The Audio of “The Icarus Maneuver”

The Audio of “The Icarus Maneuver”

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Newly released, Mark Edward Lewis’ Star Trek short film based in the Axanar universe, “The Icarus Maneuver” is another installment of his audio experience gone-to-11. This article covers both the sound effects (first) and the music (after) of this production as well gives the reader the CinemaSound.com-only access to his special youtube studies for educating filmmakers Creating sound effects for “The Icarus Maneuver” was an incredibly intricate process. The film’s dynamic storyline and thrilling sequences demanded a wide array of complex sound design to enhance the overall cinematic experience. From the thunderous explosions to the sound of people walking around on the bridge, every detail had to be meticulously crafted to captivate the audience. Our team of sound engineers and Foley artists worked tirelessly, experimenting with various techniques and recording sessions to achieve the desired effects. The challenge lay not only in accurately reproducing real-life sounds but also in synchronizing them seamlessly with the visual elements of the film. The result was a symphony of sound that envelops the viewers, immersing them in the world of “The Icarus Maneuver” and bringing the story to life. The two challenges that director and senior sound designer Mark Edward Lewis faced was creating the massive amount of original sounds required to bring life to the gripping visual effects “ship shots” for the battle and the complex world of a starship at war – while on the bridge.

For the exterior sounds, Mark pulled from his previously recordings and sound libraries used for “Prelude to Axanar” recorded and implemented back in 2014. The special sounds made by both he and the late great Frank Serafine were still powerful even for Icarus, and were also used liberally in “Interlude,” an Axanar fan film back in 2020 (which won awards for best sound). Sounds like trucks and stock cars going by, ape roars and other synthetic sounds were used for the sound of the Ares flying by screen. These sounds were resurrected and combined with a few new whooshes to add to the “realism” of a starship flying in a vacuum. 

Watch an expose on Mark demonstrating how he built one of the VFX shots of the film in Logic Pro.

Similarly, the D6 sounds were brought back to life including the “thump, thump, thump” of the D6’s temperamental impulse engine (known widely by FASA game players from “Starship Combat Simulator.” Being mixed in 5.1 surround sound, the best way to experience the immersion of these exciting sound landscapes (sometimes 50+ tracks deep) is in the theater. 

For the “on-bridge” shots, Mark sought to recreate the anxiety and terror of being onboard a submarine during a battle with a destroyer. Along with the “rigging for Red,” coined by our Cinematographer Geoff Faigen, having an undertone of fear was critical to enhance the feel of the narrative. Along with rich foley, ambiences (done by Dana Wagner) and UI sound effects (also Dana), Mark went about crafting a 16 track-deep maelstrom of “call out” voices over the 1MC intercom on the bridge that ebbed and flowed with the emotional tide of the interior scenes. 

Recorded by Dana Wagner at his “Middle-Earth” recording studio outside of Atlanta, GA, Dana recorded multiple actors speaking 50-odd lines. Mark then organized the lines across the scope of the scenes, added appropriate effects to make them sound like they were coming from consoles and “small speaker”, added reverb to give the feel of them being heard on the bridge…and the undertone of emotion given by these performances gives a potent sense of fear and activity that the picture itself cannot portray.

As you listen to the sound-effects-only version of the mix, pay careful attention to the human sound effects of bodies sitting chairs, turning heads and walking, as well as the “call-outs” and how they powerfully add to the emotion in a subconscious way that the actors and music cannot add.

The Music of Icarus

 

From the composer:

Since Icarus is a fan film and within the guidelines of the CBS requirements, I was able to deploy some of my favorite themes from Star Trek including the iconic “Star Trek” theme from Alexander Courage, the quintessential “Klingon” theme from Star Trek The Motion Picture (Jerry Goldsmith), and of course Alexander Bornstein’s Axanar theme created for “Prelude to Axanar.” However, due to the predominantly “battlefield” nature of the short, I opted to completely avoid the usual “Star Trek is exploration” sort of TNG, TOS or other series feeling, and went with James Horner’s orchestrations for Star Trek II & III.

I was also able to use my brother John-Paul Lewis’ Blaster Beam in the score. What’s a Beam? A 16′ long piece of aluminum with 24 strings stretched across it. Originally, it was used in TMP as the “sound of V-GER.” When struck with various metallic mallets, it creates an incredibly low, ominous tone which has found its way into Star Trek II, III, IV, Discovery, Picard, SNW , multiple Transformers movies. My brother built one over the course of the last 3 years, and it is an incredible instrument. You can hear me playing it on his youtube channel here:

Because of budgetary constraints, I wasn’t able to hire any “players” to augment and enhance the digital samples I was using, so I had to take special care to ensure that the orchestrations I created sounded and felt as close to “the real thing” as I possibly could. As it turns out, Bornstein’s theme shares many of the same notes as the Goldsmith “Klingon” theme, which I’m sure Alexander meant due to the heavy Klingon themes. So I was able to do a “theme and variations” of both themes throughout the anxious on-bridge moments which brought about a wonderful subconscious reminder that “those bastards are still out there.”

I use Apple’s Logic Pro exclusively to write music for picture and I’ve done so since 1994 (when it was on Atari and called Notator). The process is a simple protocol, but it requires a complex understanding of the orchestra, music-to-emotion and, of course, how to make digital samples sound “real.”

We first start by marking all the spots in the picture where there needs to be a change in the emotion the audience is feeling. Since music is the best and most effective way to move an audience, we must first notate – without any musical consideration – where we want the audience to have a change in their emotions. I might even mark down a specific emotion if it isn’t clear what they should be feeling. When I’m working as just a composer, I rely heavily on how I feel about a scene when I first watch it, because that gives me the truest sense of what a scene might be intrinsically creating an audience to emotionally step into. But being both the director AND the composer makes that very difficult. And in this case, I spent no small amount of time rethinking my notes about this.

Once the “spotting session” is done, we then go about the process of setting the musical tempo for each section. Not only do we have to find the right beat/timing for the music to evoke the right emotion, but we also must be sure that said timing has a music change land on some beat. It’s a tedious process, but it is the MOST important process, since getting the tempo wrong makes it nearly impossible to coerce an audience into the emotion you want.

From there, the music composition begins – usually with theme writing. Because I had three incredible themes with which to work, I jumped right into the sketching. “Sketching” is like an architectural drawing of a building. It’s just the outlines and the general gist, but it is not  anything we’d want to live in by itself. The usual sketch for composer John Williams is a 20-line hand-written outline of music that is so detailed, his orchestrators have little to add – and instead they just do a “copy job” of his sketches into the score. Well. I’m no John Williams. I perform the important bits into a scratch piano track. This allows me to audition the general feeling of the piano against picture, and decide if the “architectural drawing” will hold up to the emotion I want the audience to feel. This is the most creative part of the composition process for me, and I’ll add orchestration that occurs to me at the time (like the countermelody being on a violin instead of just a “general countermelody”).

Once the sketch is done, it’s time for the fun part: orchestration. Back to the top we go, and we start filling out the piano sketch with all the instruments of the orchestra. I generally do mixing of the sounds at the simultaneously so that by the time I’m to the end of the score, the overall sonic tapestry is 85% completed. I’ll usually sleep on a completed orchestration as well, since my excitement/depression about what I’m doing can easily bias what’s really happening in the music. Once I like it, I do the finishing touches on the mix, and I export what are called “stems.” A stem is a downmix of a particular discipline of instruments into a single stereo track. For example: I might do stem of all high woodwinds, or a stem of orchestral percussion. This gives me maximum flexibility in the mix to keep the music as loud as possible while dialog and sound effects compete for sonic real estate. Many times, the french horn section will interfere with male dialog, and without the kind of control that a set of orchestral stems gives me, I have to pull down the entire music track or contour the music in a way that is unnatural. Icarus has 32 music stems on an orchestration with over 150 tracks in a load of samples over 50 GB in RAM.

I hope you enjoy my joyful efforts on this score, and that if you’re writing music for picture you are inspired.

~ Mark Edward Lewis

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