Cacayanga is a term invented by Alejandro Iñárritu.   One quick way to define it might be “useful noise,” but it’s more specific and interesting than that.

When the bear in The Revenant is standing over Hugh Glass, extremely close to the camera, and she pulls away, her paw rises off the moist mossy ground and gently scrapes across his clothing as she momentarily leaves him alone.  As many of you know, the visual image of the bear is entirely computer graphics, so there was no production sound for this or any of her other action.  The foley and effects work for the bear was tough as hell to get the way Alejandro and Martin* and I wanted it.  What wound up in the film is pieces from lots of different recording sessions, some on foley stages and some outdoors, mostly in a redwood forest at Skywalker Ranch.

The attempts we made at doing “standard” foley all failed.  They just weren’t believable or compelling.  The sounds we got for the bear moving that WERE believable were all done in a very non-standard way…  basically just randomly stepping and dragging and throwing stuff around in this forest that lucky for me is about a hundred yards from my studio. The sounds that sold the bear movement were complex.  A moist scrape, a quick series of quick twig snaps, a squish, and a mushy thud were nearly simultaneous elements of a single move of her paw in that forest that lasted two seconds.  It was real, and alive, and it didn’t sound like “foley” too often sounds like… artificial.

The off screen trees creaking and unseen chunks of snow heard dropping from trees in the movie were definitely cacayanga.  But so were those improvised and unanticipated elements of bear movement that we luckily caught and dragged into service.  Cacayanga is a sound or set of sounds that seem authentic, but embody a mystery that pulls you deeper into the story in part because they aren’t immediately identifiable.

Useful noise.

*Martin Hernandez is my co-supervisor on The Revenant.

4 thoughts

  1. What a useful term! I often find that the most unconventional foley, and/or editing, often can be the most convincing. Very possibly because it obscures identification of the real source?

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  2. It makes a ton of sense that the immersion of the bear scene required more chaotic, ‘wild-foley-esque’ nature sounds. More grass/snow crunching, mud squishing, twigs breaking… The randomness of nature! Such an unpredictable, beautiful force. A controlled, mechanical approach might feel alien to the picture.
    I felt that one of the functions of the bear scene was to further invite the audience into the punishing world of the unsettled US wilderness. The wonderful soundscape made me feel like I was a fly-on-the-wall of this visceral event. Thank you for your badass work Randy!

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  3. Cacayanga is such a great term and technique! You had mentioned this term at the Sound Show you did for The Revenant where you also spoke of being impressionistic with sound rather than so much “attention to detail,” which goes back to your first post. This really resonated with me. The ambient strokes of sound with the creaking trees were personally my favorite. It was a nostalgic sound for me and evoked a sense of wonder. Looking forward to reading more!

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  4. Thanks for this post Randy! For a long time I argued that the bear sounded boxy on the growls and it wasn’t a pleasant argument! I even went and saw the movie multiple times just to figure out how the different layers of the stream in the beginning were managed to bring the different perspective in the forest just before we see the first foot of the man in there. For me that was one of the most defining scenes in a film I saw for a long time and was amazed with the way the pans were well handled and yet maintaining the consistency and depth of field.

    And in spite of this I always felt that the bear was too boxy and had an element of being unnatural in its breath. I did get a flak from the ones I argued with regarding how dare I question Randy Thom! But I kept seeing and thinking about it until it hit me.

    That sound in that sense was supposed to be so because that is what something close and intimidating would probably feel like. It was not the boxiness I then heard. It was the intimidation that I then felt. And then I saw how the perspectives were handled and how the audience was led from being third person to first person! A technique I did try and use but never before saw it used on a micro level and have it so invisible! That was the defining moment for me over and over. Thanks for the inspiration on this!

    Sree

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