Surprising sound effects

One of the first S/F series to actually have no sound in space.

Sound effects are especially important in film. One in the wrong place and it stands out. On in the right place and it really sells the scene. But it’s not always as straightforward as recording the sounds of the scenes while you shoot.

For a start, although you should be in control of the area, you’re still going to get random sounds that just don’t gel well. Often, you’d need to add a lot of sound effects over the top of the soundtrack. Another advantage of this is the ability to control everything about the sound effect – the volume, the pan (sound coming from the left or the right), the timing, the length, any other effects, etc…

The sound effect isn’t just generated at the scene. It’s always a wise idea to experiment to see what works. In Consolidating for example, I used the sound of the clapper-board as a slap. It worked really well. What didn’t work well is the sound effect for the punch. To this day, I haven’t got that one quite right (although I haven’t tried since originally editing it). I’ve heard that the sound of hitting meat is good for a punch. But being able to control the audio can be extremely helpful. The sound effect of the vacuum in Divide was actually the sound of an explosion reversed. Which makes sense physically as well.

Divide's vacuum sound effect was actually stock sound of an explosion played backwards. Worked like a charm though!

The first thing I would say, is think of what other sound effects you’ve heard in films previously. Often, you may actually recognise certain sound effects. Most likely these are stock effects, which can be found on the internet on many websites, both paid and free. In fact, I have been thinking of creating a free library of sound effects once I get a field recorder. What’s a field recorder? A Field recorder is a device that can store sound. It’s good because it has XLR inputs (standard for professional level microphones) – usually with multiple channels (so that you can record sounds from different positions simultaneously). It’s also good because it usually has a recording tone – a set level which will give you the best recording levels – not too loud so that it causes distortion, but not so quiet that you get a lot of background hiss.

The sound of doors closing should be proportional to the heaviness of the door. A light door would make a higher pitched sound, a heavy door a lower sound. With most editing software though, there’s usually a sound plugin to modify the pitch of the sound. Other common sound effects are footsteps. Make sure these are in relation to how far somebody is from the camera. Making sure that if you overlay the sound effects over the top, the footsteps get quieter or louder depending on how far away the source of the footsteps are (along with pans). Also make sure that if sound effects are important, that they can be heard clearly.

One thing that I’ve heard (I’ve not tried myself yet – never done a horror film) is that if you want a big scare in a film, is to put the sound effect (preferably loud) just slightly ahead of the video.

But overall, I would say try experimenting with the sound plugins to see what you can do. Also experiment with sounds. Sometimes they can be stackable – and add to what you’re trying to do (like a big explosion may help from both a low boom sound to begin with, immediately followed by a short blowing sound getting rapidly louder and then the sound of the big bang).

If there’s something that you’ve found really works for a sound effect that you wouldn’t normally expect, feel free to add a comment below.


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