Here's the in-depth story on how that sound was created, covering everything from wild katana shings, massive fireballs, and punchy explosions - to the challenges of keeping things focused, unexpected, and delicately shifting between light comedy and heavy action:
Written by Jennifer Walden. Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. Contains mild spoilers.
Marvel’s sassy superhero Deadpool returns to the big screen in Deadpool 2 and this sequel is just as fun as the first film. There are huge explosions and impossible melee fights. Deadpool even deflects bullets with his katana swords — er, at least he makes a valiant attempt.
This time around, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) builds a team of new ‘superheroes,’ dubbed X-Force, that help him to save a young mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison), who has the ability to shoot fireballs from his hands. Russell is pursued by a time-traveling cyborg named Cable (Josh Brolin). He wants to eliminate Russell, aka ‘Firefist,’ in order to alter the future and save his family. But Deadpool believes he can save the kid and still change the future. All it takes is love and a dose of luck.
A Sound Effect talks with Formosa Group’s supervising sound editor Mark Stoeckinger, sound designer/re-recording mixer Martyn Zub, and sound designer Alan Rankin. They’re joined by sound designer Chuck Michael, who was also an integral part of the sound team. Here, the four team members share details of how they created the sound of Deadpool 2.
Deadpool’s trademark katanas get some good use in Deadpool 2 — taking out bad guys and deflecting bullets. Can you tell me about your approach to the sword sounds in the film? Did you do a recording session of shings? Was there any processing or filtering to enhance those sounds?
Sound Team: Several of us worked on Deadpool’s katanas. There wasn’t any specific sword recording done for Deadpool 2 however very few sounds in any film nowadays go “untweaked.” Deadpool 2 is broad so the sounds in the entire film need to be broad at times as well. We all hate loose sounding guns yet in this film that was part of the comedy.
Real katanas (and pretty much all swords) actually clack instead of shing. Over the years, we all have made sword sounds with machete hits, metal rings, and tuning forks. We processed those with EQ and compression and various pitch bends and reverbs to make libraries of those types of sounds.
For sequences that Chuck covered, he had a ton of really great material that was recorded for The Wolverine (but don’t tell this to Deadpool). On that film, Chuck went over to the metal shop at Fox Studios and just banged on stuff. Anything that made a good sound went to the Foley Stage, where Dan O’Connell (who also did Foley on Deadpool 2) recorded hours of material.
However, for The Wolverine, the swords vs. claws battle was about power and weight and strength. For Deadpool 2, Wade’s swords were more about speed, precision and lethality. So, instead of using the material that had been remastered for The Wolverine, Chuck went back to the original recordings and found material that sounded, for lack of a better term, sharper instead of weightier. Remastering that material gave us a good pallet for Deadpool’s swords.
Aside from EQ, Chuck usually does some heavy compression to get those ringy tailouts at the end of the sword hit. And, since that usually takes away the punch, he cuts a much less compressed hit on top of that. Sometimes it’s good to take those rings and reverse them to make a nice shing as the sword slices through the air before the impact. The key to making it sound cool is variation, so with each hit there’s something new, sonically, to enjoy.
There are so many fun explosions in this film. What’s your secret to creating a really punchy explosion?
You don’t want to let things get all muddled up with too many similar elements, and you should make sure the attack is in the clear without anything getting in the way.
Sound Team: The secret is: don’t make the wrong elements too loud! LOL. Honestly, punchy explosions are mainly about having all your sounds lined up to the sample, or even leading the body of the sound effect with their higher frequency elements while giving space and transient clarity to the lower frequency elements as well. Also, you don’t want to let things get all muddled up with too many similar elements, and you should make sure the attack is in the clear without anything getting in the way. It starts with good source material. Then you layer, layer, layer and make sure everything is in sync so there’s not a sloppy start to the explosion.
Many of the explosions are shown from a variety of viewpoints all cut together, so we hit each of the cuts with a new explosion, cleaning out the old to make room — but not too clean otherwise it doesn’t tie them all together and they sound like separate explosions. You want to hit each cut with something powerful. Beyond that, a lot of the character comes from the debris and breaking of the materials being blown up. Just an explosion without all the nice detail bits doesn’t sound nearly as good.
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Did you have a favorite explosion to build in Deadpool 2? What went into the sound?
Sound Team: Anything Cable related, since there’s always an element of “Cable tech” to them. There’s something electronic.
Chuck’s favorite explosion was the one in the prison when Cable blasts the cell. There’s lots of stuff flying everywhere and there’s a different character for each of the angles, which gives it a lot of character overall. Plus, the timing of it all feels good, which was all from the director and picture editorial department.
Firefist’s superpower is that he can throw fire balls. What were some of your sources for fire sounds? How did you get the fire sounds to fit the situations on-screen?
Sound Team: We started designing sounds for Firefist’s hands before we even saw what his powers looked like. Obviously, the first thing we thought of was fire balls, and using library material like flame bys, fire explosions, and flame thrower sound effects to start with. But we wanted to give a bit more modulation and movement to the sounds to make it feel more alive.
The ice was Mark’s idea and it works really well! It’s played in a way that you wouldn’t know what it really is, but it adds some texture to the fire sounds.
In creating a set of sound effects, we used Ableton’s sampler in a series of effect chains to turn a single sound into multiple different sounds, all having different variations. To this, we added additional sounds — like some ice cracks and even some animal growls, to help it cut through some more and to add some power and threat to the sound. The ice was Mark’s idea and it works really well! It’s played in a way that you wouldn’t know what it really is, but it adds some texture to the fire sounds.
One thing that Martyn and Mark spoke about from the very beginning was that Russell’s power should build throughout the film. So when we first meet him, there’s some power but it’s more fun. In the later reels, he could really let loose.
What we really wanted to do was show that Russell’s power is developing over time. Also, we wanted to have the sound support the appropriate amount of threat in the scene. When we first meet Russell, it’s actually a very fun scene and if his power was too “serious” sounding, it could take away from some of the fun. So, the fireballs were short, staccato, punchy, and powerful but fun. You can’t really search that in a library. It’s just something that has to be felt. And then later, Firefist becomes a real threat. There are fun bits, but the stakes are much higher and the power of his sounds had to reflect that.
What was your approach to Cable? Can you talk about some of his sounds, like the time travel, his super-awesome mega-weapon that he can turn up to 11, and his body movements since he’s partially bionic?
Sound Team: With Cable being from the future it seemed best to always have something unique about him that stands out. Cable’s time travel is a mixture of real events from the film, sound designy whooshes and sweeps, and little bits and pieces of sound events. The time travel at the end of film was pretty much a recap of all those events you see on film. Our goal was to pop out fun events like a scream or the Wilhelm or a gunshot, etc.
The prop team took the lead in designing the look of his gun and that inspired us to use some element of guitar throughout the gun sound design.
Cable’s gun — that needs to be rebuilt after being destroyed in his time travel, has a Fender volume control knob on it. The prop team took the lead in designing the look of his gun and that inspired us to use some element of guitar throughout the gun sound design. There’s the obvious on-camera volume knob but there’s also the power ups and downs. So, if the gun sweeps across camera or shoots, its plasma blasts have some homage to an actual electric guitar or a sound that could be attributed to an electric guitar.
Director David Leitch’s first sound note was regarding Cable’s arm. He wanted the audience to be well aware of its robotic aspects, so we collected all sorts of springs and cables to manipulate. Those sounds, along with manipulated, “tweaked” servo sounds and lots of other elements we made in Ableton Live, created a library to give Cable an arm that we kept alive within the confines of other competing sounds around his action. We also took Cable’s name literally and added an actual cable. Well, in reality it was a guitar string. But we pulled it back and forth to make that metal zuzzing sound that guitar strings make. Then, we did lots of processing to give it more character and a futuristic, sci-fi flavor. Yet, at the same time, it couldn’t be too complicated. We didn’t want to draw attention to it but just have it be this element of his character.
Additionally, Foley artist Dan O’Connell did an amazing job of making all the detail and movements come to life.
There’s a really fun fight between Colossus and Juggernaut. Those hits were massive! Can you tell me about the sound work that went into that sequence?
Sound Team: We had a similar approach to that of the explosions, yet the sounds here needed to be shorter and more succinct. Like adding debris for explosions, it helps to have material other than just the punches. In this fight, all the metal impacts of Colossus’s body and Juggernaut’s helmet gave us a lot of opportunity to vary the qualities of each punch and make them bigger. That, and you have to have some good low-end material to shake the room on the huge punches!
The convoy sequence is really massive in terms of sound too. The convoy slams into buildings and other cars. Parts of the convoy truck blow up. Then, of course, the whole thing goes crashing down through the bridge. What are some of your strategies for making those sequences sound as big as they look, while still keeping clarity in the sound?
Rather than feature all of the cacophony of sound, the choice was made to highlight the fight instead of the environment.
Sound Team: It’s all about picking your moments and featuring events instead of having a whitewash of sounds. For example, when Domino (Zazie Beetz) crashes through the building and Wade and Cable are fighting in the rear cab of the transport, there are all types of visual carnage of the building as it gets destroyed. Rather than feature all of the cacophony of sound, the choice was made to highlight the fight instead of the environment. We tried it both ways and decided to strip out the background and concentrate on the important aspects of the scene.
What was your favorite scene for sound in Deadpool 2? What went into it?
Sound Team: The scene in the rain where Wade chases down Vanessa’s (Morena Baccarin) killer. When asked to make the track for this sequence, we made two very different versions to give David some options on which way to take the sequence. One was very literal and you heard all that you saw on-screen, which made it very visceral. The other approach was very sparse and internal, to reflect the grief that Wade was experiencing.
Both versions had sonic shocks to reinforce the picture edit and keep the audience’s adrenaline pumping as hard as Wade’s was. David lived with both versions for a while and we eventually worked up a hybrid version, a mix of realistic and stylized sounds, told from Wade’s POV.
What were some of the unique sonic challenges you had on Deadpool 2?
Sound Team: Giving the action scenes clarity and keeping them from being relentless. That’s a constant battle in films such as this. There were so many, from Cable’s sounds, to time travel sounds, the big fights, and the prison. We could pretty much just run down the whole film. It’s a complicated soundtrack, but it was a ton of fun to work on and we’re happy to have been part of the team on it.
Mix-wise, what were your favorite moments for sound?
Sound Team: A quick note about David’s sound tastes: he likes action sequences to be intense yet he also doesn’t want the track to be relentless and unfocused. He’s always looking for ways to give the audience something new, unique and unexpected. He likes to take sound breaks into non-literal moments to mix things up. For instance, Deadpool falling off the gantry in the prison and breaking his back was one of those moments. Up to that point, we’ve had a pretty relentless action sequence. Plus, we need to take a pause because it looks like Cable has destroyed Wade. We were able to make a cool moment that is story-appropriate at the same time. Slow motion moments within the action sequences are key moments where we were able to take advantage of this.
The final action sequence was a favorite for sound. It builds nicely and has lots of different elements being intercut. The Colossus vs. Juggernaut fight has some very nice detail as well.
We’d like to point out the delicate manner in which the sound needed to constantly shift from light comedy to heavy action.
We’d like to point out the delicate manner in which the sound needed to constantly shift from light comedy to heavy action. It’s not obvious to your average movie-goer, but the mix really shines in how it flows so fluidly in and out of these sonic modes. Obviously, the film was written, shot, and edited that way, but it’s a real trick to go back and forth so rapidly and effectively. Re-recording mixers Paul Massey and Martyn did a fantastic job in pulling that off.
What are you most proud of in terms of sound on Deadpool 2?
Sound Team: Achieving a soundtrack that David Leitch was happy with. David is a great storyteller and collaborative leader of creatives. That approach inspires all of us to new heights.
We’re also proud of the new character sounds that we came up with. They came out very well. And, it’s not every film where you get to define at least a small part of a sonic pallet that will (hopefully) carry on in sequels. It’s a real honor to get that chance. We may be hearing the sounds of Cable and Firefist for many films to come. “X-force!”
A big thanks to Mark Stoeckinger, Martyn Zub, Alan Rankin, and Chuck Michael for giving us a look at the action-packed sound of Deadpool 2 – and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!
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