Hart FX has released Hart a Gator, a new library of alligator sound effects, cut from 10 hours of material recorded at 192kHz.
Alligators are quiet, stealthy creatures that roam the swamps and marshes of Florida like big, scaly, green ninjas. You see one silently skimming along, then all of a sudden it disappears! They hardly make any sound either – except for this one time of year… mating season.
During mating season, gators all of a sudden decide to emerge from their quiet ninja state and let the world know how much of a sexy beast they are – or at least they try to let the female gators know about it.
A gator bellow is when a gator fills it’s lungs with air, then lifts it’s tail and head up into the air, and then forces the air out in a way that causes the entire gator to vibrate violently. This creates this really awesome little dancing of water off the gator’s back, and creates a crazy growl that can be quite frightening. It definitely gave me a new respect for these oversized lizards…
This was not an easy library to record! The gator bellowing is infrequent, and it is often difficult to get close enough to get a clean recording. To add to that – if you approach too quickly and startle the gator, he will stop bellowing.
Hart a Gator is available for download at $95. More info: HartFX
Below is a q&a with Colin Hart, who shares some details about the process behind the library.
Can you tell us about the process of conceiving and planning this library?
I don’t really remember how the original idea came up (it was over a year ago…) but somehow we got the idea that it would be awesome to go out and record gator sounds. There is a gator “park” nearby where I live called “Gatorland”. They have upwards of 2000 gators and crocs there – I figured it would be a good place to start. So I called them up and got in touch with a guy that ended up touring us around to get gator sounds. The first time we went was in June – we were able to get some cool hisses and jaw snaps, which are territorial and warning sounds. Our contact told us that if we wanted some great sounds, it would be best to come back during mating season, when the gators bellow (as a mating call).
So come this year, around March, I called up Gatorland again and asked to come back in for a day of recording. I had no idea what to expect, so I just brought a bunch of gear and planned to stay a few hours. What I was able to get that day absolutely amazed me – these sounds were incredible! I had to get more. I was at the park for about 3 or 4 hours that day and only ended up with about 5 or 6 usable sounds, so I scheduled time to come back. I ended up going down there about 7 or 8 times total to get the sounds that I needed to build this library.
How were the recording locations and the specific situations with the animals? Did you have any preference regarding their movements and vocalizations?
The location made things a bit difficult. Because there are so many gators around, there are a lot of birds around. These birds don’t belong to the park – they are wild – but they come to the park because the gators add protection for nesting. No way a raccoon or bobcat is going to try to make it past all those gators to get to a bird’s nest. These birds were so pesky and loud! It made getting a clean sound very difficult. I basically had to be on top of a gator to get a decent sound.
The weird thing about recording the bellows was that the gators decide to bellow all at once. You’ll be sitting there with nothing to do for anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours, then one will start bellowing. Within a minute or two, all of the others start bellowing – one after another – as if they’re talking back and forth. Essentially, they are, telling the others how much more of a stud they are… In the main area, the bellowing probably only lasts 10 minutes, if you’re lucky.
So you stand around for up to 2 hours, waiting for the bellows, and all of a sudden it starts and you only have a few minutes to record. So you have to be ready. I would hang around taking pictures or something – maybe recording some ambiences – but my recorder was on and ready to go. I had to stay alert – as soon as you hear that first bellow, it’s off to the races! Then it was just a matter of figuring out which gator was about to bellow and get to them in time.
That was another thing – you could tell when a gator was about to bellow. They lift their head and tail up in the air and hold it there for a few seconds before they start. So when I saw one that was in a good recording location make that pose, I got over there as soon as possible – it is a very large area though, so sometimes that can be difficult – you always had to keep moving to try to anticipate what was going to happen next. The trick is that you can’t approach the gator too fast from the front – you will startle them and they’ll stop. Gators see movement and colors very well. David found that out the hard way when he wore bright colors one day and all of the gators were stopping once he approached them. Didn’t do that again!
How was your setup and methods for getting those sounds?
I had a recorder (generally a 702T) and a shotgun mic (a Sanken CS-3e or a Neumann KMR81i, depending on how I felt that day). I had the rig strapped to me and in standby for the whole time I was there, so that I could press record and go at a moment’s notice. Some days I brought little handheld recorders and my Joby tripod to mount them to the railing. I would just set them there, hit record, and leave them there for an hour or so. Those gave me my best ambiences, especially because the birds were slightly more active when nobody was near them.
The first two times I kept my headphones on, because I was concerned with the sound quality. Once I figured out how to best capture the sounds, I kept my phones around my neck, because I wasn’t able to locate where a sounds were coming from with them on, so my reaction time was slow – I was missing recording opportunities. David talks about this in one of his posts from a while ago on DS. I kept them nearby so I could reference if I needed to, but keeping them on my head wasn’t working so well. I experimented with using open back phones so I could hear through them, but they were still messing with my perception of direction.
I know one of the alligators ate a blimp that was covering the mic… How shocking was that? Do you have any sound of that moment?
That was a bit shocking – somewhat of an adrenaline moment… Both Johnny and I were recording when that happened, so we do have recordings of that – both from “First Mic” and “Third Mic” perspectives.
I have to say, I was kind of asking for it to happen because I was trying to provoke the gator into making hissing sounds by bopping it on the head with my boom pole – something that I picked up from the trainers. What I didn’t pick up from the trainers was that they were doing it with a stick, not a boom pole with $2000 on the end of it… Not my brightest moment, but it lead to some fun stories. The gator grabbed the “Dead Wombat” off of my blimp, along with one of the end caps. He also put enough weight on the pole to snap it in the center. Luckily I was able to wrestle it back from him (I did not actually wrestle him – just yanked on the boom pole a lot…), so I didn’t lose the mic or the blimp frame. K-Tek and Rode were both very nice and amused enough at my stories that they sent me replacement parts for free. Two awesome companies when it comes to customer service!
If I think about it enough, I can still feel the jarring sensation in my hands from when the gator bit the blimp – those things are strong!
Recordings of that moment:
You must be very busy recently, since there hasn’t been so much activity on Hart FX. I wonder if this library is the beginning of a new wave of releases or something. Any plans for what’s coming next?
I have been very busy! I’ve been doing a lot of SFX Editing on a handful of feature pictures over the past year, which has taken up a lot of my time. Also, a lot of custom sound effects libraries for specific projects. That has prevented me from having the time to release all that much on HartFX in the past year, but I am working on some stuff. I have 3 or 4 libraries that are all half done. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them released in the next few months :-)