Sound Designer Jordan Rannells has created an immersive soundscape design for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, with Dehumaniser 2, Weaponiser and Reformer Pro being used extensively in his process. Learn all about the project in the video below!

Hi Jordan! Tell Us About Your Lord of the Rings Immersive Soundscape

I had the idea for this project, to create an audio soundscape to accompany the reading of the trilogy of the Lord of the Rings books. You put your headphones on, push play and read along as the soundscape is unfolding.

What Inspired You To Pursue This Project?

I’ve been wanting audiobooks to be more than what they are for a really long time and the only people that are doing things like that right now are the Star Wars audiobooks.

But the score and SFX are the same John Williams/Ben Burtt music and sounds that they use for everything. I couldn’t help but think it could be so much cooler if a brand-new soundscape was composed specifically for the audiobook format.

How Did You Get Started?

So I tried my own a couple of years back with the Council of Elrond chapter. I got voice actors for every character and did a mini version of the idea, with ambience and sound effects. I wrote a score and had all of it performed in a circle around you in Dolby Atmos. That was a low-budget test of the idea!

Then I got in contact with John Howe, the concept designer for the Lord of the Rings films. He has an art book about his methodology, and I asked if we could do an audiobook for it. We could read the descriptions of the art and have music and sound effects to bring it to life. Amazingly, he agreed! 

People in the Tolkien world know the story so well. They know the moments, they can tell where we’re at in the story. It evolved into this interesting other way of experiencing the story, and that’s how it evolved into the Kickstarter.

How Did You Record The Elements Of The Soundscape?

I record ambiences with the Rode NTSF 1 ambisonic mic. I’m always recording with that! I also wrote an original score, and then there are layers upon layers of sound design from Krotos Sound Design Bundle 2.

Lord of the Rings Immersive Soundscape Design with the Rode NTSF1

How Did You Hear About Krotos?

I’d heard about Dehumaniser from the Tone Benders podcast and thought it would be the be perfect tool for the orcs and all of the monsters. Then a colleague showed me Reformer Pro, and I immediately knew that there was so much I could do with it.

It’s so easy to just hit the fire button and let Weaponiser do its thing, it’s super cool.

How Did The Plugins Fit Into Your Workflow?

The immediate uses are obvious, but I was keen to find out what else can I do with them. I wrote down every sound effect cue that might happen, then figured out how to approach them.

With Weaponiser, for example, I loaded in a bunch of horse sounds. I just hit fire and it randomly gave me variations, so it had really a natural feel. Using Weaponisers randomisation with Pro Tools, I can randomise the MIDI and get a natural-sounding run of horse sounds instead of just putting samples in every time.

Then for Reformer Pro, I fed some recordings from my voice performer through Dehumaniser, then Reformer Pro, which would be triggering flame and lava sounds for the Balrog.

The coolest part about using the plug-ins is it doesn’t take much for it to sound awesome. Reformer Pro especially is just a blast to use.

Other examples include arrow fire. Again, I’m loading Weaponiser up with different arrow sounds. I’m mixing in Dolby Atmos too, so I’m having the sounds fly past you in headphones and stuff like that,

It’s so easy to just hit the fire button and let Weaponiser do its thing, it’s super cool.

What Considerations Did You Make For The Audiobook Format?

Balancing fantasy and realism was a big part of it for me.

I talked to a military historian named Brett Devereux, and he was talking to me about realism. He explained that plate armour is not a thing; Archers don’t all hold and fire at the same time; How loud would a battering ram be? He’s telling me all of these things that from a military history point of view.

Then there’s accuracy to consider; If I’m here and a huge waterfall is is nearby. How far away is it? What do we hear? All these interesting sound design decisions of what’s accurate.

But it’s still a fantasy, though, so what’s interesting still? When the fell beast flies by, how fast does its wings flap? How heavy are they? Are they a leathery sounding? 

All these considerations were made, to try and get that balance between it being what we expect from the movies of course, but a more accurate version. It’s not going to be clinking Armor. It’s going to be chain mail that sounds like rustling mostly. And talking about the weapons that they would have access to and what they wouldn’t have access to and things like that… I found it so interesting!

How Has The Project Been Received?

The Tolkien fandom is keen on everything being book-accurate, because that is how he described it. Tolkien put all this effort into thinking these things through, so I did the same for the soundscape.

People in the Tolkien world know the story so well. They know the moments, they can tell where we’re at in the story.

It has evolved into an interesting new way of experiencing the story, and fantasy in general. People are using the soundscape when playing Dungeons & Dragons; people are going out for walks and listening to it. It’s being used in schools when reading The Lord of the Rings to English and writing classes.

There are so many different ways to explore the Tolkien universe, and fantasy in general and Tolkien fans and beyond are loving it! I’m currently working towards adapting The Hobbit and The Silmarillion to a 3D Immersive Soundscape, too, so keep an eye out for that project!

For More Information About Jordan’s Projects: