Chuck Russom Special: Gun Sound Design
I work on a lot of games that are filled with guns. Over the years, through experimentation, screwing up, listening to movies/games with great guns sounds, and tips from other sounds designers, I’ve been able to create a process that works well for me. The biggest influence on my gun sound design has not come in the studio, but on the gun range. I’ve shot a lot of guns. I’ve also been around a lot of guns while they were being fired. Hands-on education is really the best way to learn something. So, if you really want to improve your gun sound design, find a way to get out on a range where you can fire some guns off. The feel of a gun’s shockwave through your body as you fire it, the sore shoulder you have the day after shooting, the payoff of destroying a watermelon with a blast from a shotgun, these are some of the lasting lessons that you will learn.
I have a few philosophies/guidelines I try to follow when designing gun sounds for a game:
- Guns are loud. Try to reinforce that in your sound design
- Guns give the player feedback. The player is expecting a payoff when they fire a gun. Your gun sounds need to give the player a sense of satisfaction and make them want to fire the gun over and over again. Gun sounds need to make the player feel like a badass
- The player’s guns need to be the coolest sounding guns in the game
- The AI/Non Player gun sounds should not overtake the player’s. But, they still need to be scary and create stress/tension. Being shot at should not be a relaxing experience
- Bullet shell ejects and gun Foley (reloads, movement, etc) are very important to the sound and help the gun feel more real
- Every gun in the game needs a unique sound. You may have 20-30 different guns in a game. In reality, after a while all guns start to sound the same. Find a way to give each gun its own signature.
- Don’t forget the gun tail/decay. The first few hundred milliseconds of a gunshot have very little character. If you neglect the gun tail, your guns will sound less powerful and they will all sound very similar
Here is a little insight into my gun design process:
- I try to start from sounds of the actual gun if I can. If I can’t find source for a particular gun, I do some research and try to find a gun of the same caliber, with a similar rate of fire, that uses a similar mechanism. For handguns, I rarely start with handgun source. Handguns just don’t excite me; they are usually a lot weaker sounding than the “hand-cannons” that most people expect to hear. Watch the Indiana Jones films, his gun sound is not from a handgun, and it makes him seem really bad-ass when he fires it. When designing sounds for a project that is not based in reality, all bets are off. I just try to create cool sounds that fit the project and worry less about things like weapon caliber.
- Sounds of the bolt/action/mechanism are a very important component to a gun sound. Action sounds make the gun feel like it is a working piece of machinery. These sounds make the gun feel real. Even if they are real low in the mix, you can feel when they are not there.
- I stick to three basic layers when designing guns. Each layer is made up of the minimum amount of tracks that I can get away with. Less is always more. I call my layers: Mech (gun action/mechanism), Body (this best represents the full range of the gun. If I was going to use only one layer, this would be the one), and Punch (this is a bass/boom layer). If needed I will add additional sweeteners, like a layer to give more reverb/space, more bite, or whatever might be missing
- By designing in layers, I can create quick and easy remixes and alt mixes of a sound
- I’ve found the following processes/plugins useful at one time or another: EQ (usually cutting vs boosting), Compression, Limiting, Clippers/Transient processors (Oxford Transmod, Waves Trans X, T-Tracks Clipper), Saturation (Analog Channel, URS Saturator, etc), Bass Enhancers (Waves Ren Bass, Maxx Bass, and Lo Air), and I’ll sometimes use gain to clip the sound. Basically, I just make everything as loud as fuck
- I whipped up a quick sample of a machine gun burst. Below is screenshot of my Nuendo session that shows the layers I used. In this case, my Mech Layer was made up of one track. My Punch and Body layers were each made up of 3 tracks (really it is only two tracks, one mono track and spilt stereo (L/R) tracks). I edit each track and insert plugins as needed. The tracks in each layer are then balanced against each other and sent to a group. I use the groups to easily mix all the layers together, and create remixes or alt mixes, if needed.
Here are the sounds:
Mix of all layers: