WaterAid: The Girl Who Built a Rocket

Culum talks us through the sound approach on this heartwarming film for WaterAid.

When first seeing the initial sketches of Don't Panic's beautiful film for Water Aid, I knew it was going to be a joy to work on.

From a sound perspective, the whole film sat around a pivotal moment, where we as the audience are made to feel that Fara, our hero, has built a rocket that will take her to Mars! The soundtrack, be it music or design, needed to match her lofty expectations.

It was tempting at first to be realistic, and hear all the rattles and scrapes and bangs that would come with what was essentially a box car running down a dusty cliff. However after a bit of experimentation with this route (and as satisfying as it was to design) we decided this moment takes place inside a 6 year old's head, and the sound design needed to take the viewer to that heightened, imagined place as opposed to a more truthful one.

From then, the main sound we used for the rocket was the Apollo launch. We are all so familiar with that fierce over saturated sound that it immediately conjures a memory - be it from films or watching the actual launches themselves, I'd wager that most of us have a memory attached to it! This nostalgic quality made it perfect for the introspective nature of the sequence which in its essence is mainly imagined.

It also needed to be huge! We very consciously brought the level of the mix down leading up to the launch - the last moment between the two siblings is a gentle one, lending itself perfectly to this. We then quite literally let go of the faders, having them snap back to full volume when she hits the throttle. It was as satisfying to watch from a mechanical standpoint as it was to listen to from a creative one.

The next problem to solve was to make that switch where we crash back to reality as pronounced as possible. The music played a vital role in this. Will Cohen and Auburn Jam's arrangement of David Bowie's "Life On Mars" exquisitely propelled emotion in telling this beautiful story. It was relatively tricky not to give the game away that she was going to crash as the music runs down a minor scale. We needed to keep it as dreamy and positive as possible right to the last moment. The fact the David Bowie track is so well known meant changing the structure of the song wasn’t an option, so we needed to carry over brass swells from the previous shot to almost mask what was coming. The result is a sharp emotional rollercoaster that quite literally lifts you up and crashes you back down to reality with a bump.

Sound Design: Culum Simpson

Foley: The Foley Barn

Music: Life on Mars - David Bowie

Music Arranged: Will Cohen

Music Orchestrated & Produced: Auburn Jam

Audio Producer: Rachel Hough / Brigitte Leicht / Kate Barry

Creative Agency: Don't Panic

Creative Partner: Rick Dodd

Creative: Madeline Charles

Graphic Designer: Luke Freeman

Production Company: Nexus Studios

Director: Neeraja Raj

Executive Producer: Mike Bell

Producer: Jo Bierton

Project Lead: Dylan White

Editor: Dave Slade