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Feeling the Chill Scoring this Icelandic Survival Thriller; ARCTIC!

Updated: Mar 14, 2019

Notably the best modern-day survival story, and selected for the Cannes Film Festival Camera d'Or Award for best picture, Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison made strides as they took to one of mother natures most dire terrains, as film star Mads Mikkelsen has one of the most intense acting experiences he's ever had, and I had the pleasure of interpreting the sounds for the trailer score.


A man is stranded somewhere in the Arctic Circle waiting for rescue. His daily routine consists of checking fishing lines for food, mapping his surroundings and running a distress beacon with a dynamo. One day, a helicopter appears but soon crashes. The pilot is killed and the passenger, a young woman, is severely injured. In the helicopter, the man finds some food, rescue equipment and a map. After studying the map, he locates a building that appears to be two days away. The man decides to walk there, pulling the sled where he has put the injured woman. However, he soon finds the map to be inaccurate and the journey now appears to be five days long. One night, a polar bear pays them a visit; later, after thinking the woman will not make it and abandoning her, he falls in a crevice and injures his leg. After managing to get out of the crevice, he comes back to get the woman who is still alive and resume their journey. Later he sees a helicopter in the distance. After a distress flare does not attract the attention of the helicopter crew, the man sets his jacket on fire, in the hope that they will see that. When the helicopter appears to be flying away, he lies down next to the woman, letting go. At the end of the movie we hear a helicopter arriving from behind and assume they finally got rescued.

The Post Prod Plan:

Phase 1 - Dumping all suitable sound assets (including the movie file) into a session and begin building structure of sound effects, dialogue, atmospheres, and foley. This included all pre-recorded foley from the

Phase 2 - After building structure and arranging all the sounds, I began trying to fill the gaps. Whatever sounded off or felt it was missing, or whatever didn’t sound believable, I then worked to fill those gaps, subtractive EQing, or boosting gain where needed.

Phase 3 - Once I have my sounds, foley, ADR, atmospheric sound tracks in place, I will seek feedback from my peers. Then, implementing noted feedback, I'll mix the session, panning sounds to compliment what's appearing on camera, as well as what's not. My goal is to make the sounds believable enough, that the audience forgets about the sounds, and focuses on the narrative.


We were given a handful of sound assets for this trailer score and sound replacement. Those of which were all character dialogue, a selection of musical scores, and a small handful of foley sounds. Though, to tackle this post-production project properly, I was going to have to gather a lot more sounds to fill this one out in a believable way.

Firstly, we had a spotting session for the foley assets. Our list comprised of:

  • Shovel digging rocky surface

  • Metal pole/shovel in ice (possibly could use dirt)

  • Metal contact on rocky surface

  • Breath

  • Snow footsteps

  • Clothes rustling

  • Walking pole in snow (dragging and stabbing)

  • Blowing fabric on plane (multiple spots)

  • Watch beeping

  • Glove fabric

  • Water on string

  • Fishing mechanism

  • Splashing fish

  • Metal door opening

  • Picking up radio

  • Picking up suitcase

  • Mechanism in ice (possibly same as pole)

  • Radio frequency sounds

  • Gear winding

  • Gas stove igniting

  • Lighter flicking

  • Boiling stew in a pot

  • Blowing on stew

  • Biting spoon

  • Fabric on fabric

  • Paper flicking

  • Felt pen writing on map

  • Dropping pile of rope

  • Gas bottle on sled

  • Picking up metal

  • Zipper

  • Clip click

  • Storm in distance

  • Sled dragging (multiple spots)

  • Ice pick in snow (possibly same as shovel in ice)

  • letting go of rope (rope whipping)

  • Snow breaking

  • Bear roar

  • Flare sound

  • Falling through snow

  • Helicopter

Layering up sounds will be key for this style of foley, especially for those slightly distant to the camera needed a beef up.

Cooking up some tasty foley in the C24 studio.

The foley recording session went really well, however, some of the assets we're very quiet. In the future, depending on the sound source, I will make sure that each sound is gain staged properly to make sure I'm getting the most out of each sound. For this project, I had to push the levels up a lot, using EQ. Luckily, this didn't compromise the quality of my mix. Noted for next time.

Impact SFX:

After referring to the original score, I felt that my attempt needed to be more thrilling. I worked with two of the scores that were supplied, creating an intensity building blend of the two. Both scores simple in their nature, but dark in their texture, allowed me to get really creative with my transitional sounds. I used a bunch of reversed sweeps, “freeze” sounds and layered a bunch of hard-hitting percussive impact worthy sounds, giving me a substantial amount of dynamics and flare when needed.


The atmospheric assets are as, if not more, important than the score in regards to ‘selling’ the story of this man vs wild theme. These sounds will help me put the character in a place they don’t want to be. Here’s what I’ve focused on:

  • Light outdoor wind

  • Medium outdoor wind plus snow

  • Heavy snow storm

  • Cave atmospheres

  • Still outdoor

  • Indoor atmospheres

I found a bunch blizzard and winter wind sounds. YouTube has a tonne of different winter sounds available, which were made for those who struggle to sleep without the whistling winter winds around them. Most are 8 hours or more in length, so I just chose a few suitable sounds that I thought were fitting, and created sweeping EQ crossfades to bring each atmosphere in and out to suit the trailer’s structure.


I used a combination of two different scores to help secure the narrative I was trying to achieve. I chopped up and looped sections from:

  • Melatonin - Filmy Ghost

  • Sleepwalker - Sergey Cheremisinov

As well as some added elements of my own to create a rise in anticipation and a rise in intensity.

The Session:

After a huge dump of ideas, and almost 100 tracks later, my session looked like this.

I edited my sounds and foley to suit the timing and transitions of the footage. Using different fades to compensate for any abrupt transitions. For example, when the music changes between transitions, I used fades to carry over some of the atmospheric sounds to help the transitions flow into the next section. Definitely something that had to be adjust by ear. This made my project flow and helped the narrative progress alongside the footage.

Note: Example of different fades shown above.

The Mix:

Most of the balancing was done throughout the editing stage. I aimed to get the levels of each sound the best I could to suit what was happening in the footage. I EQ'd as I went, boosting the quiet sounds (due to my crappy recordings), and subtracting certain frequencies to allow for the dialogue to come forward.

I used some amazing Reverb effects to create space for each scene. Bussing my groups to each Reverb Auxiliary and gaining each sound to suit the scene. For example; When Mads Mikkelsen's character falls through the snow into a huge cave-like cavity, I used a 'cave' reverb sound to place the character into the atmosphere that appears on the screen.

All panning was implemented to suit each scene, automated with character movements and scenery.

Throughout some scenes, filtered EQ effects, as well as automated pans and volumes were used to give the sounds dynamics and movement. For example, a scene where this was particularly used was when the helicopter swoops across the frame, I latched an EQ to the automation and tweaked it as the footage unfolds. See below some of the automation adjustments made to the EQ and Panning:

I also automated some of the atmospheric sounds, like part of the Blizzard as the transitions happen and the characters move in and outdoors. Here, you can see the Winter Ambient Blizzard sound filtering in and out of each transition.

To insure this was believable, and worked well in context, I focused on the characters clothing. If it was blowing erratically from the on-screen blizzard, I would allow a full frequency range, if it seemed calmer, I filtered in a LPF using automated values.

After a few feedback sessions, and some viable tweaking to the mix, I felt i was almost there. Then, just for a little extra glue, I threw a compressor on the stereo master, and gentle compressed the mix as a whole.

This allowed the important bits, like dialogue, to come through in the moments when the mix is full of noise. Not a new technique, but a very effective one. I then exported the mix to the movie file and tested.

Here's the final product. Enjoy!


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