Director Alfonso Cuarón Discusses the Realistic Approach to Sound in 'Gravity'

Alfonso Cuarón's space drama Gravity exploded at the box office this weekend, outperforming other releases with its record-breaking October debut of $55.6. The film's visual effects have been the talk of the town, but the sound engineering is the other half of the technical spectacle that is Gravity. SoundWorks Collection sits down with Cuarón and Re-recording Mixer Skip Lievsay to talk about the sound team's realistic approach to creating a rich, dynamic, and dramatic soundscape in the dark vacuum of space. Continue on to check out the video.

There are plenty of films set outside Earth's atmosphere that ignore the fact that sound can't be transmitted in space, but even more avoid this issue by keeping the story inside the ship or space station. The filmmakers of Gravity took on the challenge of putting an individual in space, keeping them there, and trying to build a soundscape around that.

According to Cuarón, the sound was designed with the laws of physics in mind, mentioning that though space is a vacuum, sound can still be transmitted through vibrations via the interaction of elements, instead of through the atmosphere. So, what Lievsay and the sound team did was record sound as with transducer microphones, which record vibrations rather than airborne audio.

The audio was also very particularly designed for surround sound in order to give the audience an immersive experience. Cuarón explains that wherever the sound is coming from on-screen, whether behind the character, off-screen, right up close, the audience will hear it in the same way. For example, if Sandra Bullock's character hears something behind her, the audience will only hear this sound from the speakers behind them. This definitely changes the way the viewer hears, experiences, and reacts to the sound in the film.

For more on the sound design of Gravity, check out SoundWorks Collection's video below:

Big thanks to Michael from SoundWorks Collection for sharing this video with us!

What do you think about the sound in Gravity? If you've seen the film, did the sound engineering give you a more immersive experience? Let us know in the comments.

[via SoundWorks Collection]

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It's not a movie it's an experience! I have been 90 minutes on the edge of the seat, Is really like being out there in space. And I never liked 3D because was fake, made in post production but this Native 3D is so good. The fake 3D is stupid because you see the shallow depth of field and that doesn't make sens with 3D because you need all in focus to have the chance to feel the third dimension. Gravity who has been shot in 3D is a real pleasure. Hopefully soon they invent 3D screen so we can throw away the glasses. Don't miss this experience.

October 7, 2013 at 11:49AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The 3D in Gravity was actually post-converted. The reasons why it seems to realistic are that Cuarón spent a lot of time with the post conversion, and that most of the movie is CG, allowing for better manipulation of the 3D.

The sound in Gravity is equally as immersive as the visuals. Every track is given so much attention, and it really shows when viewed in a theater with surround sound!

October 7, 2013 at 1:15PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

John Allegretti

Really? so they did a superb work! because all the 3D movies I've seen, just a few (Hugo Cabret, Wreck it Ralph) treat 3D as a gimmick. They start with an action scene much longer the normal ad with angles just to justify the 3D but not the narrative in my opinion. And there's a lack of clarity in the actions scene, always look to much confused to get what happens without giving headache, probably it's something with the frame rate and 3D. And the other thing I really don't like it's the shallow depth of film in 3D movies. Gravity was different because of depth of field and I guess we are in space so most of the time we're floating in space. the scenes with more action were fine, not confused and motion blurred as previous movies I've seen. And Yes the sound worksgives a lot to the experience, it's really like been there for 90 minutes, going to see it again on thursday.

October 7, 2013 at 3:08PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Just found a list about fake and real 3D: so Hugo Cabret was shot in 3D, but looked to me like fake... so probably I can't tell the difference, what I can say is that I really appreciate 3D when the camera doesn't move to much, gives the time to explore the third dimensional space of the images.

October 7, 2013 at 3:14PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I don't think it is "real" or "fake-S3D" that you're describing, but well or poorly handled S3D.

October 7, 2013 at 4:25PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I think I read some where that Gravity was post converted to 3D, which is amazing well done.

October 7, 2013 at 12:57PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I just got back from seeing this. Save your money. Its ok, but where's the movie. Its basically an amusement park ride. I had such high hopes. I like plots and twists and characters. This is not it.

October 7, 2013 at 1:12PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


100% disagree. One of the best cinema experiences ever. Everyone should see it.

October 7, 2013 at 2:21PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


you missed a lot of the meaning in this film - i'd take another look

October 7, 2013 at 2:21PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Too deep for you?

October 7, 2013 at 9:58PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Have not seen the film myself and I am still a bit hyped about it, but please... just stop it with the "You just don't get it"-argument. Some are dazzled by the magnificence of 2001. Others sleep through most of it. They both probably "get" the intention but are just not interested in the same things. I mean, I know people who love Transformers 3... I f*****ng hate that dreck, lost all hope of humanity and was ready to punch people in the face by the end of it. I saw the same intentions and layers as the guys beside me who went "OH HELL YEAH!" but I just don't enjoy those kind of movies. No additional "getting it" involved or required...

That argument is just a waste of effort and basically boils down to "You too stoopid. Me better than yoo". And just arrogant.

October 9, 2013 at 11:14AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I loved the lack of sound actually. ie when the ships are being destroyed and the sound doesnt travel. It made the visuals much more dramatic to me.

October 7, 2013 at 1:39PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


What do you mean there's no sound in space? [ ]

October 7, 2013 at 8:44PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Incredible. Just got home from seeing this. Easily the first movie I know of that truly holds to realistic physics and conventions in space.

Like the first man said: it's not a movie, it's an experience.

Must see!

October 7, 2013 at 10:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The realistic approach only works because the very effective score fills the gap that is left by the lack of sound. When it comes to the film, after being impressed by it for a couple of days I noticed that it has a computer game dramaturgy to it that is a bit too simple to make it plotwise as great as it is visually, especially in the third act. I join those critics who say 'Gravity is good but not great.' because the ending, as satisfying as it may be to general audiences, does not adress the existential questions that the whole action packed first two acts do so impressively. Sandra Bullock helplessly falling into the void of space: Man, that just is an image that all the rest of the movie can't live up to after it's setting sail for a save haven in the ending.

October 8, 2013 at 5:21PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Just saw this movie today. Loved it... The movie is pure adrenaline and eye candy. Even if you don't like the movie, anyone who appreciates film techniques will appreciate the first 15 mins or so of the film is done in ONE continuous camera movement. No edits, cuts etc.

October 8, 2013 at 7:44PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Ian B

I think it was a bit fun that the trailer I saw had the disclaimer that in space, sound don't travel... and then the trailer proceeded to blast me with the usual sound-filled space-movie sounds... ;)

October 9, 2013 at 11:17AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM