You’re Not Hearing Planes in ‘Midway’: Sound Design Secrets From ‘Modern Family’s Peter Bawiec

Sound designer Peter Bawiec has worked on prime-time comedies like Modern Family and American Housewife, films like Midway, and the Blockbuster podcast. During a conversation with Showbiz Cheat Sheet about sound design, Bawiec revealed a few behind-the-scenes tricks used to achieve particular sounds in movies and television. 

Aaron Eckhart, Patrick Wilson, Ed Skrein, Mandy Moore, Luke Kleintank, Roland Emmerich, Luke Evans, and Nick Jonas
Aaron Eckhart, Patrick Wilson, Ed Skrein, Mandy Moore, Luke Kleintank, Roland Emmerich, Luke Evans, and Nick Jonas | MARK RALSTON/AFP

Sound designers have the power to make audiences feel things 

When Bawiec was young, he resisted the art of sound design. “I was terrified of the history and of the world [of sound],” he told us.

After he came to the United States, Bawiec had a change of heart. “I decided this is really what I wanted to do,” he said. Bawiec embraced the “misunderstood” and “subtle” art form of sound design, studying it at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. 

“It is very much an art form — the subtle subtext very often [is what] I felt very drawn to,” he added. 

[In movies and television,] the thing you don’t see is the sound and the music. But people go to movies thinking they’re going to watch it. Steven Spielberg said that 50 percent of the filmgoing experience is sound. That’s so true because we can make you feel things.

Peter Bawiec works with all types of sound

Bawiec has undoubtedly been able to make audiences feel a variety of emotions. Having worked on movies like Midway3 From Hell, and Grand-Daddy Day Care, Bawiec’s portfolio boasts an impressive amount of work in sound design. 

He also worked on the last season of Modern Family, lending his gifts to the talented team nominated for an Emmy this year. Bawiec, along with Stephen Tibbo, Srdjan Popovic, Brian R. Harman, and Dean Okrand are being recognized for their work on the episode “Finale Part 1.”  

Humans are designed to react to sound

Sound design might sound like an easy gig, but it goes deeper than simply dubbing noises over visual action. 

“Sound design is embedded in our DNA,” Bawiec explained. “It really comes from prehistoric times how we understand sound. [For example,] we’re scared of things that growl. A mother will wake up in the middle of the night when a baby cries.” 

The list goes on, but it’s a sound designer’s job to evoke those feelings out of an audience. 

Peter Bawiec knows all of the tricks of the trade

To get audiences to feel some type of way, Bawiec has learned how to use some unconventional tactics to create engaging sound. 

One of the most surprising things Bawiec shared with us was that the planes heard in the war movie, Midway, weren’t planes at all. 

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“The entire Midway, all of the battle scenes where you have airplanes, it’s essentially Harley Davidson chasing Kawasaki motorcycles up in the sky,” Bawiec explained. 

“If there’s something we all enjoy hearing, it’s motorcycles,” Bawiec conceded. “People don’t notice that, but [the sound of a motorcycle is] a more edible, digestible sound than just an airplane. It has sort of more rawness, more grit, and richness.” 

For Bawiec, his job is all about playing into those little encoded messages in our DNA and creating sounds that make for a memorable viewing experience.