One of the most surprising and shocking releases of 2023 so far was Winnie The Pooh: Blood And Honey – a horror adaptation of the classic A. A. Milne children’s story. We were even more surprised when we heard that Ryan Hatton – Sound Designer for the film – had used Krotos plugins in his workflow!
With this in mind, we spoke with Ryan about how he approached designing the sound effects for one of the most controversial films in recent history.
JJ: Winnie the Pooh is such an established franchise, so it was quite a surprise to everybody when the horror adaptation was announced! What considerations did you have to make on an IP with so much history?
Ryan: Thankfully for sound, the main consideration was to avoid any owned catchphrases and given that there is barely any dialogue, this was incredibly easy!
Aside from that, we wanted to treat this like any other obscenely gory slasher. A lot of the attraction and buzz around this is that you just wouldn’t expect everyone’s favourite little yellow bear hacking and slashing innocent people to death, so we really wanted to push the gore as much as possible to cause a reaction.
How did you approach the sound design for Winnie the Pooh: Blood & Honey?
When discussing the soundscape with director Rhys Frake Waterfield, we quickly decided that we wanted to separate the humour from the sound and focus on the gore elements.
We wanted to provoke a reaction from the audience by going over the top with the gore sound effects. A great example of this is a slow death scene involving a machete. The slower pace gave us the freedom to really sell this shot using detailed, visceral sound effects. I checked my library for gruesome sounds such as flesh ripping, bones cracking and the sound of a machete blade piercing the character. I also recorded some stone scraping sounds to replicate the sound of the blade grinding against bones and teeth.
When we were in the mixing room with Rhys and Scott (Producer) we added ADR of breathing/choking sounds to push the shock factor to the next level. I really think it paid off. This had an incredible reaction in the theatre, the audience was so reactive with audible gasps – super gruesome stuff!
Is there a scene you were most proud of?
The most enjoyable scene that I worked on was the ‘Killbilly’ scene, where the girls run into a group of guys after being chased by Pooh. This scene was actually the first scene I worked on and I wanted this to set the soundscape for the rest of the film. Within this scene, I started creating the signature Hundred Acre Wood ambience, full of dead wood creaks and stresses along with some cold wind layered underneath.
The scene gradually escalates into a full-on brawl in which each member of the guys had their own unique weapon, ranging from a crowbar to a sledgehammer, not that any of those would work against ol’ Pooh Bear!
This section was particularly enjoyable, it was great experimenting with various metal impact sounds for each weapon and layering them with the gore sounds! We wanted these sounds to hit hard in the theatre, so a lot of attention was paid to balancing the punch of the impacts with bone cracks and fleshy rips.
Were there any particular influences which helped to shape your sound designs?
My biggest inspirations drew from films such as Scream and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I really appreciate the over-the-top ‘Hollywood’ style slasher sounds, which are very prominent in those films. This style of sound design is very fun because we can really explore ways to push the gore to the next level.
There’s a crazy scene where Pooh is whipping Christopher Robin with Eeyore’s detached tail. When initially watching this scene, I recalled a scene from Django Unchained, where Jamie Foxx’s character is whipping one of the Brittle Brothers.
I remember watching this for the first time and was really impressed with how brutal the sounds were, I could almost feel each whip myself, and it really helped sell the scene, so In Winnie The Pooh: Blood and Honey, I also wanted the tail whips to have a huge crack with some gruesome skin tearing and fleshy impacts to reflect the shots of Christopher’s back.
Can you talk us through how you used Dehumaniser 2 in Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey?
I recorded my own voice and used Dehumaniser 2 to create the sinister voice of Pooh. I’ve used Dehumaniser 2 on previous horror-based projects, so I knew that it was the perfect tool to achieve the dark gritty sound that we wanted.
The first node I used was the pitch shifter, as my voice isn’t particularly scary! So I lowered the pitch a few semitones until I found the best blend of pitch and intelligible dialogue.
Another tool I used was the granular node. One of the great things about this tool is there are so many options to dramatically alter the sound by changing the pitch, size and density of the grains. I used this node to add grittiness to Pooh’s voice by lowering the grain pitch and blending the grain size and variation until I found the perfect amount to compliment the original sound.
Could you also talk us through your use of Weaponiser?
As Weaponiser is triggered by MIDI, I found this to be the perfect sound design tool for footsteps. Weaponiser was a huge time saver as I could browse various footstep sounds to match the scene and punch them in as I go.
Footsteps were extremely important for the story to enhance a sense of trepidation in the audience. In the chase scenes, we enhanced this by giving Pooh’s footsteps a really deep rhythmic stomp every time he was on screen to drive the intensity of the scenes.
The majority of the chase scenes were in woodland areas or on grass and these types of sounds were readily available in Weaponiser. It built the perfect foundation for me to add further layers such as low stomps, which were sent to the LFE channel, which sounded absolutely thunderous in the theatre!
Why did you choose Krotos plugins for this project?
I’ve been a huge fan of Krotos throughout my career. A lot of the projects I work on are horror based and this pairs perfectly with what Krotos plugins can offer and with them being so versatile in sound, I rarely find myself looking elsewhere.
One thing that has also kept me using Krotos plugins is the fact that they’re so fun to use whilst getting incredible results. It can be a long process trying to find the right sound for a particular part and I find it’s much more enjoyable when using Krotos software.
What were the main challenges of this project?
The mix, for sure. With so many elements in the soundscape, we had to be really mindful of each audio group to ensure that we are communicating the directors’ intentions for each scene. Our goal was to go big on the sound and to really push it where needed to, but also understand balance and bring things back down when the scene required.
This was especially the case towards the last act which has a lot of louder scenes. Whilst we wanted the loud bits to be loud, we didn’t want to overwhelm the audience, so knowing when to bring it down to reduce the intensity was extremely important to the mix and maintaining audience engagement.
Did you learn anything whilst working on this project that would be good advice for others?
Throughout this project I made sure to sit back and watch as an audience member, trying to switch my sound designer brain off, and not focus on anything in particular.
I found this beneficial in many ways, mostly by being able to pick up on elements of the mix I might not have before. I’m very guilty of being so focused on particular elements of the mix and sometimes other (and painfully obvious) things can go under the radar.