I love building things. I spent a great deal of my childhood building all kinds of creations out of LEGO and K’NEX (and I still do). Of course, one of my favorite parts of the building process was the necessary destruction of the older things to make the new. Working with sound, especially taking apart the normal, everyday sounds to build new and interesting sounds, has always struck me as an extension of this. Though I’ve gleefully annihilated countless LEGO creations over the years, the scars on my fingers from sharp plastic bricks are there to remind me that while it can be a great deal of fun to destroy all the things, a tiny bit of caution can go a long way.
A few years ago, I was working on a short film where the protagonist wanders into a dark alley at night and gets into a fight with a man who tries to rob him. Only having access to a very limited library of punch FX at the time, the director (Pierce O’Toole, who has contributed here before) and I decided to create our own sounds for the scene. After a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up various food items to annihilate in the name of sound design, we put down some plastic trash bags in the middle of the studio and got to work.
It took a bit of experimenting, but eventually we determined that chicken stacked on top of beef with a layer of tortilla chips and popcorn between gave some us some really juicy and brutal sounds. After capturing tons of variations and different intensities, it came time to record hits for the big, bone-crushing finale. We grabbed a thick piece of chicken, tossed it onto one of the plastic bags on the ground, and then Pierce launched his fist, full-force, right through the poultry and into the hard concrete floor.
Despite the cursing and iced knuckles, the sounds we captured were fun and different. Looking back on it now, there were probably a few safer ways to get similar results, specifically ways that wouldn’t have ended with the director of the film bruising his hand.
When you’re in the middle of creating, it is very easy to lose yourself in the moment. Things can quickly get out of hand and someone can get hurt. Even working in a controlled studio environment lead to a minor injury; imagine what could happen in a less controlled environment. As the amount of destruction increases, so must the level of caution taken. When dealing with truly dangerous things like explosions or demolition, thoughtless little mistakes become much more serious. Maintaining a certain level of situational awareness and caution will keep you safe to record another day.
So, the next time you go out to record the sounds of something getting destroyed, remember to never let your guard down. And whatever you do, don’t try to punch a chicken breast placed on a concrete floor; learn from our mistakes!