Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio Used A Cool Technique To Create 'Otherworldly' Voices For The Sisters [Exclusive]

There is no arguing that Guillermo Del Toro and Mark Gustafson's "Pinocchio" is in a technical class all its own among this year's releases. This isn't just limited to its life-like and fluid stop-motion animation, but also set decoration, Alexandre Desplat's score, the film's editing, and especially its puppet designs and engineering, all of which are something to behold. Out of the three Pinocchio films released this year, it's clear which one we prefer.

While there has been a ton of discussion online about its technical achievements, one underrated aspect of "Pinocchio" seems to be its sound design. There are several parts throughout the film where the audio sounds and feels real, as if these animated characters were being filmed in the real world. That was primarily the work of sound designer and supervisor Scott Martin Gershin, and /Film's Devin Meenan recently got together with him to discuss the unique challenges that came from the movie's sound requirements. One of these challenges was differentiating the voices of two critical characters, the Forest Sprite and Death. Since both characters are voiced by Tilda Swinton and have distinctly different personalities, Gershin decided to distinguish her performances by adjusting the tuning of her recordings.

"I came up with this really cool technique to give the voices more sustenance...and more echoes," he said, "and each word, different echoes are accentuating different words. So I wanted certain words to be heard and accented more than just slapping a plug-in on and just making it happen."

How this worked

As shown in the film, the Forest Sprite and Death have different outlooks on mortality — the Forest Sprite is willing to give life to those that truly deserve it, while Death sees those who are granted life as not being truly alive. Needless to say, the Sisters, as Gershin calls them, have different vocal mixes attributed to them. The engineer started with the more light-hearted of the two with the recordings of Swinton provided to him:

"Maybe it's very highbrow thinking, but when we look at the Forest Sprite, she represents life, so I had lead-ins for a lot of specific words. Not all of them, and I did this complex de-tuning with echoes for her voice."

When working on mixing Death's recordings, Gershin did the opposite. While the Forest Sprite's de-tuning caused her voice to sound smaller and kinder, Death's was mixed to echo out bolder and louder. This was done to further represent her all-encompassing emptiness. The engineer said that making these adjustments would not only distinguish the Sisters from each other but adds a whole other layer of narrative importance to them.

"I needed to make the emotions feel like when he went to see either of them, that they were otherworldly, almost gods and also being omnipresent. When you hear it in the theater or you hear it in Atmos, it echoes around. So it's not just on the screen, it's everywhere."

You can hear Gershin's work in "Pinocchio," now streaming on Netflix.