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When creating sound effects, how have you pushed the boundary? We asked this question to the SFX and synth creators in our community, and they responded with stories about how they’ve adapted, innovated, experimented, and had fun with their areas of expertise. This is the first installment of the series. Stay tuned for more later this week.
What is your name and who are your team members/co-creators?
Hi, my name is Saro Sahihi, Sound Designer and Owner of SoundBits. I work alone most of the time, but sometimes I hire someone, or I ask one of my students to help me with large field recordings or with preparing content for different webshops (like the UE Marketplace or Unity Asset store).
When was a time you felt you pushed the boundaries to capture the perfect sound effect?
ZapSplat.com: I’ve come close to being arrested on a couple of occasions now. The first time I was recording at the foot of the runway at Gatwick airport here in the UK. I suppose I was acting suspiciously by lurking in the dark just a few hundred feet below landing aircraft. The police accepted my apology on that occasion and let me go without further explanation. It hasn’t stopped me from taking risks to get the perfect recording though. The riskiest and scariest for me was recording at the top of a waterfall in Devon. I am not good with heights and these particular falls were high, but I just had to record every angle and level possible. I got to the top, slipped and dropped my recorder. An expensive mistake, but I was just glad it wasn’t me that fell.
Mattia Cellotto: During the last year I’d given myself the goal of putting together the ultimate setup for recording at 192 kHz. When I achieved that, I went for a hike in the Italian Alps with all my gear during winter, perfect conditions with complete silence and loads of ice. Although I do believe that pushing the boundaries when capturing sounds requires preparation and patience, sometimes all it takes is bringing the recording gear with you, regardless of a plan to record anything at all.
Red libraries: Whether for special collaborations for movies or games, or for our own libraries, we always try to push our recording techniques further. For example, we remember the arrival of the Barcus Berry’s contact mike in our arsenal — it was a new world of possibilities for us! Diving so deep into the sonic textures was a moment of joy. We had this sensation recently, too, with the Neumann’s dummy Head KU100 for binaural recordings.
SoundBits: Especially in the beginning when I used smaller recorders like the Zoom H4, I got quite creative. I mounted a Zoom handheld recorder directly to a blimp grip. I also suspended two mics to a stereo-bar with a recorder in the middle with a grip handle. Another time I mounted an iPhone to a Sound Devices MixPre-D for a very compact recording solution. It was mostly just for fun, and to try out flexible and effective recording solutions while alone in the field.
When was a time you felt you pushed the boundaries to design a new sound effect?
Mattia Cellotto: I have to say it felt quite disarming when after recording the source for “Glacier Ice”, I discovered I could pitch most recordings down 36 semitones with little artifacts. Pitch shifting might be a very simple design method, but it remains one of my favorites.
Cedric: Our tandem is rich, because we are from different horizons. As a game sound designer, Fred is more the synthesizer’s freak!
Fred: I always keep in mind that sounds have to be useful; I don’t make sounds for myself only. But I act like a kid in front of my machines, without any questions or limits, mixing layers with difference synths to see how it reacts… no fear! Go!
Cedric: I’m more into techniques and real textures, so I’m the guy who feeds Fred’s synths! My experience in movies pushed me to create realistic things, but I’m a fan and user of morphing and granulation tools, too.
SoundBits: Learning new workflows, FX techniques and macros with every project is crucial to work creatively. One thing I’d like to mention is not a newly designed effect but a way of editing. When the MB-7 Mixer Plugin by Blue Cat Audio first came out, you could split the signal into 7 bands and process each band with up to 4 VST plugins. The first thing I attempted was to create my own multi-band transient designer using two NI Transient Masters in each band. At the time the only multi-band transient tool was the Trans-X by Waves, which was okay but it was still far from what I was looking for. The possibilities to manipulate sounds were endless, especially with automatic parameters like the crossover-frequencies. This, combined with a decent Dynamic EQ (e.g. iZotope RX Final Mix), gave you maximum control. I think there should be a multi-band solution for any new FX.
When have you pushed the boundaries in selling sound effects (whether they be yours or others’)?
ZapSplat.com: I suppose ZapSplat.com pushes the boundaries in that we offer all our sounds for free in mp3 format. We only ask for donations to access our WAV files, and 100% of the profits made by ZapSplat.com is donated to charity. Our aim isn’t to devalue sound effects or grab part of the market share, it is simply to try to use our assets to benefit those in need. Back in around 2010, I noticed a real slow down in the online sales of my sound effects, to the point where I lost my income and had to diversify. I come from a background of running a social enterprise and the thought of applying those principles to my hobby and passion appealed to me. ZapSplat.com is a powerful tool because it not only helps aspiring filmmakers, game developers, students, etc., gain high quality sounds for free, it also benefits deaf children in the developing world.
Mattia Cellotto: Since I’ve started selling libraries, I’ve always tried to bring something unique to the table, like with creating gory sounds with uncommon material in the “Borax Experiment”. Other times it was by chaining wacky recording techniques — for example, by creating a feedback loop in between contact microphones and vibration speakers in “Metal Groans and Slams”. I try and do this for the libraries themselves as well as the videos that show how they were made. I want people to see and hear why my libraries are different.
Fred: Indie libraries kicked the ass of the business and came in with a new approach of selling sound libraries. It focused on specific themes with an according price.
Cedric: And it’s an amazing community! Far from the majors we knew some years ago. We loved the respect we found from these professionals and creators and the richness in the easy exchanges we had with each other. Techniques are always evolving — our soundscapes are always evolving — and that makes the richness of the great collections you can find in this community. Our approach at Red libraries was to take the best of our two specific worlds (video games and movies) and find how to create the most useful tools.
SoundBits: I always try to stay open-minded and as flexible as possible. I am not sure if I have pushed the boundaries in selling sound effects, but I am trying to position myself and SoundBits | Sound Effects as broadly as possible. There is my own webshop at www.soundbits.de/shop, several independent re-sellers like A Sound Effect, Sonniss and Wildtrack Sound Library, and larger distributors like Pro Sound Effects where sounds are also available for single purchases. Additionally, there are platforms like Pond5.com and Audiomicro.com. I also do exclusive sound effects packs for Samplephonics and Sound Ideas. If you want something just ask, and make people aware of you, your products, and what you’re doing.
Have you ever created a sound or synth that made you or your team laugh out loud? If so, what was the sound?
ZapSplat.com: I once gave my 4-year-old my old Zoom H2 to ‘go record some sounds’. I showed him the buttons to press to record, and off he went. About an hour later I found the recorder in his toy box and I took it into the studio to see if he managed to record anything. He’s a cheeky boy to say the least, and the sounds he recorded really reflected his personality. Farts, burps and toilet flushes were all featured. It’s a fun way to introduce the little ones to sound recording.
Mattia Cellotto: Yes, it’s a recording of dry ice on a colander, but it definitely sounds like something else:
Cedric: I remember when we did the library “Matter Mayhem” for SoundMorph, which specialized in explosion’s debris, we were in the middle of a huge and noisy metal junkyard, and the workers paused for lunch. Fred found a circular piece of metal which made an amazing sound when he spun it, and I had to stop him after a while because he was playing with it like a kid and never wanted to stop!
Fred: I like to play with a lot of things when we’re recording!
Cedric: That’s true. There was also this huge industrial compressor that blew a massive quantity of air, which we used to blow sand and gravel. Fred manipulated it, and I was the recordist, and the first blow covered him totally with dust! This was a great laugh for us.
SoundBits: This happens from time to time. There were also sounds that scared the shit out of me :). There’s not one particular sound, but I remember when editing (and playing around with) the recordings for “Just Metal – Squeaks and Moans” or “Unsettling Creaks and Squeaks” with a colleague, there were many funny moments due to the similarity to animal or human voices in some of the sounds. Also, when working on the “Screams and Shouts 2” packs, there were tons of strange and accidentally funny screams and outtakes.
What is your advice for sounds designers who want to create and sell their own SFX libraries and synthesizers?
ZapSplat.com: I’d say grab a portable handheld recorder/mic combo such as a Zoom H4N or Tascam DR05 and keep it on you. Some of the best sounds I have recorded have been on the fly. You also don’t need to spend a fortune on equipment if you’re starting out; one of the aforementioned recorders and a free copy of Audacity is enough to get you going. If you plan to sell via libraries, ask them what they are short of. If there are 10,000 stream recordings for sale, who will buy yours? Any recording you make, experiment with it in your DAW. Quite often I find one simple recording can spawn several other sounds. Drones and sound design effects can easily come from simple sounds you’ve recorded and manipulated. Have fun and enjoy experimenting.
Mattia Cellotto: Record what you like and give it your personal signature. Don’t bother recording things you don’t like for visibility, HAVE FUN!
Fred: Have a goal and stay focused when you decide to make a library. Have a theme for your collection and always keep in mind what the user needs. Schedule your field sessions, make or record alternate files, know the locations you will record, and ask for help in some cases. Metadata is also important and must be a great help for users. Do not over-process your files.
SoundBits: Like in most creative fields, you have to love what you do. It’s a lot of fun to make a living out of a hobby, but there’s also a lot of (and sometimes annoying) work that has to be done to accomplish a new project. You should also perfectly know your gear. This applies to microphones and their characteristics, recorders, cables and connectors, and your FX and DAW. Listen carefully to your environment. There are so many great sounds that are ignored or adapted; you might just miss an inspiration for your next great sound effects library. You should also train for skills in other fields like video editing, web design (at least WordPress) and tools like Photoshop, so you don’t have to hire someone else for every little website adjustment or short making-of video.
What is an area you’d like to see pushed even further?
ZapSplat.com: I’d like to see sound design taught to a younger generation. I feel it is an art that is neglected and overlooked, even in the film and television production industries today (think Tony Awards removal of the sound design category). If when I was at school there was an easy way into learning sound design, I’d have been set up at a very young age. I have thought about setting up a mobile Foley stage and taking it to primary schools. The kids would love performing sounds live to cartoons. I may still do this one day!
Mattia Cellotto: I’d like to see more weird microphones, a wider choice of contact ones, mics that can record up to 200K, and more 3D-printed gear for particular blimp solutions, etc.
Red libraries: We are digging into VR audio, which represents huge possibilities and a new playground! Recording or designing unusual vehicles, doing historically themed libraries, designed libraries… we’re always looking in every direction.
SoundBits: AR and VR (or games in general) with binaural and 3D-audio. I am not sure if this is relevant for static sound effects creation, but I am thinking some kind of new audio algorithm-filled multi-layer file format or another extension for WAV that allows you to store real-time adjustable parameters and sound layers that can be encoded by game engines or future DAWs 😀.
We hope you enjoyed reading these stories and words of advice. To hear more about their experiences, check out their blogs: