You Will Believe a Man Can Swing…

swingThe big-screen rendition of Spider-Man stars Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, a boy orphaned at an early age. Peter leads the life of a normal student, working as a photographer and seeking the affection of Mary Jane Watson (played by Kirsten Dunst). On a school trip, during a science demonstration on spiders, Peter is bitten by a genetically altered spider. Soon after, he discovers that he has unusual powers, including the strength and agility of a spider, along with a keen, ESP-like “spider sense. Spider-Man eventually becomes a heroic crime fighter, battling his arch-enemy, the Green Goblin, who himself is the result of a catastrophic experimental formula.

All postproduction recording and editing was performed at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, CA. Supervising sound editor Steven Flick led the design of sound effects, while re-recording mixers Kevin O’Connell (music and dialog) and Greg Russell (effects) finalized the soundtrack in the Cary Grant dubbing theater (both were Oscar-nominated for Pearl Harbor). For O’Connell and Russell, this is the first film working with director Sam Raimi (The Gift, For Love Of The Game). The final mix for Spider-Man was created in eight channels. Sound editing was performed on the Pro Tools platform, and then converted to Sony DADR (with the exception of the music), from which the 8-channel pre-dubs and final mix were created on the same platform.

Opportunities For Sonic Fun

Bringing a famed comic character onto the big screen also meant adding the element of animation to the storytelling — and to the sound. As O’Connell describes it, “This soundtrack is based on fun and non-reality.

Noted examples of this film’s animated, creative scope include the transportation of Spider-Man through the use of webs fired from his wrist, as well as the movements of the Green Goblin, who using his “glider” transport. These involved some novel sound design efforts, which were headed by Flick, as well as signature channel pans, significant directional activity, and an abundance of low frequency content, all in the name of creating a sonic experience with a comic story-like feel. “The surrounds and deep bass are heavily accentuated for this movie, because nothing is reality-based,” says O’Connell. “Spider-Man coming at you from his web could have the same impact as a countermeasure blasting out of a submarine in Crimson Tide, in terms of boom.

Effects Selection As Part Of Re-Recording

Flick developed several, even as many as over a hundred, candidates for specific effects and backgrounds, particularly those that were intense, such as Spider-Man’s webs. This was a necessity for this production, due to the fact that Flick (and also Russell) did not have much of an opportunity to do spotting sessions and present temp dubs to the director. As a consequence, Russell (along with Raimi) often made the final selections among the numerous options during the pre-dub stage.

A Thorough Approach

But Russell also discovered that Raimi was a director with particular attention to detail and a meticulous approach. He faced the task of not only presenting his pre-dubs to the director, but also backtracking to the elements that created them, as well as various options that were not used. “He isolates every aspect of the sound, listening to them on their own, before wanting to hear how they play together,” says Russell. “So he gets familiar with all of the content, picking and choosing everything he wants, and then we start a final pass on the effects. He notes that such an approach adds considerable complication and time to the postproduction process, requiring all available input channels on the mix console, and, when necessary, Pro Tools sessions on workstations.

O’Connell also was faced with a similar extent of complexity for his part of the re-recording. For dialog, usually the decision is made to use ADR or production dialog from listening to temp dubs. Working with Raimi, they examined the dialog one line at a time among various looped and production recordings. But decisions on which to use tended to vary not just between lines, but also within a sentence! The challenge then was to integrate the various dialog options, using EQ and level-matching, with the aim of making the final result sound like cohesively spoken lines.

A similar situation was faced with the music. O’Connell and Raimi “dissected” the music score in segments, examining every aspect. The music was recorded in a manner that offered creative opportunities during re-recording. Composed by Danny Elfman, 16 channels of the music were delivered to O’Connell on the Pro Tools platform, including a 5.1 mix of the orchestra (recorded on the scoring stage at Sony Pictures Studios and mixed by Dennis Sands), and stereo pairs for percussion, synthesizer, etc. The orchestra mix translated directly to the conventional 5.1-channel configuration, and then the percussion would be mixed to screen left, center, and right, while the synthesizer content was assigned to the left-center and right-center screen channels.

Further Notes

Russell also elected to take advantage of the five screen channels, as he has with previous films including Pearl Harbor and The Patriot, with effects and background pre-dubs created in eight channels. He also described the creativity behind Spider-Man’s ESP-like sense, in which the character isolates only specific sounds being focused on. The soundstage is appropriately crafted, so that the audience only hears what Spider-Man does with his special “sense. But above all, as O’Connell seemed to repeatedly point out, “This is a soundtrack for which there are ‘no rules.’ It’s all about creating fun moments for the audience.

Perry Sun is with Widescreen Review, and can be contacted at [email protected].

Working with Raimi, they examined the dialog one line at a time among various looped and production recordings. But decisions on which to use tended to vary not just between lines, but also within a sentence!

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