Sound production for Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animations’ feature film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which has received critical acclaim including a Golden Globe nomination and a New York Film Critics Circle win for Best Animated Feature and a Los Angeles Film Critics Association win for Best Animation, was completed on the Sony Pictures studio lot in Culver City.
Heading the project were award-winning Supervising Sound Editors Geoffrey G. Rubay and Curt Schulkey and Re-Recording Mixers Michael Semanick and Tony Lamberti. Their charge was to deliver a soundtrack as innovative, richly textured and engrossing as the film’s groundbreaking, revolutionary imagery.
From Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creative minds behind The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse offers a new take on the world’s most popular super-hero tale, literally moving it into a new Spider-Man Universe. The story centers on Brooklyn teen Miles Morales who, after being bitten by a radioactive spider, develops super powers. Things become stranger still when a portal to other universes opens up and alternate versions of Spider-Man enter Miles’ world.
One of the most striking aspects of the film is its dynamic visual style, which goes far beyond other CG-animated movies and pays homage to comic book artwork of the Golden Era. Artists from Sony Pictures Imageworks and Sony Pictures Animation combined state-of-the-art computer animation technology with innovative hand-drawing techniques to create a unique, multi-layered look where each individual frame has the appearance of a vibrant illustration.
The sound team worked to complement this visual aesthetic with sound design elements that blend the fanciful with the concrete. Sound treatments that support the film’s colorful cast of characters run a wide gamut reflective of their diverse physical attributes, personalities and technological advancements. Sound artists also had to come up with imaginative ways to convey the sound of worlds colliding as characters momentarily find themselves stuck between parallel universes.
In other ways, sound serves as an anchoring element. The sound crew used environmental and ambient elements rooted in the real world to make the outsized visuals seem more familiar. “The film has an incredibly fresh and stylized look that is fantastic, and we often follow along with that, but, at times, we play against it,” explains Rubay. “One thing that Phil Lord was insistent on was keeping it grounded. So, we used realistic sounds to suggest to the audience that what they are seeing is happening in a real place.”
The film is filled with full-throttle action scenes. One involves a massive super-collider, located below the streets of Brooklyn, whose powerful energy beams open the portal to the multiverse. “We used every trick in the book to create the sound of the collider,” says Rubay. “We repurposed recordings of mechanical things, winding things, electrical charges and computer monitors. We made new recordings using microphones that pick up electromagnetic fields and translate them into sound. We used a hand-drill to create the sound of force waves winding up.”
“At one point, universes are bleeding into other universes and 30 different Manhattans pop up in the same place,” adds Schulkey. “Trying to imagine how that would sound was challenging and it took a lot of experimentation to get it right. But it was fun! Speculating about the sound of a multiverse is not something we get to do every day.” Schulkey added that he and Rubay benefitted from a veteran crew that included Sound Designer John Pospisil, Foley Supervisor Alec G. Rubay, Sound Effects Editors Kip Smedley, Andy Sisul, David Werntz, Christopher Aud, Ando Johnson, Benjamin Cook, Mike Reagan and Donald Flick, Foley Artists Gary Hecker, Michael Broomberg and Rick Owens and Foley Mixer Randy Singer.
The cast of characters alongside Miles Morales range from the eccentric to the super-villainous, and each one required a distinctive assemblage of signature sounds. Peni Parker, an anime Spidey heroine who hails from a future version of Earth and orphaned at a young age, carries on her father’s legacy by operating the SP//dr Mecha suit abandoned by her father years ago. SP//dr, which shares a symbiotic relationship with Peni, emits an electromagnetic drone. The more low-tech Scorpion is clad in a heavy metal suit that, as Rubay describes it, “sounds like a rusty bucket of bolts.”
Final mixing was done at the Kim Novak Theater on the Sony Pictures studio lot. Working natively in Dolby Atmos, Lamberti mixed sound effects on an Avid S6 console, while Semanick mixed dialogue and music on a Harrison MPC4D X-Range digital console.
For Semanick, a highlight was working with the film’s music, which included the hit single from the film Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) by Post Malone and Swae Lee and an original score by Daniel Pemberton (recorded with a full orchestra at Air Studios in London). “In one scene, the song What’s Up Danger by Blackway and Black Caviar fades into Daniel’s score, which takes over at the end of the scene. It’s heroic and magical and shows how the two work together to make a great soundtrack.”
Lamberti notes that the sound effects blend with the score in a similar way. “Michael and I worked to fit the effects and music together,” he says. “The score includes a lot of sound-effect-like layers that fuel what the sound effects are doing.”
Both mixers agree that the immersive Atmos format was ideally suited to the soundtrack. It allowed them to add texture and dimension to the mix, enhancing the moviegoing experience. “Atmos is a fantastic format,” observes Lamberti. “It gave us the freedom to spread sound around and place things in space in a way that opens up the track and helps tell the story.”
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