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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Curiosities from Sound Design, Part 2

In the first part of the article I presented some curiosities of sound design. In the second part I would like to to familiarize you with some more advanced methods of sound creation and the effects you may achieve in this way. However, before I proceed to the topic of advanced sound design, I am going to tell you about some sounds that I managed to create at home.

Home Made Sound Effects

One of the simpler home made effects is the sound of a light bulb short circuit. We may record it by unplugging the desk lamp cable from the socket or pushing the lamp switch very slowly.

Another tool we may use are hex keys. We can use them to create the effect of opening or closing doors, or to imitate the sound of a skeleton key (moving a metal belt part of tracksuit will also create a similar effect). Meanwhile, opening and closing every part of a penknife (Swiss army knife) will enable us to create the sound of clicking for the game menu or for opening a new column).

One of the most interesting experiences related to conducting a test task for The Witcher 2 game producer were the sounds accompanying the moment, when Geralt enters the inn during a snowstorm. The sound included footsteps on the snow. It was not an easy task, because the temperature outside reached -20 degrees, therefore walking around with the recording equipment was not possible. I used a package of coconut cereal to create the desired sound (you can use also poppy seeds or flour).

Let us now proceed to the Steampunk world sounds. We are likely to need some kitchen equipment. Tampering with a handle of a French fries cutter will create a sound of moving metal limbs. An iron with a steam function will provide us with the sound of long or short draft of hot air pushed into the outside. We will achieve the sound of a moving piston by placing the microphone closely to a hinge of the microwave oven door, and opening the door rapidly, so that the hinge will make a complete movement into the wide-open and back (the condition is we need to record the sound as a loop). If you lived in big city you probably travel between districts by bus or tram car. I recently moved to a big city and I noticed how many sounds a single bus makes (bus luggage doors, slowed tram doors sound effect and even sound effect of stopping the tram car.)

Crumpling a rectangular piece of aluminum baking foil with your fists creates a sound of walking on extremely dry grass (if we fold the middle part of the foil a little bit, the sound will become more intense). Now one more trick: the aluminum baking foil will resemble the sound of wind blowing through windows curtained with foil. All you need to do is blow at it a little bit.

During such a trivial activity as ironing clothes, I was adjusting the iron’s temperature by turning a little knob. While doing it, I heard a sound, which seemed to me as a small robot speaking (this sound is also similar to opening a vault).

Now, let’s cool the atmosphere a little bit, shall we. Stabbing a knife into a frozen bread roll resembles the sound of driving an alpenstock into a frozen rock wall.

If we speed up a little bit the sound of opening the DVD drive in a laptop, the outcome will resemble to sound of a trap.

Using the effects

Let me come back to the scene with Geralt for a while. A strong and long-lasting reverb resembles the atmosphere of an inn or a church in the best way. The reverb is a frequently used effect, nevertheless its most important parameter is the time of the reverb. For example, in order to resemble a heartbeat, one should add a kick drum to the sequencer, and then add the reverb with the time amounting to 0.5 second (the sound of the heartbeat will differ, depending on the kind of kick drum chosen by you). When recording loud sounds, we need to switch on the limiter, so that the volume will not exceed 0 db. On the other hand, in order to make a quiet sound more audible, we may use a compressor at the headphones during the recording process.

When I was training at a gym, the sound of screwing weights to dumbells reminded me of the opening doors. Hitting the neck of the weights at the wall resembles the sound of crushing the doors open with a battering ram or shooting concrete with a bullet (after adding the reverb). I do not recommend theses ideas, if you live a in a block of flats.

I am the kind of person who listens to music from dawn till dusk, even within moments after getting up. One evening, when I was falling asleep, little headphones stubbed against each other, reminding me within one second about tossing dices during the monopoly game.

The effect of noisy sound from vinyl disc can be achieved when we add Grungelizer plugin in mixer from the Cubase application.

Another method of recording the sound of sharpening a sword is shuffling a metal belt against a metal kitchen chair.

Military Sound Effects

As I am a military lover, I play war games very eagerly, and I even more eagerly create sound effects of this kind.

You can achieve the effect of voice from walkie-talkies in three ways. The first one is by turning the guitar amplifier on (in order to get a mild white noise); remember to minimize low tones in the equalizer and the distortion effect. Depending on the modulation of the guitar amplifier’s knobs, the white noise will be more intense or more crackling. I really recommend recording it all live with the mixer effects turned on. The sound of a walkie-talkie being switched on can be achieved by changing the pace and the pitch of the white noise.

The sound of a voice giving orders with a gas mask on can be achieved by increasing the bass frequencies and decreasing the high frequencies in the equalizer.

You can produce noises disrupting the walkie-talkie conversation by e.g. blowing air into the microphone. I remember that when I was a child, I used that method playing with the walkie-talkie by blowing long and slow breaths into the microphone, and then quick and sudden ones. It was the first sound I have ever created: the noise of a landing plane.

Remind yourself when was the last time you cut something and where do you keep your home scissors. The sound of hitting scissors against a metal hanger, which usually lasts not even a second, may be used in the GUI or for creating soundtrack for the cut scenes with the GPS elements, as well as a sound of choosing or abandoning some piece of equipment during the game.

In order to create sounds for the close quarters combat scenes, e.g. the sound of line movement generated by the character sliding down the rope from heights, you will need a pair of headphones with a cord and a laminated A4 piece of paper (if you do not have one, you may as well use a wooden back of a desk).

The sound of turning knobs at a sniper’s rifle can be achieved by recording the sound of a digital or reflex camera’s zoom, speeding the recording up a little bit.

Kontakt 4 the Sound Sequencer and Sampler

When I was creating my own album Wasteland Theme 2, I needed the sound of a quick measurement taken by a Geiger counter. So I launched the Cubase programme and Kontakt 4 Sampler with the snare sticks sample with arpeggiator and change octave to higher.After while I played one arpeggio notes on my keyboard I realized how great is the Kontakt Sampler is.

The sound, which irritates us most every morning, can be transformed into a warning alert in a helicopter or a plane, by changing its pace and making it lower by one octave. Of course what I have on my mind is the alarm clock.

One day I was walking from my kitchen to the living room, immersed in thoughts and at the same time consuming salty sticks. All of the sudden I dropped my food and the salty sticks hitting the floor created a sound of falling shells from a rifle’s cartridges. (If you do not find this product in a shop, you may also use toothpicks.) I was surprised to discover that, because the sound effects of guns belong to the most difficult to produce (well, unless you risk losing your hearing and equipment at a military training field or at a shooting range).

A long time ago, when I did not have good – quality screens at my disposal, my studio work companion were small high-tone loudspeakers, which I had purchased back in the 90s. When I was turning the volume up at those loudspeakers, having turned on the phantom power microphone beforehand, I was causing a feedback in the form of an extremely high-pitched sound, irritating ears. (It was very similar to the one used in the “Lost” drama TV-series).


About the author: Piotr Koczewski started working in the game development industry in 2006 as a Musician and Sound Designer. In 2008 he released an ambient music album inspired by the post-nuclear SF, called "Wasteland Theme". In 2009 he co-organized the Video Games Live concert in Poland. You can listen to Piotr`s music at his website www.piotrkoczewski.com.

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