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Marvel Knights Animation

The Sound of Thor & Loki's Thunder

Audio and Voiceover Director James Snyder talks about working on Marvel Knights Animation's 'Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers'

By Marc Strom

What's Thor without his thunder?

Thanks to James Snyder, Audio and Voiceover Director for "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers," we won't have to find out. Snyder helped bring Marvel Knights Animation's latest epic to life, shaping the performances of the voice actors.

Now, with the first three episodes of "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers" available for download on iTunes, Xbox LIVE and PlayStation Network and the dramatic conclusion debuting tomorrow, Marvel.com spoke with Snyder about his work on the series.

"Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers" now available for download
Marvel.com: When it came to casting the lead, Loki, what were you looking for in the actor?

James Snyder: It's all about honoring the original work done by Robert Rodi and Esad Ribic. So for Loki, that meant somebody who could comfortably handle elevated language, sounded over 40, had a genuine British dialect--because [series producer] Ruwan [Jayatilleke] and I decided early on that was the most appropriate stylistic choice--and, this is where it really gets tricky, could also convey the depth and complexity of this version of the trickster god. Every casting process starts with the rudimentary requirements, and then addresses finer considerations and qualities. We could not have been more fortunate to find David Blair. His sound is perfectly matched to the image, his acting is genuine, grand, subtle, and wholly satisfying. Watching the final animation, I'm compelled by his performance and it works seamlessly with the phenomenal artistry of Magnetic Dreams.

Marvel.com: What about the rest of the cast? Was there any search that was particularly difficult or easy?

James Snyder:
We had a tremendously gifted talent pool for Sif, Karnilla, and Hela. Each of them did an amazing job. And Thor is obviously so relevant to this story, but it's a version we've never seen before, because it's all from Loki's point of view. So this is probably the least flattering version of the Thunder God. Finding that quality took time. As did the casting of Odin. I was fortunately introduced to Joe Tiegney, who owned Odin like no one else. As with David Blair, the moment Joe opened his mouth I thought, "Of course, that's exactly how this character should sound." And their acting is great, too.

Marvel.com: What were some of the challenges in working on the sound design for this series? What were you aiming for with it?
Screenshot of Thor from "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers"

James Snyder:
Every story should have its own sound. To help achieve that, I couldn't ask for better Sound Designer than Jon Autry. He's a treasure. We talk about the idea behind the sound design, what we want conceptually, but he's the one who gets it done. Beautifully. We decided early on that we wanted all the sounds to be based on real, physical, natural sounds, even in the more supernatural sequences. Synthetic sounds are great for other stories, like "Iron Man Extremis," but for "Thor & Loki" we wanted to ground the sounds in nature. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of waves crashing on the shore when the time line flashes backward and forward. There's about a bazillion other sounds mixed in with that, but the core is based on a physical event. And Jon is so meticulous he mixed more than five different sound sources just to get Loki's footfall to sound right.  He also did a great job with Hela's scenes. There's smoke and light emanating beneath her, and we decided that was a breach between the worlds of the living and the dead. To amp up the creepy factor, you can hear the distant cries of suffering souls from Hela's realm.

Marvel.com: How is this series different from past projects you’ve worked on? Was there anything unique to the process since you were working off of the actual comic?

James Snyder:
With other projects I either have just a script or I'll be working with final animation. This process lies somewhere in between. I've been fortunate enough to have worked on "Astonishing X-Men: Gifted" and "Iron Man Extremis," so working off the comic page wasn't entirely new. The art determines a lot. Ribic has incredibly vivid and emotionally dynamic illustrations. So that means the actors have to live up to that and fill that out, which is a lot of fun because they could really cut loose. In contrast, Adi Granov's beautiful work on Extremis depicted the characters with more subtle emotion, so the voice work reflects that restraint and nuance. At every point in the process, from recording to sound design to scoring and mixing, we're always trying to serve the original material.
Screenshot of Loki from "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers"

Marvel.com: When reading the comic itself, could you already hear what you wanted the sound design to be?

James Snyder:
I read LOKI [the series on which "Blood Brothers" is based] when it first came out and never thought about how that would translate to sound at the time. In re-reading it, that's all I thought about. The writing and art have such vitality and life it wasn't hard to imagine the sound of the world. Some things are pretty straight forward, like thunder, wind, galloping horses, etc. But when Balder is talking about seeing beyond the precipice of eternity, and Magnetic Dreams has come up with a stunning celestial interpretation, that's when you need to start getting creative. Again, Jon Autry did the heavy lifting, I just gave some guidance and feedback. Occasionally I'll try to ease his work load by getting him some sound effects I think might work, but it's really his work you're hearing. 

Marvel.com: How was working with Amotz Plessner and Underground Music on the score?

James Snyder:
Amotz is terrific to work with and is a fantastic composer. We first talk about what we want from the music stylistically. We went with a 20th century approach looking to influences like Avro Part, Gabriel Faure, and Alban Berg. Amotz also decided to use a tone row, which means it's neither major or minor and makes the music less predictable. Then we watch each episode and decide where we want music and where we don't, what themes and motifs we might want to establish for certain characters or concepts, and the overall feel we want to get out of the storytelling. I try to help him by giving as much useful context as I can. For instance, I wanted a theme for Farbauti, and that led to a discussion about the difference between Jotunheim and Asgard. Jotunheim is more rustic and less refined, which inspired Amotz to come up with this great piece that's bold and percussive and epic. It was so good, we decided to use it for the end titles for the first three episodes.

Marvel.com: How closely did you work with Magnetic Dreams? What was the collaboration like?
Screenshot of Thor vs. Loki from "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers"

James Snyder:
Magnetic Dreams is great to work with and they do great work. For the most part, I give them the VO performances with multiple takes on each line. There's lots of different ways you can play a line, so I try to give them as many good options as I can. From then on, MD chooses the takes they feel best fit the animation. Then we get the final video back from them to do Sound Design, Scoring, and Mixing. I almost always like the selections they make for the performances. I think there was only one small moment in Balder's scene with Loki where I asked them to consider using a different take when Balder says "But I have never seen him rule." The one originally used was quite loud and aggressive. I suggested a more intimate read because the lines around it were also quite aggressive, and the variation drew that moment more into focus. I was really pleased that they were not only open to it, but ultimately decided to go with the take I recommended. They are very kind and professional.

Marvel.com: To wrap up, what was your favorite part of the production? The part you’re most proud of?

James Snyder:
It's really hard to say. I love working with the actors and Ruwan, so the recording sessions are really fun. And everybody is psyched to be a part of the Marvel Universe. And Jon Autry, Amotz Plessner, and Mike Sinterniklaas are not only top notch pros, but great guys as well. But I guess the most gratifying thing is seeing it all come together. When I do the mix review with NYAV Post, and they always do phenomenal work, that's when I get to see all of the collective efforts transform into a story. With any mix review you're going to ask for little tweaks here and there, and after those are made it's so gratifying to sit back and watch the show. Everyone involved really fell in love with this project, and I think you can see that in the end. I was just talking with Amotz yesterday, and we were saying how we miss having this show to work on. Then again, who knows what may happen next?

Stay tuned to Marvel.com for even more on "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers," and download the first three episodes now on iTunes, XBox LIVE and PlayStation Network!
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