Prisoner of Azkaban
freed up the rest of the filmmakers in the series to find the unique sound of magic that fit their movie. And as spell casting
became more and more prominent in the second half of the series,
directors and sound designers had to find unique sound profiles not just for different spells
but also for different people and different key events.
One of the things that David Yates, director of the final four movies was really great at was combining the
incantations with the spell sounds to create the sense that the magic was leaping from people's bodies just as they said the words.
My favorite spell moment from the whole series is at the beginning of Order of the Phoenix
when Harry and Dudley are run down by the Dementors. Listen to the sound design here to when the Patronus initiates
Expecto Patro-[woosh]-num! [angelic chorus]
For me it's sound that makes that moment so powerful;
the sound of Daniel Radcliffe's voice mixed with the flamethrower
sound of the spell coming in on the 'o' in Patronum then giving way to that familiar heavenly chorus.
There's an urgency to this kind of spell casting and a personal quality like the spell is equivalent to the voice.
This has brought home most of all in the various examples of the Death Curse cast in the final films.
(Avada Ke- [fwip]-avra!) No, Cedric!
(Avada Kedavra!) [crackling explosion]
(Avada Kedavra) [crackling fwip]
(Avada Kedavra!) [crackling fwip]
(AVADA KEDAVRA!) [crackle]
I feel like I say this all the time but sound design is a deeply consequential part of movie-making.
People understand what they see but they feel what they hear. By creating a diverse palette of sounds whether it's
explosive whooshes, wisps of wind or crackling lightning mixed with voice,
these filmmakers and sound designers brought Harry Potter to life.
Now, that's what I call-
Okay, that was a corny line. I can't end on that. Let's do Voldemort instead.
(Ahhh!) [whoosh] [explosion]
Hey everybody, thank you so much for watching.
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