Sound Design: Step Two – Sound Effects

The second step to sound designing a film is collecting your list of sound effects. This seems simple enough, but this is where the sound designers are separated from the hobbyists. You have to tap into your sonic ethos and test your ability to visualize sound. For the underground sound designer, there are two steps to this process.

1. Sound Effects Library

First, as mentioned before, a good resource is a sound effects library. In the past I have been able to get by with using online libraries, not having to invest serious money in a commercial catalogue. Soundbyter is a new site I found that provides amazing royalty free music loops and sound effects. But, as you become more established, you are going to have to invest in a library; when you get to that point I would recommend looking at SFX source.

Don’t get carried away with canned sound effects (effects from a library) as this can compromise your finished project. Canned effects are important and have a significant presence in the underground sound designer’s arsenal, but should never take the place of recorded, foley effects.

2. Foley

The second step is foley, recording your own sounds.  To do this you are gong to need the right equipment and a basic understanding of how to break down the sound.

  • Equipment

Below is a list of the basic equipment you will need.  If you are just starting out this can pose a formidable financial obstacle, so I always recommend looking around your area for rental houses.  This will give you access to top-notch equipment and is a good way to network with the local film community.  Regardless if you are looking to buy or are renting, this is what you need:

    • Field Recorder – Zoom H4n– $251.00
      • The Zoom is a versatile tool that should be in every sound designer’s kit.
      • Take a look at Brad Linder’s article where he compares the Zoom H4, the Fostex FR2-LE and the Sound Devices 702.
    • XLR cable – $20.00
    • Shotgun Microphone – $232.00
    • Boom Pole – $135 or Shotgun Blimp – $299.00
  • Break down the sound

Once you have your equipment in order, look over your sound effects list and consider the dynamics of each sound element you need to capture.  Sounds are composed of a range of frequencies, which can be interpreted as individual sound effects.

Some of your sounds will be simple enough that you can re-enact the action and obtain a believable effect; like walking through dirt or turning a car on.  Other actions are going to require you to fabricate several elements and layer them together to form one effect.

While working with director Tyson Smith on his western short Dead Man’s Hand, I was presented with the challenge of recreating a church door being kicked open.  Tyson wanted this to be a powerful scene that would set the stage for the remainder of the film.  I knew that recording a wooden door opening and closing wasn’t going to produce the impact that he wanted.

I broke the action into several elements asking myself “what would this door sound like?”  I wanted a splintering wood sound, a heavy wood impact from the kick, and a rusty door hinge being forcefully opened.  This is how I obtained each element:

To get the splintering wood sound, I propped a sheet of plywood against a block wall and pointed my microphone directly at the board while Alex, my co-editor, kicked the middle of the plywood.  This gave me a broad range of frequencies and that nice splintering sound.

I recorded this several times and utilized various takes within the same effect to produce a more complex sound.

To get the deep impact sound, I placed the mic behind the wood, to capture just the meaty bass tones (from this angle, the high frequencies would be absorbed by the wood).

I couldn’t find a rusty hinge, or any other object that sounded like a rusty hinge so I pulled this element from a sound effects library.

I layered each individual element in my editor and produced this:

Take a look Andrew Spitz’s interactive sound instillation where he re-creates the experience of a rugby player entering a stadium full of fans.  He employs a similar approach, layering several sounds to produce one element.

Be sure to check back for Sound Design: Step Three – The Edit.  In the mean time, go out and make some noise!

-Sound Underground


2 thoughts on “Sound Design: Step Two – Sound Effects

  1. Pingback: Sound Design: Step 3- The Edit | Sound Underground

  2. Pingback: Reverse Reverb Explained | Sound Underground

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s