X-Men97_sound-01 Asbjoern Andersen


Marvel Animation’s X-Men '97 picks up where the iconic '90s X-Men: The Animated Series left off. The X-Men use their uncanny gifts to protect a world that hates and fears them, bravely facing new challenges and a dangerous and unexpected future. Supervising sound editor Jonathan Greber and sound designer Kyrsten Mate at Skywalker Sound talk about their work on X-Men '97 -- S1:E3 'Fire Made Flesh,' which is competing for a 2024 Emmy nomination for 'Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour) and Animation.' Here, they talk about how they created that '90s retro sound for this modern animated series, and how they created specific sounds like the Goblin Queen's transformation, her mental battle with Jean Gray (Phoenix), sounds for the X-Men mansion-turned-house-of-horrors, and more!
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Disney+
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The X-Men: The Animated Series aired its last episode in 1997. And that’s exactly where Marvel Animation’s new animated series X-Men ’97 picks up. It has a retro look and sound similar to the iconic ’90s series but is a modernized version of it.

Supervising sound editor Jonathan Greber and sound designer Kyrsten Mate – at Skywalker Sound – are in the running for a 2024 Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour) and Animation” for X-Men ’97 — S1:E3 “Fire Made Flesh.”

Greber previously won a 2021 Emmy for “Outstanding Sound Editing for a Nonfiction or Reality Program (Single or Multi-Camera)” for The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, and earned Emmy nominations for sound editing on Andor, sound editing on McCartney 3,2,1, and sound editing on Laurel Canyon. And Mate earned a 2022 Emmy nomination for sound editing on Loki.

Here, Greber and Mate talk about creating a retro sound for the show that matches the ’90s animated X-Men look, and they talk about creating sounds for specific scenes in the episode, like the transformation of Jean Grey’s clone into the Goblin Queen, the house of horrors the Goblin Queen creates inside the X-Men mansion, the psychic battle Jean Grey and the Goblin Queen, Magneto’s battle with the Goblin Queen, and more!



Marvel Animation's X-Men '97 | Official Trailer | Disney+


Marvel Animation’s X-Men ’97 | Official Trailer | Disney+

X-Men ’97 is a continuation of the original show, and so has the retro look of the original X-Men: The Animated Series. How did that impact/influence your approach to the sound? Did it also affect where you sourced your sounds from?

Jonathan Greber (JG): It’s really important to note that we did not have legal access to any X-Men sounds from the movies or the original animated show. So literally everything was started from scratch. It was very important to the Marvel team that our sound design should honor the original show’s signature sounds that the fans know so well. We designed sound effects that sounded like them, but amped them up and made them sonically more intense, or “4K” as the Marvel team put it, for the new series.

In a couple of instances, we added a bit more oomph and special sauce to a superpower (Cyclops comes to mind), but honored the spirit of the original. We listened to the original, and then would find or make recordings of anything that has the same quality to remake them. For example, we got a Commodore 64 chip and fired off its sounds to use as a basis for a number of interfaces throughout the show. All new sound effects was also kept in the same ’90s retro palette to make the world super cohesive.

 

X-Men97_sound-02

Clone Jean transforms into the Goblin Queen, what went into the sound for this scene?

Kyrsten Mate (KM): Mr. Sinister is behind Clone Jean’s transformation and the source of her Goblin Queen power is similar to the source of his – the underworld. Her power is a version of the underworld’s demons whispering and growling and the whipping of the underworld’s winds lashed with fire. These form together and then are concentrated into powerful bursts of dark energy when she uses her powers. We also used some of these forming sounds backwards, as many backwards sounds do sound a bit creepy by nature.

 

X-Men97_sound-03

The Goblin Queen turns the X-Men mansion into a house of horrors – what were some of your favorite sounds to design for this sequence? What went into them? What was the most challenging sound to design? (Which one required the most revisions?)

JG: Again, the house of horrors was all about creepy. Luckily, there were fun textures to play with, such as the growing ectoplasm that creates fake Magneto and Rogue and the heads twisting around. The most interesting thing was the growing aspect of many of the scenarios, it was reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

 

X-Men97_sound-04

The Goblin Queen battles Magneto. I love all the sounds of breaking glass and flying glass shards in this scene. (Interestingly, the glass sounds have a ‘warn’ mid-range dominant sound instead of a high-end and ‘tinkle-y’ sound. It makes it sound like it’s playing on a VHS tape!) Can you talk about your sound work for this scene?

KM: The important thing about glass breaking/shattering is to avoid the “shrillness” of it! This was accomplished by the glass breaking being EQ’d, but also concentrating on a short break with defined shatters after the initial sounds, instead of a huge dense “wall” of breaking glass. We also added many small whooshes for movement that are specific to the pieces traveling, to mitigate the shrill aspect glass so commonly has.

 


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X-Men97_sound-05

What went into the sound of the “mental-battle” sequence between Jean Grey and the Goblin Queen?

JG: The Goblin Queen is a clone, so she has the same powers as Jean. We wanted to differentiate between the two subtly, so we chose to take Jean’s TK power sound and make it “darker” by switching it into a minor key and adding a bit of low movement. The battle has a number of impressionistic versions of all their flashback memories that meld from one into the next, evoking a dream. At the end, it finishes with the Goblin Queen’s power being shattered literally with an “optimistic” sound, as the controlling gem is broken.

 

X-Men97_sound-06

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

KM: Delineating the action points during the Sinister/Goblin Queen/Cyclops rescue of Nathan. An awful lot happens within a short span of time! We had to make each super power stand out while a baby is crying either in a scared way, or recognizing his father, while a tank shatters and water pours out while three different superpowers are bashing up against each other.

We should also add that we went through countless iterations of power sounds for many of the characters, most notably Gambit and Cyclops. Because of the very accelerated schedule, this meant that by the time we had gotten to where we needed to be with a particular power set, we had already finished several episodes: so we had to go back and update, over and over, rinse and repeat. We’re extremely proud of the final product but…it was a bit crazy getting there!

 

X-Men97_sound-07

Of all the episodes in Season 1 to choose for Emmy consideration, why did you pick Ep. 3 “Fire Made Flesh”? What do you feel makes this episode stand out sonically?

JG: There is a breadth of different sound effects throughout the episode that cover a few different genres and most of the supehero characters make an appearance. These effects help to tell story more than is typical, as the viewer keeps track of the action and who is prevailing just by the sound. Additionally, this episode has a lot of fun vocal processing, which was another fun aspect of the design of this show.

 

A big thanks to Jonathan Greber and Kyrsten Mate for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the sound of X-Men ’97 and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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