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Arts Post
Posted at 09:20 AM ET, 01/25/2012

The Bark Side: an interview with Volkswagen’s viral video sound-maker

This post has been updated.

(Watch the Bark Side video below.)

Now we know the power of the Bark Side. For the second year in a row, German automaker Volkswagen has used the Force of the Star Wars series for one of its Super Bowl commercials. The ad “teaser,” which you can see below, features a chorus of dogs, complete with “Star Wars”-themed costumes, barking out the ominous notes of the “The Imperial March,” the sinister soundtrack heard whenever Darth Vader appears onscreen.
(Image from YouTube)

It’s not the first time Volkswagen has turned to the dark side. During last year’s Super Bowl, the car company scored a huge hit with an ad starring a young boy dressed as Vader trying to employ the mythical powers of The Force around his house. (See it below.)

This year’s submission to the game, titled “The Bark Side,” debuted on YouTube on Jan. 18 and has since gone viral, garnering more than 7 million views.

Just how they got the mighty dog choir to sing in tune is a bit of Hollywood magic. We did a quick e-mail interview with Jeff Elmassian, the creative director and owner of Los Angeles sound design company Endless Noise who composed and arranged the barking track, about process.

Q: What was the process that went into creating and arranging the barking dog soundtrack?

We created a demo track composed of dogs barking “The Imperial March” to use on set as a guide for the dogs while filming. Our demo track consisted of barks, howls and yelps from our own sound library, as well as dogs we brought into the studio to record so that we’d get a wide range of sounds and pitches to fill out the different instrumental parts.

The demo track served as much a guide for the dogs as it was for their handlers because it was an indication of the kinds of barks we were using and the visuals we needed to capture to go along with them. For example, if there were three barks in rapid succession we wanted to film a dog barking three times in a row to have something to match with the soundtrack.

Once the picture was involved, we spent a lot of time incorporating the barks and sounds recorded on set and tweaking the barks we already had to match the dogs we were now seeing on the [video] cut. For our part the process was largely about solving the creative challenge of making 11 dogs bark “The Imperial March” and having it be not only recognizable, but believable.

Q: How long did it take to put the finished track together?

From our first creative conversation to the final mix, about four weeks. The first demo took about eight hours. At that point we were most concerned about nailing down the structure, the basic arrangement and the timings for the shoot. The rest of those four weeks was spent finessing the sound design and individual musical parts for each dog.

Q: This is the second year you guys have worked on a Volkswagen ad using the “Star Wars” franchise. What is it about “Star Wars” and its music that still resonate with people?

“Star Wars” is a franchise most people grew up with — whether it was the original releases starting in 1977 or the re-release and new Episodes I-III in the late ’90s and 2000s. John Williams’s music is iconic, and “Star Wars” may be the most celebrated of all of his scores. It’s really the strength of his big memorable themes that lends itself so well to being arranged and rearranged. The theme acts as something people can anchor to. It allows them to fill in the musical blanks even when we’re using a completely non-traditional mode like dogs barking.

Q: How much did the possibility of it bouncing around the Internet influence the creative process? Do you ever think of different ways to target an Internet audience vs. a television audience?

Commitment to creative execution is what takes it out of the realm of advertising and into the realm of entertainment, and that’s what can make something go viral. When it’s that entertaining people want to watch it over and over again.

By  |  09:20 AM ET, 01/25/2012

 
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