Echo_sound-01 Asbjoern Andersen


The Echo series (streaming on Disney+) brings fans closer to Maya Lopez (Echo), who is being pursued by a criminal organization. Maya decides to return to her hometown in Oklahoma to reconnect with her family and community, and embrace her Native American roots. But it also means confronting her past. Here, supervising sound editors Jon Borland and Chris Gridley at Skywalker Sound talk about their approach to the sound S1:E2 'Lowak,' which is competing for a 2024 Emmy nomination for 'Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited or Anthology Series, Movie or Special.'
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Disney+
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Marvel Studios’ Echo series – streaming on Disney+ – is a spin-off of the series Hawkeye. It follows Maya Lopez (a.k.a, Echo), a deaf member of the Choctaw tribe. Maya is in trouble with an NYC-based criminal empire run by Wilson Fisk (the man responsible for her father’s death), so she decides to return to her hometown in Oklahoma. Being home means confronting her past, but it also is an opportunity to reconnect with her family and community and to find her way forward.

Supervising sound editors Chris Gridley and Jon Borland – at Skywalker Sound – are in the running for a 2024 Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited or Anthology Series, Movie or Special” for Echo S1:E2 “Lowak.”

Both Gridley and Borland were nominated for a 2021 Emmy for sound editing on WandaVision. Additionally, Borland earned a 2023 Emmy nomination for sound editing on Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Here, they talk about creating a visceral soundscape for the opening stickball scene set in 1200 AD, how they used sound to highlight the action in the fast-paced, night-time train ambush sequence, and playing sound from Maya’s POV. They also talk about designing the sound of Maya’s rebuilt prosthetic leg, building the sound of Biscuits’s mangled truck, creating a multistaged explosion, and more!



Marvel Studios' Echo | Official Trailer | Disney+ and Hulu


Marvel Studios’ Echo | Official Trailer | Disney+ and Hulu

S1:E2 “Lowak” opens up on a scene of a stickball game in 1200 AD. What were some of your challenges for sound here? (There were great sounds for the sticks clacking and feet churning the sandy ground! Was that foley?)

Jon Borland (JB): The Bushto game is an amazing sequence; Sydney [Freeland; Director]’s direction was that this is “their super bowl” and to make it as big, huge and exciting as possible; the crowds were an important part of that. Marilyn McCoppen, our ADR editor, did a great job managing loop group sessions with both Cherokee and Choctaw actors to capture the authentic languages. I had the privilege of visiting the Choctaw Cultural Center in Oklahoma, and while I was there they were having a modern day Stickball tournament that I was able to record crowds at. We then used those recordings to help build out the scene.

 

Echo_sound-02

There’s a moment when Lowak harnesses the power of her ancestors. Later, Echo has a similar experience. Can you talk about your sound work for this power?

JB: It was great getting to visit the cultural center and learn about Choctaw’s history and heritage. I wanted to attach the ancestral magic sounds to their culture while also making it fit within the established MCU magic soundscape that has already been established. I used Biskinik bird vocals, which is also featured in the show (yellow bellied sapsucker) as an element to achieve that.

 

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What went into your sound work on the night-time train ambush sequence? What were some of your challenges for sound editorial here? The sequence is so dark. How did sound help the storytelling in this sequence?

JB: Trains are always a blast! It was all about placing the right sounds to accent the different sections of the train to accent the danger and highlight Maya’s skill.

 

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What was your approach to putting the sound in Maya’s POV?

JB: With Maya’s POV, our focus was always on what vibrations she would be feeling, and then we’d try to find opportunities where there would be something that she would feel to bring us in and out of it

 

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The train pulls into NYC and the bomb activates. There’s this huge, multistage explosion. Can you talk about your sound work for this scene – for the bomb and the explosions? Were there any helpful indie sound libraries that you sourced for the explosions?

Chris Gridley (CG): The direction we got was to make it sound like “an ACME fireworks factory going up.” As you can imagine we have had a few opportunities to blow up things on past projects at Skywalker and have assembled quite the library over the years. Jessey Drake did a great job utilizing the Skywalker library of explosions to build out that sequence.

 


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Echo_sound-06

Skully repairs and upgrades Maya’s prosthetic leg. Can you talk about your sound work for the repairs and the sound that the temporary prosthetic leg makes after Maya puts it on?

JB: Whenever Maya removes her leg it’s a really intimate and vulnerable thing to show so we always wanted to make sure we were being authentic and respectful with those moments. With the makeshift leg, we had the challenge of making it seem weak and not one hundred percent without being comical. Then when Skully gives her the finished leg we really wanted it to feel like a powerful moment, like Captain America getting his shield or Thor getting his hammer so it had to be really strong and powerful sounding.

 

Echo_sound-07

Biscuits takes the beat-up truck back to the repair shop, driving past Grandma Chula on the way. What went into the sound for this scene?

JB: Biscuits always makes for a great opportunity for some comic relief so we went with some classic jalopy sounds and used a recording I made on a previous project of a powerful sound system in an older rattly car.

 
Echo_sound-09

What was the most challenging sound to create for this episode? What went into it?

JB: Maya’s POV was definitely the most challenging sound to create for the show; “What does deafness sound like?” is an impossible question. I was really inspired by a TED talk I listened to by a deaf percussionist named Evelyn Glennie. In it she talked about how she is able to experience music and sound through touch. I started out by using contact mics, a stethoscope and a fetal doppler to record sounds through vibrations rather than traveling through air. We then decided we would only tag things with sound that Maya would be able to feel the physical vibrations of.

Ultimately we decided “less is more” and leaned towards silence and only highlighted really impactful things. As we saw on The Last Jedi, silence can be very impactful, but can lead some viewers to think there is something wrong with their systems so we wanted a steady sound for her POV. For that, I used stethoscope and doppler recordings to build out the feeling of being so attuned to her environment that she would feel her circulatory system pumping blood through her whole body similar to what it’s like when you get so worked up that you can hear your blood pumping through your ears.

 

Echo_sound-08

Of all the episodes in Season 1 to choose for Emmy consideration, why did you pick Ep. 2 “Lowak”? What do you feel makes this episode stand out sonically?

JB: We chose episode 2 because it showcases all the elements that make Echo a great show and highlights examples of all the great sonic opportunities that exist in the series. Maya’s different experience, family, heritage and action/adventure.

 

A big thanks to Jon Borland and Chris Gridley for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the sound of Echo and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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