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From the Guild


THE SOUND OF TWO SUPERHEROES CLASHING

05/16/2016

 
A scene from Batman v Superman.
 
 

The Sound of Two Superheroes Clashing

Scott Hecker on ‘Batman v Superman’

 
by Mel Lambert
stills by Clay Enos/©DC Comics
 
Arguably the most anticipated film this spring, Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which opened March 25 through Warner Bros., continues the heroic conflict that formed the final act of Man of Steel (2013), while introducing several new DC Comics characters for the director’s planned sequels, currently titled The Justice League. In the meanwhile, fearing that the actions of Superman (Henry Cavill) cannot be left unchecked, Batman (Ben Affleck) takes on the famed Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of superhero it really needs. With Batman and Superman fighting each other, a new threat — Doomsday — is created by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). It's now up to Superman and Batman to set aside their differences and, with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), stop Luthor and Doomsday from destroying Metropolis.
 
Based at Formosa Group, supervising sound editor/designer Scott Hecker MPSE, has worked with Snyder on five previous films: Man of Steel, Sucker Punch (2011), Watchmen (2009), 300 (2006) and Dawn of the Dead (2004). He recalls that the director’s requirement was pretty basic: “He encouraged us to create new sounds for the film, and not be beholden to follow the sound designs from previous Batman or Superman offerings.” Hecker has a Best Sound Editing Academy Award nomination for Road To Perdition (2002), plus a BAFTA nomination for Best Sound on Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and three MPSE Golden Reel Awards for Mad Max: Fury Road, Road To Perdition and Total Recall (2012).
 
 
Scott Hecker.
 
 
 
The sound team worked closely with picture editor David Brenner, ACE, “who is very sound-conscious,” Hecker recalls. “Very early in the process, we provided David with a number of sound design elements for his Avid workstation so that he could work on key scenes for his two-week editor’s cut and Zack’s initial review. We had worked previously with David on Man of Steel,” which was his first film with Snyder.
 
Hecker realized early on that Dawn of Justice “was going to be a bold and dynamic film, with intense action sequences. The story starts by depicting life-changing events for the superheroes, re-creating the confrontation between Superman and Zod that occurred during the end of Man of Steel, juxtaposed with Batman’s history and the death of his parents. We needed to underscore that dichotomy of conflict, and come to appreciate the ‘Spirit of the Bat.’ So the film soundtrack has it all: a quiet beginning, then ebb and flow through wild action until the conclusion, while focusing on introducing new sonic concepts for the Batmobile and Bat Wing.”
 
The sound was cut at Formosa Group’s newly refurbished Santa Monica facility — the former POP Sound — which now features four new 7.1-channel sound design rooms. Re-recording occurred at Warner Bros. Studio Facilities in Burbank, using Stages 9 and 10 for pre-dubs and Stage 9 for the final 7.1-channel mix, followed by a Dolby Atmos immersive mix on Stage 10.
 
A major dramatic element is the tension between these protagonists. “Our two main characters have distinct sound signatures,” Hecker states. “We opted to emphasize the contrast between the two, with darker tones for each of Batman’s environments, while for Superman we went for a more pensive and reflective ambiance — as if we were trying to understand what was happening in his headspace, with a more heavenly and ethereal tone. Their costumes were also conceived differently, which required different sound design elements. Batman has a full-armor suit in the hero fight, which is solid and very heavy, with impactful footsteps, whereas Superman is faster-moving and can fly. Their capes are also very different. Batman’s is thick and leathery, while Superman’s is more regal, with a poetic feel. We underscored those differences in sound.”
 
 
Pictured at a recent screening and filmmaker panel organized by Dolby Laboratories at the Vine Theatre, Hollywood (from left): moderator Mark Hughes from Forbes, film editor David Brenner, dialogue/music re-recording mixer Chris Jenkins, visual supervisor John Des Jardin and supervising sound editor/designer Scott Hecker.
 
 
 
Recording Unique Sound Effects
 
To record specific sounds for the film, Hecker says that he worked closely with “two of the best recordists on the planet: John Fasal, who I have known for 30 years, and Formosa Group’s Charlie Campagna, with whom I worked for the first time on Mad Max: Fury Road. John recorded unique sounds for the Batmobile, securing up to eight channels of discreet sound, including the engine, tailpipe and transmission, which had a very unusual high-pitched, reverse-like sound.”
 
Although Hecker considered using the sounds of muscle cars, hot rods and dragsters for the Batmobile, “We needed a cool and distinct sound for Bruce Wayne, which is rich and sophisticated,” he reveals. “So we used the inverted transmission whine from the production Batmobile, together with that of a Shelby Series 1 V8 engine. The end result was super-interesting, without the typical jet and turbine whines audiences have heard before.
 
“For the Batmobile chase, which involved an 18-wheel semi-truck, John traveled to the Detroit set during filming to capture its sounds,” Hecker continues. “They brought in a new and rare European IVECO truck just for that scene. Due to the limited time the filmmakers had it on set, we could only record during actual takes, as the truck went go back home as soon as it was finished on set. Mission accomplished!”
 
The supervising sound editor worked with four primary sound designers: Chuck Michael, Phil Barrie, Jussi Tegelman, MPSE, and David Werntz. “Chuck was our lead sound designer from day one,” Hecker says. “Amongst many signature sounds, he handled the Batmobile, the Bat Wing and the Doomsday creature, whose vocalization was a huge challenge. Phil was our second sound designer, while Jussi and David worked with us at the beginning of the director’s cut. My core crew also included Margit Pfeiffer as supervising dialogue/ADR editor, Roy Seeger as first assistant sound editor and John Sanacore, CAS, MPSE, as supervising Foley editor, with David Grimaldi, who specialized in backgrounds and atmospheres, dialogue editor Paul Carden, ADR editor Thomas Whiting and dialogue conform editor Daniel Saxlid.
 
 
A scene from Batman v Superman.
 
 
Realizing that Batman’s vocalization would be key to the character’s role within the narrative action, Hecker collaborated with Pfeiffer. “We experimented with processing Ben's voice to make Batman sound powerful and ominous, with the focus on clarity and intelligibility. We also wanted to acknowledge that Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler, had developed a cowl that disguises Batman’s voice mechanically. To achieve that, we ended up using a combination of three plug-ins: Flux: Sound and Picture Development’s Ircam Trax V3 with variable settings, iZotope Nectar and Antares Audio Technologies vocal processing. Because of variable processing delays, we had to re-sync each of the Ircam-affected tracks for Batman’s dialogue.”
 
Music also played a major role in emphasizing the film’s dramatic arcs. “Hans Zimmer, who also scored Man of Steel, composed most of the Superman themes for this film,” Hecker explains. “Tom Holkenborg — aka Junkie XL, with whom I worked on Mad Max: Fury Road — handled most of the Batman themes, including the Batmobile chase and the fights, as well as the Bruce Wayne/Batman nightmare scenes. To help set the tone for the editors, we used mock-ups of Hans’ new cues. For the second temp mix, we added more of Hans’ mock-ups, and for the third temp, we had even more mock-ups that cumulatively gave us a fairly good idea of where the composer was heading with the score.” Melissa Muik served as the film’s music editor.
 
Sound Deliverables for Re-Recording Stage
 
In terms of deliverables, Hecker believes in being concise with the materials sent to the re-recording stage. “We did the final 7.1-channel mix in just 17 days, which represented eight A/B reels; we started with 10 A/B reels for the director’s cut, with a running time of three hours! We kept options to a minimum so that re-recording mixers Chris Jenkins on dialogue and music, and Michael Keller on sound effects, wouldn’t need to take too much time to sort out the tracks. We made choices on the dialogue/ADR, effects and Foley elements before they reached the stage, but also prepared alternates. The motto for our team was always to keep things ‘clean, tight and tasty!’”
 
 
A scene from Batman v Superman.
 
 
For sound effects, Hecker had a total of 27 7.1-channel pre-dubs of hard and design effects, and 10 7.1-channel pre-dubs of backgrounds. “For production dialogue, we had 24 tracks using one or two mics from each take, including boom and lavaliere, plus 12 of ADR and up to 24 of Group,” he says. “For Foley we had 12 tracks of footsteps and 24 prop tracks. My brother Gary A. Hecker was the lead Foley artist.”
 
For the Dolby Atmos immersive mix, which took 10 days on Warner Stage 10, Hecker and the re-recording crew started with the 7.1-channel final, and “selected objects that we could put into the ceiling channels and the additional surround speakers. During editorial we had tagged a number of suitable sounds in our Avid Pro Tools Sessions as possible objects, and used those on the dub. For the fight sequence at the end of the film with Doomsday — who is 20 feet tall — we took some effects and vocal sounds into the uppers.
 
“Our Atmos mix rings true,” he continues, “but we also made sure that in transitioning from our final 7.1-channel mix to Atmos that we didn’t change the integrity of the 7.1 balance, which will be heard by most audiences. We didn't add any new sounds; instead we modified their spatial relationships, and brought sound off the screen, whenever that worked for the action. Dialogue/music re-recording mixer Chris Jenkins also separated high strings from the low strings, for example, to widen the sound and add more depth. He also placed sections of the choir intermittently into the upper channels to further broaden their sound.”
 
 
Pictured at a recent screening and filmmaker panel organized by Dolby Laboratories at the Vine Theatre, Hollywood (from left): moderator Mark Hughes from Forbes, film editor David Brenner, dialogue/music re-recording mixer Chris Jenkins, visual supervisor John Des Jardin and supervising sound editor/designer Scott Hecker.
 
 
The IMAX mix was made on Stage 5 at Warner Bros. Studio Facilities. “Dolby has a custom application that performs a down mix from Atmos to IMAX format,” Hecker says. “It’s not a fully automatic process but it got us 90% of the way there. In the end we spent a total of three days on Stage 5.”
 
Summarizing his experience with supervising the soundtrack for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Hecker observes that his biggest challenge was the large amount of sound design involved in its realization. “Pretty much everything we see on the screen needed its own unique sound,” he concludes, “ranging from the environments and exotic vehicles to the action heroes and creatures. Zack Snyder is a great storyteller and a fantastic guy to work with. I hope audiences will have as much fun watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as we had bringing it to them.”
 
 
Mel Lambert has been intimately involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He is principal of Content Creators, a Los Angeles-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. He is also a 30-year member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists.
 
 

   


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