October 20, 2010 | By

Return toHome Exclusive Interviews & ProfilesComposers


Space Station 3D (2002) reunites co-operative partners NASA and Lockheed Martin for the world’s first 3D IMAX film photographed in space. Directed by the versatile Toni Myers, Space Station also features narration by Tom Cruise.

“The minute I saw the amazing 3D footage shot by the astronauts in space, I knew I had to be involved with this very special film,” Cruise enthusiastically states in IMAX’ press release.

Audiences will experience the vastness of space in far greater scope, observing fourteen nations constructing the massive space station, seemingly inches from their fingertips. In addition to director Myers, the film also marks the sixth IMAX space film scored by Maribeth Solomon and Micky Erbe, the husband-and-wife team best known for their Grammy-Nominated theme and Gemini-Winning music for Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict (1997 – 2002), which featured vocal work by their daughter, Leah Erbe, who recently contributed original songs to writer/director Peter Cho’s Changing Times.

The scoring couple has more than ten IMAX films to their credit, and yet they continue to find new ways to expand the musical landscape offered by the world’s best-known large film format.

Size is clearly the biggest obstacle, as a close-up produces a face as big as a low-rise office tower; and rudimentary edits and effects – cuts and dissolves – have greater impact, as though you’ve just been moved around like a chess piece from the bottom of the ocean floor to Times Square, with passersby by and traffic in full motion.

Recognizing the impact of the IMAX scope was exploited in the company’s first commercial venture for Ontario’s then-new amusement park, Ontario Place, situated at the edge of Toronto’s waterfront. Opened in 1971, the park is crowned with a huge IMAX cinema dome (the Cinesphere), and a surrounding white grid-work hung over interconnected water pools.

The world’s first permanent IMAX theatre, the Cinesphere, remains a gathering place for tourists, film fans, loads of families, and continuous school outings. Plenty of ex-children can recall their first IMAX experience with North of Superior, the first IMAX film directed by Graeme Ferguson and edited by Toni Myers.

Made in 1971 and still playing around the globe, the film’s exploitation of Ontario’s land and waterways remains a thrilling ride, though a contributing factor to the film’s eternal success lies in the film’s stunning intro.

Percussive bars of the film’s score play rather conservatively from a modest array of speakers, reflecting the raw, natural splendor of an aerial glide over forests and Ontario’s typical rock-edged lakefront. The pretty pictures occupy just a smidge of the IMAX screen, and represent a standard 35mm projection on an average cinema screen.

After a few bars, the entire IMAX screen fully illuminates with a continuation of the aerial glide, and the score’s thumping drums boom rather madly through the discreet 6-track surround sound system. Lake Superior’s escarpment passes beneath, and the tribal pounding increases in ferocity as the journey becomes a fluid rollercoaster ride, veering above, below and at sharp angles, while trees, rocky cliffs and vast water expanses glide below.

“Well, that was two drummers practically breaking their legs there,” recalls Maribeth Solomon, with genuine laughter. “No synthesizers were harmed in the making of that film, ’cause they weren’t around yet.”

Since 1971, Solomon and Erbe have scored feature films and several TV movies and network series, and continued to collaborate with Ferguson and Myers, refining their skills with each unique project. Pioneers of surround sound and sound design, the composing team gradually mapped out the dos and don’ts for large film format scoring.

For Solomon, scoring in discrete surround sound is an exilharating experience. “You learn all these little tricks, but there’s no tricks to doing the right thing. There’s also these little enhancements that you can do for the medium that experience has sort of helped us with, [like] if we just spectrum the sound a little different here, or if we sort of shadow the speakers a little bit differently, or if we have a solo instrument and we double it back here, or if we put a little whisper track in the top speaker.

“It’s more of a macro canvas, and yet, paradoxically, the little things come out more too, so there’s just nowhere to hide. It’s a big, huge, kind of colourful textural palette, but you really have to pay attention. [Audiences] love the little details and they notice them, and I’m always surprised that people will say, ‘Oh, I liked what you put on the top speaker there; you had a harp there, and I noticed it and it felt like it was coming right over your head.’”

In order to create some of that motion, close collaboration with the sound effects crew is vital to the film score’s finalization. “We get along great with sound people, because instead of fighting with them, we’ve learned how to work together with them over the years, so… they’re our best friends.”

A highlight of the duo’s lengthy career occurred when they worked with revered sound designer Ben Burtt. Best known for his work for George Lucas’ action-packed Star Wars (1977) and the Indiana Jones films, Burtt has directed several IMAX films himself, including Blue Planet (1990) and Destiny In Space (1994).

For the immense imagery of the film’s first shuttle launch, the veteran sound designer preferred a montage of authentic sounds. “He likes big, BIG effects,” explains Solomon, “so we learned to work around it, but we really had a nice time with Ben. He was terrific to work with.” Solomon and Erbe also traveled to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, where Burtt mixed the film.

“Burtt recognized that, when dealing with spacecrafts, the technology is often what fascinates people, so giving them the closest experience to an actual ride into space was the best way to satisfy that audience need,” she says. “After the first launch, all subsequent launches are less exciting – because the intricacies and imagery are now familiar – so that’s where the score brings the audience back, adding the human element to the experience.”

Besides the esthetics, Solomon acknowledges that “you have to really know what the others guys are doing. You have to stay in touch, and [editor Toni Myers] will always guide us and say, ‘I want this to be a really musical moment, kind of larger than life and more magical, and maybe [in] this other scene I want the sound to carry it and let the music just go underneath.’”

Solomon and Erbe had met Myers in the early seventies through a musician friend, and also performed on the North of Superior soundtrack, which included a song composed by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Zalman Yanovsky.

The allure of space has resulted in five outstanding IMAX films: the first shuttle launch in Hail Columbia! (1982); shuttle travel in The Dream Is Alive (1985); Earth’s environmental changes from space in Blue Planet (1990); exploring the universe in Destiny In Space (1994); and a Space Station precursor, Mission To Mir (1997).

Solomon and Erbe’s involvement with an IMAX project begins when the film is in a rough cut stage, although both research the film’s subject matter for more focused inspiration. In the case of the space films, personal contact with some of the astronauts provided the face of an experienced traveler, and someone whose heart has been affected by witnessing sights impossible to pretty much everyone else.

“We met a lot of the astronauts,” explains Solomon, and “some of them came to our sessions… I learn so much about things I would never, never know about, and because it’s a short period of time, you really have to know what you’re doing.”

Although Solomon and Erbe had already scored 3D films (Into the Deep), the Space Station 3D footage brought back from the various space missions and EVAs (Extra Vehicular Activity) – particularly the space walks looking down at the Earth – still packed an emotional punch.

‘Trundling down’ to an IMAX theatre early in the morning, the duo donned the custom 3D glasses, and had to absorb information beyond the more familiar 2D realm. “Because it’s so macro and it’s so big, you have to understand what is hitting you,” explains Solomon. “Music deals so much in the emotions, and we have to kind of underscore the first emotion that hits, and we have to know what that is, and it’s not readily evident unless you go to a screening.”

Knowing the musical objective before writing is vital, but even the best plans can’t determine the ultimate needs of a film’s score. “Sometimes things come out amazing, and it just happens to be in the details, and the magic just happens. You can’t always predict how things are going to come together, and that’s part of the excitement of it.

“We kind of take our cue from the picture, and from Toni Myers, who’s usually involved in some way, and Graeme Ferguson; they’ve been incredible mentors, musically for us, because they’ve given us films with such heart, and given us so much carte blanche to do them.

“It’s been a highlight of our career to be able to punctuate our work with these films,” she concludes, “and to be able to go in and out of the rest of the industry and keep our hands in these films, because they’re every composer’s dream… The Dream Is Alive and The Blue Planet and Destiny in Space are so unbelievably popular, and they’re still running all over the place. I mean they don’t let up; some of these have been running for twenty years.”


. would like to thank Maribeth Solomon for speaking candidly about her craft, and Leah Erbe for facilitating this interview.

For further info on Maribeth Solomon and Micky Erbe, visit their website HERE.

For more information about IMAX, visit the official company website HERE.

For a history of Canada’s large film format, check out this Wikipedia entry.

To read a related interview with Editor/Producer Toni Myers, click HERE.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2002 and 2009 for the original and the revised versions respectively by Mark R. Hasan


Related links:

DVD / Film:  Hubble 3D (2010) — Space Station 3D (2002)


Related external links (MAIN SITE):

DVD/Film:  Under the Sea 3D (2009)


Tags: , , , ,

Category: Uncategorized

Comments are closed.