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In this fifth installment about how SFX creators have pushed artistic and professional boundaries, we hear from Sonocaine, Foley Collection, Daan Hendricks and The Sound Pack Tree. Stay tuned for more stories from our community later this week and next week.
What is your name, and who are your team members/co-creators?
When was a time you felt you pushed the boundaries to capture the perfect sound effect?
Sonocaine: I’ve carried a lot of equipment to many places and record under different and sometimes hard conditions, but I’m not sure if that actually qualifies as “pushing the boundaries”. I’m not saying that doing these things to capture beautiful sounds is not a great and valuable effort, but if I am just working hard, I’m probably well inside those boundaries. When I recorded my last library ‘Quad City Berlin’, I carried five mic stands, five windshields and a 788 in a backpack around town on a bicycle (I really badly wanted spaced omni quad plus MS). It was physically challenging but I didn’t really push boundaries with doing so. It was just hard work. There are much greater stories in sound recording (i.e. clever worldizing setups, etc.) that constitute pushing boundaries, because they were actually thought up outside the box.
But then there’s this other thing: pushing boundaries is good and important in any creative field, but I’d like to make the case for being careful to not push too hard and knowing your limits. Once I was working on a movie, a kind of mystic murder story set in the Austrian Alps. Being familiar with this area, I instantly booked a trip and packed some Neumann and Sennheiser mics and a 744. To reduce weight I bought some super cheap mini video tripods for mic stands. Still, my payload was way too much. Besides the gear, I had to pack clothing and food for a couple of days, too. My destination was a cabin on a mountain plateau at about 2,000 m altitude. This particular spot could only be reached by a hike (or helicopter), and it was supposed to serve as a base camp. It was May, but at those heights there was still a lot of snow (~1m). However, I was prepared with snow shoes and everything. What I wasn’t prepared for was the quality of the snow. It had been melting a little, and it was thick, wet and heavy. The surface was frozen over but I kept breaking through up to my waist. The last hour of my hike was terribly hard because I had to dig myself and my heavy backpack out over and over again. Obviously, I wasn’t in very good shape, but I kept telling myself to keep going and start recording as soon as possible. I wanted so badly to be that super determined hard-boiled mic-wielding guy that goes to the end of the world to record those fantastic beautiful unheard sounds! When I finally reached the cabin I was severely exhausted and went to bed immediately. The following night I began to get sick and feverish. It took me two days until I could get up from bed and one more to get my shit together and actually record something (so much for being hard-boiled). I made some fine 4-channel recordings (AB+MS) that I have been using ever since, but the exhaustion was so intense that it took a couple of months to completely wear off.
Bottom line is this: I was very motivated by the possibilities of the sound design for this movie. Since the director liked my first layouts, I was determined to push hard for this one and go the extra mile, literally. But I clearly exceeded my limits and did so with this over-ambitious and very stupid notion of “no pain no gain”. What I took away from this is that you need to be careful what you trade your enthusiasm with. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be enthusiastic and determined and all, and you have to be in creative work. But like always, there’s a limit and you should know it.
Foley Collection/Surround Sound LAB: The main purpose of our libraries is to save time in foley recordings and ambience editing and recording. Throughout these years we have developed a great workflow to edit our own recordings (double MS), and after checking the results every day in TV shows and big screen film projects, we can now say that we are PROUD users of our own products!
Daan Hendriks: I don’t really want to claim I’ve pushed ‘the’ boundaries, but I’ve pushed my own boundaries a few times. I just love the way sound can transport you back to a place, and as a result, sound recording has pushed me to places I otherwise maybe would’ve left for later. I might not have spent a few weeks in the remote areas of Bolivia or a few months in the remote areas of Africa for instance if it wasn’t for a strong desire to simply capture the sounds I might find there—to be able to bottle those sounds and just ‘have’ them, like something I sneakily but harmlessly took from the environment to cherish at home like some kind of trophy. I’ve discovered a real nature boy hiding inside me ever since I got into recording the sounds of the environment, and now I study wildlife, animal behaviour, ecosystems and whatnot somewhat humbly but with great enthusiasm, because I’ve discovered this interest for the natural world through sound. There’s also a few mic positioning experiments I’ve conducted that have ‘pushed’ some boundaries, but to be honest, the technical side of it all can sometimes be a bit distracting or too overstated in my opinion, so I’ll leave it at that.
The Sound Pack Tree: I made some very nice recordings at the most remote place I’ve ever been, the Guatemalan rainforest. While walking with a guide and two mules to a Mayan archeological site for three days one-way, I had the opportunity to record some rare rainforest ambiences which are now included in my ‘Nature Pack’. During the second night, I was lucky to be woken up by bird calls, and I crawled out of the tent and started recording. I still don’t know what sort of crow or parakeet-like birds they were, so I just called the recording “crazy jungle birds”. I think this incident triggered my intent to produce sound libraries, and those birds turned out to not be the only ones I was able to record on that trip.
When was a time you felt you pushed the boundaries to design a new sound effect?
Sonocaine: When I was working on Wacken 3D, a 3D documentary about the world’s largest Metal festival, there were some scenes with the audience chanting “Motörhead! Motörhead!” and the director asked me to make it sound like a larger group (in the recording it was just a handful of completely wasted guys). That got me thinking about a general problem in film sound: how to multiply and randomize sounds in an organic way. I have a background in software development, so I wrote a piece of software I called a “particle emitter for audio” (a particle system is a software concept from visual effects). It simulates a large number of virtual sound sources that move through virtual spaces while properties like velocity, direction, pitch and volume are modulated/randomized by the software. I must confess I did get carried away a little bit, and it didn’t actually solve the Motörhead situation. But I created a lot of sounds with it for other films and I was amazed how nicely the concept of particle emitters works for audio. I was even more amazed when I searched the web and couldn’t find anything like it. But then, two years later, Nuno Fonseca came up with his “Sound Particles” app. I deeply respect it and tip my hat to him, because he made it an actual product—and a great one. Writing code that works for yourself is nice, but making it a marketable software product is something completely different (kudos Nuno!).
Foley Collection/Surround Sound LAB: We enjoy recording 192 kHz samples. With actual workstations we can stretch them to enjoy wonderful room tones or samples for sci-fi ambiences!!
Daan Hendriks: I’ve been doing sound design professionally for a reasonable amount of time (a decade or so), but I, by and large, still feel like a beginner. So I’m still finding where those boundaries are. It may sound a bit obnoxious, but every sound design task has its own approach that I have to discover, often through trial and error, even if it’s something similar to what I’ve done before.
The Sound Pack Tree: I’ve created futuristic sound effects using “real-life” recordings. These recordings can be just about anything, even jungle birds or room tones. There are lots of science fiction sound libraries out there based on synthesizers, but often they feel like something “natural” is missing. So my approach has been to process field recordings with very chaotic FX chains, and by combining these sounds I’ve been able to produce lots of odd sound effects that are now included in my ‘Sci-Fi Pack’.
When have you pushed the boundaries in selling sound effects (whether they be yours or others’)?
Sonocaine: To be honest: I haven’t. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants here. Tim Prebble, Frank Bry and Michael Raphael have paved the way.
Foley Collection/Surround Sound LAB: We think a new market had opened a few years ago with foley instruments. After more than three years in the market we have a good collection of instruments. We have learned a whole new world with Kontakt scripting, and our customers always ask us for new instruments and new ideas for future releases….
We also have a subscription-type collection for our surround sound library. We sell each reference in a single mode, but we also have a full fixed-price ‘Complete Collection’ including ALL our libraries and the new ones launched in the future! This way you buy our collection and you will receive the new libraries as soon as they are released… We think this is a game changer…. New libraries to download in your mail, as soon as they are released!!!
Daan Hendriks: I only have one library out so far, an extensive collection of wildlife and nature sounds from Africa, called ‘African Wildlife’. To the best of my knowledge, as of this writing, it’s the only “boutique” library out there that covers this particular theme. But I’d encourage anyone to go out there themselves and record while camping in the African bush. It really is quite wonderful.
The Sound Pack Tree: From many years of working in post production, I have developed a sense of what material is missing in many existing libraries or could be edited differently to be more handy in the daily life of an editor or sound designer. I believe keeping in mind the customer’s point of view has led to many of my sales, which sometimes means re-packaging and re-editing sound files.
Have you ever created a sound or synth that made you or your team laugh out loud? If so, what was the sound?
Foley Collection/Surround Sound LAB: We have some gorilla screams that during their reproduction sounded…. better to not explain!!! But we think they were not enjoying it very much!! We also used to “sign” our projects in the spectral timeline—never heard but always there… our own easter egg!!
Daan Hendriks: I used to work for a company that produced games for young children. There was a lot of silly humour with wacky and whimsical characters. It was pretty hilarious to produce the sounds for these characters, in particular the vocalisations were always fun. So yes, there were regular laughs while doing this job. For my ‘African Wildlife’ library I’ve also recorded plenty of animal vocalisations and sounds that I found pretty funny.
The Sound Pack Tree: I think there is a golden rule for being funny in sound design: the more disgusting it sounds, the funnier it is. I had a lot of fun with wet and “squeezy” sounds in my career. Squeezing out BBQ sauce close-miked can do magic.
What is your advice for sounds designers who want to create and sell their own SFX libraries and synthesizers?
Foley Collection/Surround Sound LAB: We’ve helped some friends here in Spain distribute their work on the internet. We are used to recording our own sounds for a post project, but we don’t re-use it for years!! Share it! It’s better to have a sound in your store than on an old hard drive….
Daan Hendriks: I’d advise them to go forth and do it.
The Sound Pack Tree: The best advice I can give would be keep track of what you are doing. Make notes of things that work well, so that you don’t have to invent or research things again if it’s been a while and you’ve forgotten how to do it. The improvement of your workflow should be a never-ending story, and computers are here to do the assembly line work for you.
What is an area you’d like to see pushed even further?
Sonocaine: AI, definitely. The progress in visual pattern recognition and processing with deep neural networks kind of makes me jealous. I’m sure the possibilities of modifying images also apply to audio, but there’s probably less commercial interest. Just think of a technique like “Neural Style” (making an arbitrary picture look like it was painted by Van Gogh) for audio!
Foley Collection/Surround Sound LAB: We are developing our own mic to record ambiences… No more info can be told, but we want to have our own piece of gear made by and for ourselves!
Daan Hendriks: A greater appreciation by audio people working in entertainment for acoustic ecology, bioacoustics and the understanding of sounds produced by animals. There’s been some truly fascinating and groundbreaking research conducted over the past decade that shows that, as usual, we humans have been arrogant—this time by assuming we are special snowflakes as the only species capable of producing language. It just turns out we’re the only species capable of producing human language, which is slightly less impressive. It took a few decades of trying to get monkeys to talk like us to slowly realise this however. Even critters as humble as the prairie dog have now been proven to possess an ability to string together sentences and express lots of details and context through sound. Yet all our untrained human ears hear is a series of vocalisations going ‘chip-chip-chip-chip’. I imagine that when prairie dogs hear us humans talk, we probably sound about as stupid to them as well.
The Sound Pack Tree: The area of “customizable” sound effects is an interesting one. Since there are already smart post production plugins for creating (e.g.) footsteps, weather ambiences or room tones, this idea could be expanded. I think this is a future market.
We hope you enjoyed reading these stories and words of advice. To hear more about their experiences, check out their blogs:
Daan Hendriks: www.daanhendriks.co.uk/blog