Craig Henighan knows the shake, rattle and roll of superheroes: He was sound designer on X-Men: The Last Stand (and even performed the same duties for a pair of Robert Rodriguez’ films, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, and Sin City).But as both sound designer and supervising sound editor on the latest Fantastic Four installment, Rise of the Silver Surfer, Henighan realized that his previous sound work was for the equivalent of superhero hodads—a sleek, silver-skinned Kahuna from the cosmos demanded “new sounds.” Working with supervising sound editor John Larsen, who oversaw auditory chores on the previous “FF” film, Henighan worked from the ground up to give the celestial tube shooter a distinct aural identity. “We recorded a fair bit—vehicles, cars,” and he added a Doppler plugin to magnify the fast sounds he was building—to make the arc of the Surfer’s movements, the near and far, the before and after, appear distinct, to “bring the board to life.””The board has its own power,” Henighan says, perhaps inadvertently repeating a philosophical observation first uttered on Malibu Beach circa the mid-’60s (not coincidentally, around the time Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first invented the likewise philosophizing cosmic rider in the pages of the FF comic). So his charter—with Larsen—was to “bring the board to life.”And life requires breath, and so too, the Zen concentration often required of surfing. Thus it should be no surprise that Henighan notes that he used his own breathing as part of the surfboard’s aural signature, performing what he calls “breath-bys” as the board—manned by actor Doug Jones, of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth fame, donning a special silver suit—rips through the atmosphere during showdowns with the heroic quartet, and later, his planet-destroying boss, Galactus.As Henighan notes about the Surfer’s board, “we didn’t want to go with classic whoosh-bys,” or even “flame-bys,” which are generally reserved for the FF’s own Human Torch.Other elements that went into this particular surfin’ sound including “recording big Whiffle balls—they make great little sounds,” which anyone who’s mastered throwing a fastball with one of the plastic orbs already knows. Henighan would tie them to a string, and “woosh” them around, recording the sound.”The Silver Surfer is very fluid, he has a grace to him,” Henighan declares. And while he keeps refining the Surfer’s sounds, it literally started with fluid: for the trailer, he took various oils, and water, and poured them over sheet metal, moving them around with his hand as he recorded effects that could only be called tubular.But all was not honkers and wipe-outs in the mixing room—there were other sounds to attend to. Among those, returning nemesis Victor von Doom, an “electrical-based” aural identity, and Reed Richards, who can stretch and is mixed with more rubbery, elastic-y sounds.And while the sounds themselves may differ, Larsen notes of his collaboration with Henighan that it’s all “very similar to what we did on X-Men.” Though here, there was the added challenge on the “Surfer” side—that of dubbing in a separate voice, since actor Lawrence Fishburne was hired to give voice to the character’s quantum-fueled introspection. “The scenes we’ve mixed so far,” he notes, “it kind of works,” he says, of Fishburne’s stentorian tones.”I like the dynamics in his voice,” Larsen adds.He also likes Henighan’s industriousness. “Craig spent a lot of time getting mock-ups,” he notes, referring to early versions of key VFX sequences.On that note, Henighan—giving “credit to everyone involved” for getting so much done on so short a production schedule—maintains that “we get (them) as early as we can—we know visual effects will come in last.” He adds that he also goes to “the effects screenings,” to get the lowdown as soon as he can. “You get descriptions, you get ideas, but the thing is to get stuff into the Avid.” And it is there, in the Avid, that the whoosh-bys and flame-bys and Zen breaths all become aurally transformed thanks to Pro Tools.The mix is “all Pro Tools based,” he says, which Larsen describes as “a really new thing on big soundstages.”Henighan says directors appreciate being able to use the mixing software to “bat stuff around.” And not just the director, in this instance. But, as Larsen notes, studio execs and Marvel execs, each with their own “potential ideas” of how formerly 2-D pen and ink characters should look—and sound.Those ideas get put through the Pro Tools HD 7 software, (along with plugins), as needed, with music, etc., being blended in via the Harrison console used at Sony, where the film was mixed.Henighan’s aesthetic is to “keep it organic, or (at least) not so synthetic.” He wants things to sound like they would if they really happened. “It’s all about making sounds that fit the picture,” he concludes.Indeed. Henighan and Larsen both declare it will be “vacation time after this.” And it will be a well-deserved vacation once the surf and other sounds are locked, No mention at all of whether they’ll be bringing their own longboards.
Written by Mark London Williams