Sequel Sounds

There’s a lot riding on Spider-Man 2. The film’s predecessor, the first installment of what could potentially become one of the most successful franchises ever, sits at number 5 on the all-time domestic box office list, having grossed over $405 million (nearly $809 million worldwide). It’s a tough act to follow, but with Sam Raimi returning as director and re-recording mixers Kevin O’Connell and Greg Russell once more behind the console at Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Cary Grant Theater in Culver City, CA, there’s really no reason to worry that the sequel won’t at least equal the performance of the first film.

By all accounts, director Raimi has a very clear vision for his movies and knows exactly what he wants. “No one dissects a soundtrack like Sam Raimi,” acknowledges dialog and music mixer Kevin O’Connell, who was recently appointed sound director in the Post Production Facilities at SPE.

“On Spider-Man, he taught us how to get the best out of a track by getting rid of what you’re not hearing, but is in the track,” he explains. “Even though you may not be hearing that stuff, it’s there, and it all builds up in the theater.

“I’ll dig into the track and, if we’re in a big chase scene, we’ll get rid of the backgrounds, the background Foley, and everything that normally plays along with the mix. You end up with a more defined, cleaner end product. Every movie we mix now, we operate that way.”

“Sam Raimi has a great ear, and really knows what he wants to hear. He’s very, very articulate, and very particular about what he’s listening to coming off the screen,” agrees Jeff Haboush, who took over during the last week of the final mix from O’Connell, who had a prior commitment in England.

It was an easy transition for Haboush, who had already spent four weeks predubbing sound effects with Greg Russell, Bill Benton, and Tateum Kohut in the Kim Novak Theater before moving on to predub dialog and group on the Cary Grant stage. The final mix, which began during week five, continued for another three weeks.

Eight weeks to mix a movie is pretty generous by today’s standards, and indicative of the desire to make this a true blockbuster. Comments Russell, “I think it was well planned. The schedule leant itself to the crew not getting fried and burnt out.”

Russell is confident that the film will also play well outside the theater. “It’s sonically a real fun film. In true comic book fashion there’s a lot of wham, bam, pow. There’s a lot of detail and unique sounds that will be cool on home theater.”

Many of those sounds are associated with “Doc Ock,” the villain of the piece. Mad scientist Dr. Otto Octavius transforms himself into Doctor Octopus by welding four mechanical claw-tipped arms to his spine.

“He’s got big feet, big arms, big claws, and the claws talk and have personality,” explains Russell. “He’s a whole sound design concept within the film.”

Supervising sound editor Paul Ottosson came up with Doc Ock’s sounds after consultations with Raimi that began last October. The director’s hectic schedule meant that they were only able to spot the first two-and-a-half reels of the film for sound effects together. After that, says Ottosson, “I’d meet with him on a stage where he was shooting and try to sell him on an idea. Two weeks later I’d play it to him.”

The sounds of old, rusty piano wires and thick motorcycle chains brought the tentacles to life. Ottosson modified the pitch and speed then layered the sounds together. “I was really happy with how it ended up, but it was a long process,” he observes.

“[Doc Ock] builds this huge machine,” he continues. “In the script it’s described as a machine that builds in harmonic frequencies. We recorded a bunch of different samples of singing in different keys, with vibrato, tones going up and down, and I layered those and built harmonies. It sounds pretty organic.” He adds, “When I hear organic sounds I can relate to them better.”

The film really shows off the 8-channel SDDS format, according to Haboush. “One of my favorite things about Doc Ock’s arms is that when he’s sitting and speaking, his arms have a life of their own. You can hear one in the left surround, another in the right speaker. It really showcases all the speakers in the theater.”

Surround Professional Magazine