June 17, 2019

What Does Magic Sound Like? Exploring the Sound Design of 'Harry Potter'

A breakdown of cinematic sound wizardry. 

If there were some sort of cliché police, they'd assign a dedicated task force to the phrase: "Sound is crucial to the movie-going experience."

Nevertheless, the sentiment endures for a reason: A creative sound design’s contribution to the power of cinema can never be overstated.  

In this rundown of the sound design of magic in Harry Potter, The Nerdwriter provides a brisk overview of how igniting wands and bursting spells evolved sonically over a decade of films.

In the first two franchise installments, sound editors Eddy Joseph and Rohan Taylor set steadfast rules: Nothing modern, nothing futuristic, nothing electronic. In other words...nothing Star Wars-y.

Considering many of the spells in the early films were element-themed – Incendio (fire), Glacius (ice), Aguamenti (water) – a more literal, organic approach was an intuitive direction.

Alfonso Cuarón and his team’s work on The Prisoner of Azkaban shifted spell sounds into more thematic, character-driven territory. What The Nerdwriter describes as the “explosive whoosh” became something wispier and more beatific, accompanied by celestial voices.  

From "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004)

These elements better represented the idea of a spell and were thereafter the signature sounds of the vital “Patronus Charm.” The new sonic philosophy sustained throughout the series with unique sound profiles for different characters and key events.

While The Nerdwriter mostly maintains a prudent perspective, he does swerve into high crimes and hyperbole with his claim that, “Before Harry Potter, film had never really seen such a formalization of magic.”  

Despite where you come down on that bold statement, there’s no question the sound design of Harry Potter is…

Hmm, I was tempted to write “movie magic," but I’d like to keep my record clean of clichés and misdemeanors.     

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2 Comments

This movie series defiantly is an art when it comes to direction and visual effects

June 18, 2019 at 8:55AM

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Tibolla Employee
CEO Digital Land marketing solutions
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That fight in the Ministry of Magic at the end of Order of the Phoenix has some of the best sound design ever for two titans battling it out. So many great little nuanced sound points are woven in, which together creates an incredibly three-dimensional aural stage. The visuals are excellent too, but whenever I think about that scene I hear it in my head before I see it.

June 20, 2019 at 5:06PM

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Douglas Bowker
Animation, Video, Motion-Graphics
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