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Why Top Gun’s sound design is Oscar-worthy

Breaking down the Oscar-nominated film’s sound design.

Edward Vega joined the Vox video team as a video producer in 2021. His coverage focuses on all things cinema, from the intricacies of film history to the nuts and bolts of filmmaking.

One of the most exciting things about Top Gun: Maverick is its emphasis on practical effects. Most times, when you see the film’s actors struggling against high-level G-forces, that struggle is real. The actors spent months training to be in planes doing their own stunts, and the whole film feels grounded because of it.

Most times, these sequences were shot practically, but not every time. In the film’s incredible seven-minute opener (also known as the Darkstar sequence), nearly everything we see is completely fake. The plane used to go Mach 10 doesn’t exist yet. It’s a prototype for a plane planned to exist in the future, built by Lockheed Martin. While a mock-up of that plane was used for taxiing around the runway, any time we see the plane in the air it’s entirely VFX — impeccable VFX. But beyond the visual effects, the thing that makes it feel so real is the sound design.

In this video, Top Gun: Maverick supervising sound producer Al Nelson breaks down the Darkstar sequence. He explains how his team made a plane that doesn’t exist sound real, and, more importantly, how they leveraged the sound design to be just as emotionally impactful as a piece of orchestrated music.

You can find this video and the entire library of Vox’s videos on YouTube.

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