AES/SMPTE panel: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse sound

By Mel Lambert

As part of its successful series of sound showcases, a recent joint meeting of the Los Angeles Section of the Audio Engineering Society and SMPTE’s Hollywood Section focused on the soundtrack of the animated features Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which has garnered several Oscar, BAFTA, CAS and MPSE award nominations, plus a Golden Globes win.

On January 31 at Sony Pictures Studios’ Kim Novak Theater in Culver City many gathered to hear a panel discussion between the film’s sound and picture editors and re-recording mixers. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was co-directed by Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr. and Rodney Rothman, the creative minds behind The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street.

The panel

The Sound Showcase panel included supervising sound editors Geoffrey Rubay and Curt Schulkey, re-recording mixer/sound designer Tony Lamberti, re-recording mixer Michael Semanick and associate picture editor Vivek Sharma. The Hollywood Reporter’s Carolyn Giardina moderated. The event concluded with a screening of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which represents a different Spider-Man Universe, since it introduces Brooklyn teen Miles Morales and the expanding possibilities of the Spider-Verse, where more than one entity can wear the arachnid mask.

Following the screening of an opening sequence from the animated feature, Rubay acknowledged that the film’s producers were looking for a different look for the Spider-Man character based on the Marvel comic books, but with a reference to previous live-action movies in the franchise. “They wanted us to make more of the period in which the new film is set,” he told the standing-room audience in the same dubbing stage where the soundtrack was re-recorded.

“[EVPs] Phil Lord and Chris Miller have a specific style of soundtrack that they’ve developed,” stated Lamberti, “and so we premixed to get that overall shape.”

“The look is unique,” conceded Semanick, “and our mix needed to match that and make it sound like a comic book. It couldn’t be too dynamic; we didn’t want to assault the audience, but still make it loud here and softer there.”

Full house

“We also kept the track to its basics,” Rubay added, “and didn’t add a sound for every little thing. If the soundtrack had been as complicated as the visuals, the audience’s heads would have exploded.”

“Yes, simpler was often better,” Lamberti confirmed, “to let the soundtrack tell the story of the visuals.”

In terms of balancing sound effects against dialog, “We did a lot of experimentation and went with what seemed the best solution,” Semanick said. “We kept molding the soundtrack until we were satisfied.” As Lamberti confirmed: “It was always a matter of balancing all the sound elements, using trial and error.”

=Nominated for a Cinema Audio Society Award in the Motion Picture — Animated category, Brian Smith, Aaron Hasson and Howard London served as original dialogue mixers on the film, with Sam Okell as scoring mixer and Randy K. Singer as Foley mixer. The crew also included sound designer John Pospisil, Foley supervisor Alec G. Rubay, SFX editors Kip Smedley, Andy Sisul, David Werntz, Christopher Aud, Ando Johnson, Benjamin Cook, Mike Reagan and Donald Flick.

During picture editorial, “we lived with many versions until we got to the sound,” explained Sharma. “The premix was fantastic and worked very well. Visuals are important but sound fulfils a complementary role. Dialogue is always key; the audience needs to hear what the characters say!”

“We present ideas and judge the results until everybody is happy,” said Semanick. “[Writer/producer] Phil Lord was very good at listening to everybody; he made the final decision, but deferred to the directors. ‘Maybe we should drop the music?’ ‘Does the result still pull the audience into the music?’ We worked until the elements worked very well together.”

The lead character’s “Spidey Sense” also discussed. As co-supervisor Schulkey explained: “Our early direction was that it was an internal feeling … like a warm, fuzzy feeling. But warm and fuzzy didn’t cut through the music. In the end there was not just a single Spidey Sense — it was never the same twice. The web slings were a classic sound that we couldn’t get too far from.”

“And we used [Dolby] Atmos to spin and pan those sounds around the room,” added Lamberti, who told the audience that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse marked Sony Animation’s first native Atmos mix. “We used the format to get the most out of it,” concluded the SFX re-recording mixer, who mixed sound effects “in the box” using an Avid S6 console/controller, while Semanick handled dialogue and music on the Kim Novak Theater’s Harrison MPC4D X-Range digital console.


Mel Lambert has been intimately involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. He is also a long-time member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists. 


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