Meet the Man Behind the Man Behind the Spider-Man Mask: Foley Artist Gary Hecker

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Foley artist Gary Hecker in the control room behind the S6 console

Spider-Man: Far From Home’s Foley artist Gary Hecker — from award-winning Sony Pictures Post Production Services — has been spinning custom sounds for Spider-Man since the superhero’s first screen appearance in Spider-Man (2002). He has since created Foley sound for Spider-Man 2 (2004), Spider-Man 3 (2007), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018).

They say you can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Well if that’s true, few people understand Spider-Man like Hecker does. He’s walked, jumped, stomped, run, tip-toed, shuffled, slid, and everything else you can do in shoes while performing Foley for Spider-Man.  After six films, Hecker probably understands Spider-Man more than Spider-Man understands himself!

Here, Hecker talks about his journey through the Spider-Man filmography — how his approach has grown over the years, and what’s remained the same. He talks about how it feels to be the Foley Artist behind the Spider-Man character all these years. He discusses the challenges of the newest Spider-Man theatrical release — Spider-Man: Far From Home — and how the Foley sound design played an integral role in helping Spider-Man and his adversaries come to life on the screen.

‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’

S&P:  Gary, you’ve performed Foley on nearly all the Spider-Man films. How has your approach to Spider-Man grown over the years? 

Gary Hecker (GH):  Each project was a challenge in itself and it has grown over the years, beginning with the first Spider-Man (2002). Far From Home was the most elaborate and challenging of them all. It was great to collaborate on this one with supervising sound editor Steven Ticknor, supervising sound designer/re-recording mixer Tony Lamberti and re-recording mixer Kevin O’Connell, as well, of course, with my Foley mixer Kyle Rochlin. It was a huge team effort with everyone working closely together for a beautiful, masterful sound job.

Gary Hecker on the Foley stage

S&P:  What are some essential Foley elements that go into Spider-Man? Are there core elements that have remained the same over the years?

GH:  Yes, Spider-Man’s footsteps and movements have a certain feel and specific sound. It’s a tall task to perform Spider-Man’s movements and every footstep — all his running and jumping, landing and fighting on every surface you can imagine. He lands on walls and bridges and boats and metal poles and glass windows on buildings. Each event has to be different and have texture to make it sound real, interesting, and unique. Every Spidey hand movement, as he climbs on different surfaces, was meticulously performed, as were his body movements.

It was really cool when we were done layering his footsteps, his hands, his body sounds, and web sounds — all those different surfaces and textures.  It was fun to play it back and hear all of those layers and textures come together for Spider-Man. That was intensive, detailed and exhausting.

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

S&P:  Was your approach to the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse different from a live-action Spider-Man?

GH:   It wasn’t too different. What was cool about working on all these Spider-Man films, and being with the franchise from the beginning, was that along the way I picked up all the tricks of his character. I know how to perform him and what his sounds are, so with each film it’s gotten a little more detailed and a little better; each one grew and evolved more than the last one.

The only difference in Into the Spider-Verse was that it was truly animated. It was just CGI and ADR voices. Everything was done from scratch, and there was no production track to carry along any sounds. It was all created through Foley, sound design, sound effects, and music. The Foley had to be extra special because it was featured.

The approach to Foley for animation and live-action is pretty much the same. I’m on the Foley stage and I have a blank canvas. I have to intricately paint each layer of sound in Foley by hand, depending on what’s on the screen. With animated films, they use Foley sounds a bit more in the mix because there is no production track. They play up the Foley a bit more than they do in live-action.

Sometimes with animation there will be little, quick movements. In the early stages of the animation (as the animators are putting the film together, before they’ve refined the image) the movements are a bit jerkier. But, as the film progresses and becomes more refined, they smooth that out so that it flows. So, there is a bit of a stranger feel in performing Foley for animation as opposed to live action.

‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’

S&P:  It’s easy to see the importance of VFX on superhero films; it wouldn’t be practical to create all of that destruction for real! But why is Foley important for superhero films?

GH:  Superhero films require signature sounds to be designed for each superhero. If I was performing Foley for Batman or Superman or Spider-Man or Wonder Woman or Aquaman or The Flash — I’ve done Foley for all those characters — each one has a unique signature sound. When I’m doing their Foley, I try to figure it out to where you can close your eyes and when you hear the sounds of the character you would know what character is on the screen.

Each one of them has to be totally different. The props that I use on the stage for each character are different. Each has a unique quality and signature sound.

Gary Hecker on the Foley stage

S&P:   For a character like Spider-Man, which you’ve worked on so many times, do you find yourself using some of the same props? Is there a Spider-Man kit?

GH:  Yes, on the Spider-Man films there is a kit. There is a certain sound for Spider-Man and that pretty much stays the same. The big difference from film to film is what Spider-Man comes in contact with. So, Spider-Man’s movements, his feet, his hand grabs, and his web attaching, all those sounds are similar but dependent on what surface he’s landing on or attaching to. There are going to be texture layers for whatever surface he’s coming into contact with in a film.

Overall, Spider-Man sounds light and stealthy. Each director has a different vision of how they want Spider-Man to sound but it’s pretty much the same. The first time I met director Jon Watts on Homecoming, he came in to make sure that Spider-Man sounded ninja-like and light on his feet. He wanted the Foley performance to be like that. That was pretty much Spider-Man’s character anyway, but I had to keep that in mind especially for Jon.

‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’

S&P:  What were some of your challenges in terms of Foley on Far From Home?

GH: There were a lot of challenges on Far From Home.  Out of all the Spider-Man films that I’ve done, it was probably the most challenging because there were a lot of different situations happening in the film.

One of my first huge challenges was in the opening scene with the Rock Monster. Sound supervisor Steven Ticknor came to me early on and wanted me and my crew to come up with certain elements for all the different creatures throughout the film. So, the first big challenge for me was the Rock Monster. It was intense because we had to design and create many different layers of rock effects, including rocks smashing into each other and swirling, and rock movements. We had to create sounds for this giant creature as he was huge. I had to perform the Rock Monster’s movements in sync to picture and layer in huge, explosive rocks and medium rocks and fine rocks in layers with dirt debris.

To accomplish those sounds, I used a variety of great microphones to capture a dynamic, crystal-clear sound. One mic was the Sanken C-100k. It gave us the best result for a lot of these creatures. Steven requested that I use it and I’ve had great results from it. It was a big signature point on Far From Home. It’s an omnidirectional condenser microphone with a frequency range of 20 Hz to 100 kHz, which is amazing. It’s probably the only microphone out there with that range. We got stellar results with it.

When we layered those tracks together it was really gratifying at the end. We delivered them to the sound designers and mixers, and when we heard those layers back in the mix it was really gratifying to see how the Foley helped to bring these creatures to life, to bring the Rock Monster to life.

Another huge creature we did Foley for was the Water Monster. For that as well, we did recordings at 96k. Those recording sessions were a mess because there was water everywhere; we have two water tanks on our stage.  The sound designers and sound supervisors, Steven and Tony [Lamberti], wanted me to bring an organic feel of the water sounds to give the Water Monster movement. They had a lot of giant waves and water sounds in their library, but they needed help with the movement of the creature.

Once again, we used the Sanken C-100k. We did all kinds of water recordings for the giant arm movements and water sprays to help articulate the creature. We recorded and performed very aggressive arm movements through the water, and we also recorded many layers of different water hose sprays at high velocity to get an assortment of different types of water sprays. We also used a big rounded plastic container that we hit against the water and submerged it to make this cool plunging sound. When they put those tracks with the sound design, it was very powerful and detailed.

Director Jon Watts on the set of ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’

S&P:  Because the Water Monster and Rock Monster are completely CGI, did that require you to do any last-second Foley work? Also, as the VFX were becoming more refined did you have to do additional Foley to match it?

GH:  That’s why the Foley was such a huge part of this film. Because each of those CGI characters was different; each one required unique Foley. These big creatures had to have movement, in sync to the picture, to match what they’re doing. That was huge. It helped the sound designers and sound effects team. We all worked on that together.

We did many layers of different types of Foley rock, debris, and dirt. When there was any type of picture change, the sound editors would use that material to make the adjustments and changes as needed.

‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’

S&P:  Any other opportunities for Foley on Far From Home?

GH:  Most of the Spider-Man movies are self-explanatory. It’s just Spider-Man in whatever situation comes up. But this one was different. There were more signature sounds for Spider-Man’s adversaries.

Another signature sound they wanted to figure out was Mysterio’s helmet. It’s a glass helmet so they wanted the Foley to help sell that. They wanted a signature Foley sound for it. I found this huge, massive glass vase and it had a bubble bottom to it. I was able to create a glassy and beefy pop-off sound by using my hand. I placed it over the opening of the vase and popped it off. My Foley mixer Kyle then pitched the recordings down an octave for a deeper, fatter effect.

I incorporated into that a helmet catch and mechanical detachment sound that I created using a rifle and a gun cock resonating with the glass vase on top of a suitcase. It was ominous, with a big, glassy pop-off sound. It was a unique and cool sounding detachment for that helmet.

Mysterio also has a cape. That cape had to be beefy and thunderous sounding because they have giant flying sounds for him. So, the cape had to be powerful enough to cut through the music. That wore my arms out!

Another thing I created in Foley was the Avenger glasses that Tony Stark gave to Spider-Man. They were called ‘EDITH’ glasses and they interact with a supercomputer that controls the drones in the film. The glasses were picked up and put on many times in the film and so I had to make them sit in the film just right so that they were believable.

Glasses have a tendency to sound clicky and spikey. The EDITH glasses had to feel real and the sound couldn’t interfere with the dialogue. All the movements had to be very subtle but precise because they were a featured prop. For the glasses, I went through my box of nearly 30 pairs of spectacles. I have a go-to pair that I like to use, and I had another pair that I wrapped around them. One was plastic and the other pair had metal on them. I wrapped them in a way that it wouldn’t sound clicky. So, EDITH was a combo of two different pairs of glasses. We had to mic it just right and perform it delicately enough to where it was believable.

We tried different pairs of glasses for EDITH. After we shot the Foley, I’d play the sound against the production track. If people are talking, that’s important dialogue and you don’t want to have the sounds peeking through and interfering. It draws attention away from what the characters are saying. So, we had to make the EDITH glasses just right so that they fit in without getting in the way.

Those were the main things that were special for this film. In addition, I created all the Foley for the Spider-Man character — his feet, his movements, his different suits, his combat sounds… it was very detailed. Those were the classic sounds that everybody expected from me and my crew. It was certainly a tall task because it was a super busy film.

There are a lot of drones in the film that Spider-Man fights with and interacts with. He’s crouching on top of the drones and jumping from drone to drone in the battle at the end. That was a workout, landing on drones and jumping on drones. Anytime a drone blew up, the explosion was sound design but when the drone fell and broke into pieces, we had to cover those broken pieces landing on the ground and the debris from the drones. That was a lot of work.

‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’

S&P:  What went into the drones?

GH:  Different pieces of metal and plastic. The drones have cameras on them, so I had camera equipment. I had numerous pieces of metal so that the drones didn’t all sound the same when they broke up and dropped.

I also have a metal tower on my stage with eight or nine different metal components on it. It’s almost like an instrument. I was able to ping-pong different sounds off the metals, so it had a musical quality. I used that for all of the drones breaking and landing.

I have different pieces of metal on the stage, box pieces and suitcases, different camera gadgets, and whatever I saw on the screen I would highlight and zero in on. I would hit metal and plastic pieces against this tower to match the action. After performing the impacts on the tower, we’d mic up a surface that matched what we saw on screen and then we’d record the drops onto that surface.

‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’

S&P:  Spider-Man had several different suits in this film, like the black ‘Night Monkey’ suit and the custom suit he made on Tony Stark’s plane…

GH: The ‘Night Monkey’ suit was a special suit. There was a scene where he put his suit on offstage and that was cool because there was nothing in the production track. It was kind of a joke because there were only 20 seconds to put the suit on. It had to sound high-tech and Spider-Man-like but super quick. So, you hear the zipper and his goggles. You hear him button something, and slide into the suit, which had a nylon quality. Then you see him standing there in the suit. It was quite comical.

He had goggles on for his combat suit and that had a latching mechanism sound and a little servo sound.

Gary Hecker on the Foley stage

S&P:  For Spider-Man’s fingertip touches — for example, as he’s jumping from drone to drone — are you wearing gloves for that Foley?

GH:  Absolutely, I wear gloves. That performance gets painful sometimes because as you’re watching the screen you have to match the intensity of the character. If he’s grabbing onto something forcefully or touching something lightly, I tried to match what Spider-Man is doing. That’s part of the artistry behind Foley. So, if Spider-Man’s grabbing onto something and holding on for his life, or he’s landing and struggling with the drones, it involves a lot of effort, and I have to match that.

So, I’m wearing gloves because Spider-Man’s suit has gloves. You have to find gloves with just the right thickness so that it doesn’t sound too padded. I have a thin, Spider-Man type glove that I use.

Every little stitch of his performance — his grabs, his landings, his body impacts, his feet jumping off — all of that has sound to it. It’s meticulously thought-out and performed in Foley, for every one of those movements. And there were a lot of them! This film was a lot of work and had endless opportunities for unique sounds.

Spider-Man climbs the Washington Monument in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’

S&P:  What about Spider-Man’s shoes? What do you wear when doing Spider-Man’s feet?

GH:  In the first film, it was a science project to figure out how Spider-Man’s feet should sound. Everyone had an opinion. Spider-Man has neoprene shoes. Or, in some of the films, it looks like there is red nylon covering his boots. So, they all are a little different.

It’s tricky because he is a light, spidery character. You have to keep him light on his feet but yet you have to give just enough sound that you can hear it in the movie. It’s a very fine line.

In one of the earlier Spider-Man films, the director and sound supervisor were going through the shoes on my stage to find the best ones for that Spider-Man. It was a bit of a science project. I put on a multitude of different shoes to find the ones that sounded best. But after doing so many Spider-Man films, I have a go-to pair that sound soft and just fit in the movie. So those are the ones that I’ve been using for the past few Spider-Man films.

The Sony Foley stage

S&P:  Did you have a favorite moment for Foley in Far From Home?

GH:  All of them! This Spider-Man film was the most in-depth in terms of Foley because of the creatures. The creatures were my favorite things to do on this because, having done so many Spider-Man films, it was nice to do something different.  My favorite part was coming up with Foley for those creatures. They were very complex and very detailed and something totally different from what I’ve done before with Spider-Man.

‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’

S&P:  Any final thoughts you’d like to share on the Foley of Far From Home?

GH:  I feel truly blessed and fortunate to have had the great opportunity to be a part of the Spider-Man franchise from the beginning. It’s special to have been the sound effects Foley artist through all these Spider-Man films. It’s been very humbling and a blessing to be able to express my creativity on these films. That’s meant a lot to me, to be able to work with such a great sound team, and great filmmakers, on great movies.

I’d like to sincerely thank everybody at Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios for the wonderful, great opportunity to do these Spider-Man films. It’s really been a highlight of my career.

Gary Hecker with web pieces for Spider-Man’s iconic sounds

S&P:  Do you dress up as Spider-Man for Halloween?

GH:   How did you know that?!?! I dress up like him and run around my house, jumping and doing backflips and shooting webs everywhere!

S&P:  Well, you have to get into character because Foley is a performance art!

GH:  Exactly! It definitely is a performance-based art form. It’s wild— destiny-wise — that I have worked on all these Spider-Man films. You have different crews that work on the different Spider-Man films and I’ve been so fortunate to have worked on so many of them. It’s cool that it’s been my destiny, and the way things fell into place, and to have this wonderful opportunity. It’s been a true blessing to have this come to fruition in my career.

-S&P-

Images courtesy of Gary Hecker & Columbia Pictures

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