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We’ve had a great turnout from the SFX creators in our community for this month’s topic. This is the second roundup featuring Spheric-collection, Sonotrigger, Secret Source, Debsound and Piggysounds. Stay tuned for more installments over the next few weeks.
What is your name, and who are your team members/co-creators?
Spheric-collection: Hi, I’m Gaël Nicolas, and I’m a French sound editor. I’ve worked mostly in feature film for the last 15 years. I created spheric-collection.com to feature ambisonic sound recordings dedicated to sound editing.
Secret Source: My name is Jeff Pitts. I collaborate with Benjamin Cook and Alex Knickerbocker for this project.
Debsound: My name is József Illyés from Debrecen, Hungary. Currently I operate as a one-man army.
Piggysounds @piggysounds: My name is Rafael Hofstadter and I’m the one-man-band behind Piggysounds.com. I’ve got no stable team, but I’ve got a lot of friends, fellow musicians and sound designers who collaborate with my sound design and SFX projects from time to time.
When was a time you felt you pushed the boundaries to capture the perfect sound effect?
Spheric-collection: Fifteen years ago, 5.1 Dolby SRD became the standard for the feature films I was working on. The way we edited sounds at that time was not satisfying me. I wanted to find a way to edit sounds so they’d fit in all the speakers and give a great sensation of space. Then I discovered the sound field microphones and ambisonic file format. It was a one-cable system, a light weight surround sound recording microphone and it was very flexible in post production. You could manipulate sounds in each direction, focus on a point, and modulate space by changing the virtual microphone capsules directivity. As a tailor, you could make your sounds fit the picture.
Sonotrigger: Recording water streams is quite risky, not in injuring yourself but losing all your gear in a bad step. We did some water flow foley on the Spanish Pyrenees, and having the gear on our backs for a few hours while mountain path-finding was something we’ll take in account next time… Also, we produced “stone falling” foley, and it was quite challenging to find the right place to put the gear without hitting it or smashing our feet. It’s difficult to evaluate what is the maximum stone size you can carry. Most of them look smaller than they actually are until you pick them… haha.
Secret Source: I was just recording in NYC for a project (expect these sounds at some point in the future). I carried my Holophone H2-Pro and my RSM191 around the city. It’s a beautiful combination of focused sound and a 5.0 surround sound layer, and it was worth lugging around. Also, when we record vehicles we end up capturing performances with 32 channels of mics from all different angles both on and off the vehicle. This really helps with cutting angles in post.
Debsound: There was a time when I recorded in a storm late at night to capture the most authentic sound, not caring about getting soaking wet. There were also times when I woke up at 4 am to record rally race cars, and I had to go by bike with all the equipment in my backpack. You have to take these extra miles if you want good and special work on the table.
Piggysounds: Not that long ago I recorded “distant ghostly screams” for a specific project. I came up with a unique and extravagant mic setup that I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist. I was standing in the middle of the room with a shotgun mic about 50 cm from the overhead position, pointing it to my chest, with a large diaphragm condenser cardioid from below that was also 50 cm away from me. I had a large condenser in omni mode right behind me, close to my back, and a small diaphragm hypercardioid condenser to the side pointing directly at my mouth about a meter away. I recorded the passes on axis to the front mics and then off axis to all mics, which led to an awesome sound. With a touch of reverb in post, the result was very convincing—a distant ghostly scream! If someone is willing to try this setup, needless to say, be careful with potential phase issues!!
When was a time you felt you pushed the boundaries to design a new sound effect?
Sonotrigger: Due to a contest where you had to design the sound of a digital interface using only a white noise file, we decided to produce our “Digital Sounds (HUD | Beeps | Devices)” library. We didn’t win the contest but we’d worked so hard on it, and we ended up with quality starting points for switches, streams, alarms, etc. After the contest we decided to invest more time and produce more versions, variants and new assets until we had a great asset library we felt proud of. We could have given up after the contest but in pushing the boundaries we wrapped up the “best-selling” of our libraries so far.
Secret Source: Every project I do brings new challenges—that’s the fun. I recently finished the film The Woods for Lionsgate which has some pretty unique sound design. I can’t talk much about it, since it doesn’t release until September 2016, but I will say that I wanted the sound to convey the ideas written in the script and I think we achieved that. I hope the sound design helps tell the story.
Debsound: When I made monster noises I would moan and rattle and make idiotic sounds for an hour. Then I would slow them down and use special effects to get the best results. I think I succeeded but it’s still far from over. I want my friends to help me experiment (and by the way, I’m in need of female screams).
Piggysounds: One cool sound I created was the inside perspective of a big spaceship (think of the Enterprise or something like that). For this, I layered various sounds, but the foundation was two single sounds—an ambient recording I made during a long trip inside a bus and white noise from a DSI MoPho synth. I used a HPF on the bus sound to cut around 700Hz or so, and for the white noise, I used a LPF and the feedback loop from the MoPho itself, tweaking the cutoff point on the fly to add motion. On top of that I used recordings from DVD trays opening and closing, A/C and microwave beeps, and crazy S&H synth patches. It was a very fun soundscape to design, indeed!
When have you pushed the boundaries in selling sound effects (whether they be yours or others’)?
Spheric-collection: After ten years of recording ambisonic sounds dedicated to sound editing, I wanted to share these recordings and my time spent with professionals. For me they are souvenirs and for other sound people they’re new sound formats and perspectives to explore. They reflect what you get by filming at 360°, and what’s funny is that sound for Virtual Reality is going to bring this format back. This is a new market for the sound library, and major actors of this business are considering ambisonic sound recordings.
Sonotrigger: We found that most libraries are created for sound designers and audio professionals, which are not easy to use by non-sound people. One of our first marketing decisions was to create a “video game ready” version of our sounds—following the game audio standards in terms of format and loudness—to allow game designers (or any other member of a dev team) to simply pick up and drop the audio files into their games. This decision brought us to selling in asset stores like the Unity Asset Store. These marketplaces are the landing pages for game devs who need sounds to prototype their projects or finish a game, so we decided to adapt our products to the asset stores’ requirements and start our little boutique there.
Secret Source: I don’t think I push those boundaries, but I want the right sounds to be available for people who need them. I started an outlet for the sounds I created so they could have new life, but it’s not really about the money.
Debsound: It’s always necessary to search for a good market. It was never a problem for me to contact anyone despite the fact that my English is not the best. I usually use translator programs and luckily everybody seems to be helpful and friendly despite my language issues, thanks for them.
Piggysounds: New markets are always the best markets! And there are lots of new markets around. Just gotta look for them! Think about tabletop gaming and stuff like that…
Have you ever created a sound or synth that made you or your team laugh out loud? If so, what was the sound?
Sonotrigger: Well… not with our sounds, but when I have some spare time, I “play” to find the original pitch of a time-stretched file from some commercial libraries, like inverse engineering, and you guys can’t imagine how many of the most “terrifying” creature screams are actually disgusting-sounding barks, haha.
Secret Source: I once was cutting a sci-fi movie and as a joke I made all the characters in a scene have baby talk. This was of course an internal joke, but it had everyone in tears.
Debsound: Yes, I have a sound called “Happy Creatures” that makes everybody laugh out loud. I recorded my own voice laughing, cheering and crying, and then I applied a funny cartoon-like helium effect. It sounded crazy already during recording. It was worth doing it.
What is your advice for sounds designers who want to create and sell their own SFX libraries and synthesizers?
Sonotrigger: Our library production is based on the needs we have while working on video games. We build packs that we would definitely buy from others if we weren’t able to produce them. That way of working helps decide “what to do” and “when to do it” and ensures you are producing sound effect packs that could be useful for other sound designers. We also think of game developers / non-audio guys as potential buyers interested in acquiring “ready to use” libraries, and that’s why we always have a “video game ready” version of our sounds.
Secret Source: I think people should look at their work and see what they feel they need, then record that and make it available for others. I also believe it takes time to capture quality sound in the field. You can’t get frustrated when you are working in an uncontrollable environment. Just keep TRYING.
Debsound: No matter what kind of gear you have, don’t wait for anything, just start working! Try new techniques, software—try to make something unique. Think outside of the box and practise! Learn and study the big ones (Paul Virostek, Ric Viers, Frank Bry). Read blogs, network, mingle! Collaborate and learn from local field recordists. And last but not least, be humble and help others with blogs, photos and comments.
Piggysounds: Go ahead! It’s fun! Try to make as many contacts as you possibly can. Be original and always be sure any given sound or synth patch is usable and not just cool in isolation.
What is an area you’d like to see pushed even further?
Spheric-collection: Of course, I’ll go for VR. It’s a new field to explore and sound plays a lot into the immersive process. A lot of new tools are also coming out for manipulating sounds in 3D—I’m working on it right now. We are developing a new set of tools and a workflow for sound people who want to explore VR.
Sonotrigger: Binaural and 3D sound for sure. Currently, that’s going forward quite fast due to the push of VR technology, and hopefully we can invest in a head-mounted mic soon to start working on our own binaural assets.
Secret Source: Ambisonics.
Debsound: I’d like to have my own home studio in my apartment and later a garage for foley. I also try to expand my equipment.
Piggysounds: I guess Foley. I mean, that’s an area where we all use the same proven and tested techniques and props… Not sure if anyone is doing something radically different…
We hope you enjoyed reading these stories and words of advice. To hear more about their experiences, check out their blogs: