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HomeAwardsContender-Paul Ottosson, Sound Editor, Spider-Man 3

Contender-Paul Ottosson, Sound Editor, Spider-Man 3

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Paul Ottosson, nominated for several awards for Spider-Man 2, is hoping to go one better this awards season for his work on Spider-Man 3.
It’s a “busier” movie than the last, with not one but four villains who needed sonic identities, including the larger-than-life Sandman (played by Thomas Hayden Church) and the evil Venom (Topher Grace), plus various chases, battles, alien encounters, weaponry, explosions and shootouts.
“A lot of movies have some kind of theme, like a war movie, which needs a lot of guns and explosions,” says Ottosson. “Spider-Man 3 is fairly unique in that most scenes and situations only happen once, then we start from scratch again in the next scene. It was very demanding in that regard, but also very challenging and fun.”
Ottosson, a musician who moved to Los Angeles from his native Sweden 20 years ago, favors organic and real-world sounds and approached the sound design of Spider-Man 3 much like a conductor presiding over an orchestra. “When you have this much action in a movie, you try to find a good balance with all the sounds,” he says. “To get all the detail to come through in a scene, like the aerial battle with Harry the Goblin and Peter Parker-Spider-Man, you have to record and create sounds just like you write music, and find the rhythm as well as design sounds that complement each other in pitch and low and high frequencies to find the right balance. Many times when you listen to one sound by itself it might not sound that good, but among all the other sounds it’s perfect.”
Among the more creative “real-world” sounds Ottosson came up with for Spider-Man 3 were the heartbeat of his unborn son, which he used for the internal sounds of the black goopy symbiote; an aerial battle specially orchestrated using six-foot-long model jets and helicopters fitted with wireless mics that became Harry’s sky-stick jet; and a recording of Ottosson’s musician wife playing an erhu, a tiny two-stringed Chinese violin, which became the atomizer that tore Hayden Church’s character apart and turned him into sand particles.
Indeed, the birth of the Sandman, one of the film’s more enterprising visual effects scenes, was also one of the movie’s principal challenges for the sound designer. “The reason it was so difficult is that when you record sand it sounds like hissing noise, which is something we strive to never get into the mix of a movie,” says Ottosson. “We needed detailed and interesting sounds that over time transformed from the delicate sound of the birth of Sandman to his gentle movements to his brute force while punching, to him shape-shifting to a sandstorm and eventually becoming a giant the size of a skyscraper.
“I ended up using a whole arsenal of sound recordings starting with Rice Krispies, peppercorns, sugar, coarse salt and beans to going out to the desert near Palm Springs and recording huge boulders being crushed, as well as creating my own avalanches of rocks.”
Ottosson worked on Spider-Man 3 for almost two years, and describes his collaboration with director Sam Raimi as “very close.” “Sam is very open to ideas once you have earned his trust,” says Ottosson, who is currently prepping sounds for Raimi’s next, as-yet-untitled, movie. “He really loves sound with great detail, but if you come up with something that helps him tell the story better or makes a scene more exciting, he will embrace it even though it might be something that was not close to what he had in his head. There was only one thing Sam was hell-bent on how he wanted it to sound; that was Venom’s screams.”
Working on his second Spider-Man movie gave Ottosson more confidence this time around, though bettering the sound design of Spider-Man 2 was a tough call. “I always try to improve myself,” he says. “I ask myself the question 20 times a day ‘How can I make this better?’ I’ve found it’s not necessarily being bigger or louder, but often to simplify and make something cleaner and clearer that makes it more interesting.” Ottosson recently completed work on Jonas Akerlund’s The Horsemen and Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker.
– Sam Molineaux

2005 Nomination
Oscar, Best Achievement in Sound Editing, Spider-Man 2
BAFTA, Best Sound, Spider-Man 2
MPSE Golden Reel, Best Sound Editing in Domestic Features – Sound Effects & Foley, Spider-Man 2
Golden Satellite Award, Best Sound Editing & Mixing, Spider-Man 2
2002 Nomination
MPSE Golden Reel, Best Sound Editing – Animated Feature Film, Domestic and Foreign, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
2001 Nomination
MPSE Golden Reel, Best Sound Editing – Television Movies and Specials – Effects & Foley, Operation Sandman
1998 Win
Emmy, Outstanding Achievement in Non-Fiction Programming – Sound Editing, National Geographic Explorer

Written by Sam Molineaux

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