[Written by Tim Walston for Designing Sound]
Disclaimer: I am writing these articles as an independent sound designer. Any views or opinions expressed here are simply my own, and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any company, corporate entity or anyone else. Any images or sounds presented are subject to copyright by their respective owners, and are presented for educational purposes only. Any information given is correct to the best of my knowledge. No artificial color added. Refrigerate after opening.
I love the sound of jets. They are one of the few things that sound as great in real life as they do in films! (Good ol’ single engine prop planes are also a favorite of mine). Real vehicles at high speed create fantastic air distortion sounds that can’t be beat.
“Stealth” was directed by Rob Cohen. My main challenge was the signature sound of the near-future technology of the three superjets’ propulsion systems. In the film, they were powered by “pulse detonation engines”. The UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) was even more advanced, with “twin hybrid scramjet turbos”, and artificial intelligence and computational sounds.
Some internet searches on pulse jets showed me that the technology is real, though used more often in rocket type applications like the V-1 buzz bomb in WWII. I even found video of a guy in New Zealand who had built small ones in his garage for a go-cart. (That was 2004, I just checked online today and there are a lot more amateur pulse jet videos now!)
The real things are powerful and loud, but they oscillate so rapidly that they buzz like a huge “pfffffbltt”. I first tried the literal approach, condensing large machine gun and minigun sounds to approach the right speed. The results were too even sounding and lifeless. Real things are more complex and variable. I eventually created several usable combinations featuring a few layered pitches of an overdriven feedback sound I had made years before. Some very light flanging added even more movement. Once I had my “steadies”, I used doppler plug-ins to create maneuvers and pass bys.
These sounds established the unique signature sound of the aircraft, but they weren’t enough on their own. I processed nearly every jet recording I had access to with a combination of eq and modulation to artificially add the “pulse” sensation to real jet sounds. I used Waves Mondo Mod and/or the GRM Doppler plug-in to create the pulsing effect. Carefully shaped automation of both the speed and depth of the pulses kept it from sounding too static. The results worked well, and I applied the same techniques to explosion and thunder sweeteners as well.
“Stealth” was my last show at SoundStorm, and the only one in my career so far, where I spent most of my time creating source material for others to cut to picture. Supervising Sound Editor Bruce Stambler knew we needed a large, unique library for these jets and other scenes, so he kept asking me for more and more material. If I remember correctly, Bruce and sound editor Kim Secrist cut all the jets. I made wing tip air whistles, jet turbine whines, afterburner blasts, jet malfunctions, shockwaves, high speed winds, tracer fire, mid-air fuel fire balls, explosions, you name it. In typical Rob Cohen fashion – the film was a blast (literally) to work on.
Here’s a new montage of some sounds that are similar to one’s I might have made at that time:
The sound crew for “Stealth” (from the DVD credits):
- Supervising Sound Editor: Bruce Stambler, M.P.S.E.
- Sound Design: Tim Walston, M.P.S.E.
- Assistant Sound Editor: Paul Aulicino, M.P.S.E.
- Dialogue Editor: John C. Stuver, M.P.S.E.
- Sound Effects Editors: Steven F. Nelson, Steve Mann, M.P.S.E., Stephen P. Robinson, M.P.S.E., Kim Secrist
- ADR Supervisor: Becky Sullivan, M.P.S.E.
- Assistant ADR Editor: Marc Deschaine
- Foley Supervisor: Paul Curtis
- Foley Editor: Bob Beher
- Foley Artists: Vince Guisetti, Pamela Nedd Kahn
- Foley Mixer: Brian Ruberg
- ADR Mixer: Howard London, C.A.S.
- Supervising Sound Mixers: Jeffrey J. Haboush, Bill W. Benton, Rick Kline
- Re-Recordist: Tom Burns
“Astro Boy” gave me another chance to explore the universe of rocket and jet sounds. I had the pleasure of working with legends Richard Anderson and the late George Simpson. My sound design was mostly focused on: Astro’s rockets, the “police pod” vehicles, small flying robot balls, the blue and red energy, and the robot voice processing. All the other wonderful sounds in the movie were created by Richard, George, Mike Chock and Dan Hegeman. Everyone was a designer on this one.
You’d think that I would already have in my library all the jet and rocket sounds I’d need for this one. I did too, at first. As it turned out, Astro’s rockets needed to be smaller, more refined, and not so ratty as those I’d previously collected. Astro Boy’s character in the film is high-tech in a retro-futuristic kind of way. I created his rockets from new material derived from flame throwers, smaller rockets, ricochets and lots of whoosh by sweeteners. I really gave the sampler a workout on this one. His movements were so quick and specific, that I often ended up crafting his maneuvers with little pieces of sound, bit by bit, inch by inch, moment to moment. It was painstaking work, but well worth it in the end.
Another sound I’m particularly fond of is the flying police pods, called “stingers” in the film. Several of them chase Astro early on, and I wanted them to have lots of energy, but cut through the mix. Since Astro’s sound was mostly rockets and noise-based, I made the stingers’ engines more tonal, or pitch-based.
I had a recording of my electric drill, where I’d pressed the button only just enough to make the thing barely turn, very slowly. This produced a very high, thin whine or a creaky low buzz, depending on the button. I amped up the sounds, looped them, and loaded them into the sampler. The rough, uneven loops added character. I pitched the whine WAY down until it was a mid range sound like a small Formula 1 race car. I performed dopplers with the mouse, and pitch changes on the keyboard to simulate gear shifts and acceleration and deceleration. My two hands were very busy, so I taped the keyboard key down while I recorded long source pieces!
Here are some similar sounding examples:
The sound crew for “Astro Boy” (from the DVD credits):
- Supervising Sound Editor: Richard L. Anderson, M.P.S.E.
- Sound Mixers: Jim Bolt, Elliot Tyson
- Supervising Dialog Editor: Thomas Jones
- Sound Effects Editors: George Simpson, Mike Chock, M.P.S.E., Daniel Hegeman
- Special Sound Design: Tim Walston
- Foley Editor: Paul Aulicino
- Assistant Sound Editor: Ronnie Morgan
- Foley Mixer: Nerses Gezalyan, C.A.S.
- Foley Artists: Catherine Harper, Christopher Moriana
- ADR Mixer: Thomas J. O’Connell
- ADR Recordist: Rick Canelli
- Recordist: Ryan Cole
- Re-Recording Engineer: Tom Lalley