Théo Serror – Designing Sound for Netflix’s Big Bug

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Interview by Maeva Ciavaldini, Written by Emma Mastroianni

This week, we chatted to Sound Designer Théo Serror about his sound design processes for French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2022 film, Big Bug. Theo talks us through how he got started in the world of sound design and details his current and upcoming projects. Big Bug is a French Sci-Fi-infused comedy featuring robot protagonists.

When starting work on Big Bug, Théo was tasked with creating believable robotic sounds and textures:

You see these kinds of robots at technology conventions. We spent two full days recording the sound design material – servo’s, hinges, ratchets – everything we possibly could.”

Théo Serror

Soon realising that the realism of getting these sounds to picture lay in his ability to obtain a tight performance synchronisation, Théo took advantage of Reformer Pro’s adaptive technology to achieve more believable robot sounds with phrasing, as would naturally occur within a vocal performance:

The recordings already had some element of performance in them. It’s not a matter of timing, but more the phrasing. The right phrasing is what makes these sounds believable, and funny of course!”

He cut the recordings up and organised them according to type, size, length and tonal and noisy elements. He then turned these into various sound libraries and analysed them for use with Reformer Pro:

The two robots played by actual actors, I vocally performed all of their motions, all the movements, all of the limbs. Reformer Pro allowed me to achieve the kind of phrasing that you get with vocal performances.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Netflix Film, Big Bug – Sound Design by Théo Serror

This allowed him to achieve huge variety from the same performance through Reformer Pro‘s variety of sample randomisation.

Wall-e is a great example of this. Even it’s motors and engines have vocal elements to them, and that’s what sells these sounds. Reformer Pro gives the vocal rhythm without the synthetic elements. It allows you to get a lot of variety from the same performance through the randomization of samples. That was the most creative and cool approach for us!”

Background & Experience

Working in the heart of French Cinema, it seemed only natural to ask Théo about his other projects as well as his perspective on sound design within french cinema on a broader scale – something which, he feels, is thriving in terms of new productions.

Film Poster for Notre-Dame On Fire – Sound Editing by Théo Serror

I’ve never worked as much as I work now. There is a lot of work at the moment; lots of movies being made and material being created. French cinema has its own means of funding through distribution of tickets, sales and public subsidies, so there is a lot of work for sound designers of all experience levels. I still consider myself extremely lucky

Théo has worked on many theatrical projects, including 2020’s Ghosts and the more recent Notre Dame on Fire, which documented the 2019 disaster which saw Paris’ iconic gothic cathedral engulfed in flames.

We asked how he got started in the world of sound design. A graduate of the elite academic institution Louis Lumière, his studies provided all aspects of sound design from radio to music mixing and recording to sound for art installations and multimedia programmes, but also sound for the picture. As one of the only well-reputed grande écoles in France, the prestigious university-level institution provided him with a vast network of contacts from the outset, from fellow student film directors, to sound people in cinema with whom he still works to this day. His projects gave him the right amount of time to work and research, citing Big Bug, an example of a project “as big as it gets” in terms of workload.

I was lucky enough to working as an assistant sound editor for really gifted people who were extremely talented and extremely good at teaching their knowledge.

I could have started in less welcoming, or more results-driven environments but I was very fortunate in how I started.”

Lastly, he tells us what it is about sound design that he loves. Having only worked in the industry for three or four years, he describes how he appreciates the storytelling and narrative aspects of the job as time passes:

I’m much more deeply into the narrative aspect of sound design – how sound tells the story and how it conveys emotions. That is what interests me the most, more so than design techniques”

Théo Serror

He strongly believes that the most praised sound design ideas are in fact picture editing ideas that use sound as a storytelling device, as opposed to pure sound ideas. He gives the example of crowds and creatures as being particularly challenging from a storytelling point of view:

Our brain is so inherently talented at recognising in a split second whether the sound matches, whether it is fake or not, which makes it very hard.

Even though the brain is quite easy to trick when it comes to sound, there are a few things that are tough to fake.

Crowds are a good example; if the emotion doesn’t match the crowd on screen, if the size, density or acoustics don’t match either what you see or the storyline, it is incredibly difficult to elevate that sound using sound design techniques alone.

Similarly with creatures, It’s not about the cries or grunts that make creatures believable – for me, it is more about the creatures’ presence; how they breathe, grunt or spit and the other small sounds inbetween”

Théo’s approach and insight to sound design was inspiring to hear, and he demonstrates a wealth of knowledge that exceeds his real-world experiences. We are looking forward to seeing (and hearing) how his sound design progresses following on from Big Bug‘s Success.

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