# Starting out with sound effects

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Hey guys, I'm interested in creating my own sound effects, to give stuff I work on a unique feel and avoid the good old 'That effect was used in game X!' problem. Naturally, it will also help if I can get sounds in a correct context, as I'm sick of going through cheap sound CDs and ending up having to heavily modify something that's 'close enough'. So, what tips could you guys provide? Getting a decent microphone would probably be top of the list, but I have no idea on what to look for. Preferably something that can take a decent range without being too expensive, as I'd like to build up some confidence before I start blowing the bank. If anyone has any suggestions in this area, that would be greatly appreciated. Also, what kind of recording environment would work best? Set up a closet covered with egg-cartons, or would a reasonably quiet environment and some post-processing be good enough? Also, what's the best way to learn this kind of stuff? Is there a good place to start? Is there something to aim for? Is there some sort of time-tested learning process? I'm aiming for something that could be considered professional quality in a game environment. Thanks guys! -Nick London

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A good starting point is to learn the techniques used in motion picture effects acquisition. Check out the book "The Practical Art of Motion Picture Sound."

For my own part, I record most of my effects with an old Sennheiser MKH816t (the recently discontinued long shotgun version of the 416). The additional side rejection of a long rifle will help keep your effects nice and dry, which is a plus now that much of the reverb modelling is being achieved by the end user's sound card. For stereo applications, I'll typically switch to an MS set consisting of a 416 with a figure-8 mic. I'm not a huge fan of single-point stereo mics, but the MKH418 is IMHO on of the better ones, if that's what you're looking for.

I wouldn't reccomend recording effects in a vocal booth. For one thing, there usually isn't enough space in a egg-crated closet to smash a TV with a pickaxe. You can do wonders with an larger room if you cover the walls and any other hard surfaces with thick quilts and packing blankets. One studio I worked in had heavy velvet theatrical curtains hung from rails in front of every wall, which gave the room a very nice exterior sound.

Try to avoid post-processing. If you find that you're eq'ing or processing to remove unwanted noise, you're not recording it propperly. Post processing should be used to sculpt the sound, not to repair it.

My reccomendation is to go to the local film/video equipment rental place and rent an EFP kit (eg. Tascam DA-P1, Sennheiser MKH416, Rycote shockmount, high-wind cover).

Drop me a line if there's a particular effect you're having trouble with.

Stephen Muir
Dreaming Monkey Sound Services Inc.
dreaming_monkey@hotmail.com
http://www.geocities.com/drmngmnky/index

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Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't the MKH mic's used more for ADR than foley? I always thought the Sennheiser MD 421 II was a better foley mic?

With regards to recording onto a medium, Edirol just released a digital recorder that uses Compact Flash as storage (It's called the R-1). It can do 24bit at 44.1kHz. (24 bit would be more preferable when recording foley because you have more dynamic range and less chance of clipping). MiniDisc can only do 16bit at 44.1.
The only disadvantege to these 2 formats is that they only have 1/8" jacks and no phantom power. You would need something like a Sony ECM-MS907 which is an electret mic (has a small battery to power it). It's also a stereo mic (M-S) and sounds really good! If you wanted to go the more expensive route, you could look at a Nagra HD recorder or an HHB Portadrive which has XLR Mic in's, phantom power, and all the bells and whistles you could need (I believe they also have inline compressors incase you're too slow on the fader). But IMO, it's best to do the sound again and back up a bit (compression can be really horrible when capturing high transient sounds. You lose the dynamics.

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If you're looking at this from a bedroom/hobby coder (i.e. a more limited scale) then this pdf is quite useful...
http://www.aulc.org/audio/soundrec.pdf

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Thanks for the responses guys, I'm going to see if I can order in a copy of that book.

My main problem at the moment is that I'm on an incredibly tight budget, so if I buy equipment I'd like to keep it below the $100 range (Roughly$50usd). I realise in the long run I'll certainly have to invest quite a bit, but at the moment I'm more looking for something that I can learn the ropes with rather than head straight into production.

There's also quite a lot of terminology I dont quite understand, or more to the point cant quite place in context of what I need. For sound effects would I be looking at an Omni Mic or a directional one, or do both have different uses depending on the kind of sound required (Ambient vs gunshots)?

"I dont have much money! Tell me how to make good stuff!" Gah, I hate being new. But I guess we all go through it at some stage.

On that note, does anyone have any tips on some of the more common (And thus, heavily used) game sounds like gunshots and footsteps? Gunshots I'm aware are notoriously hard to get right, and recording a good selection of quality footstep sounds for different surfaces sounds like it would be quite a difficult task indeed, unless you can actually rip up a square of grass and bring it into a quiter environment of course.

Obviously there probably isn't going to be any one answer to that question, but I'm just looking to find the right mindframe so I dont get to the point where I'm bashing a Mic against the desk screaming "SOUND LIKE AN EXPLOSION, DAMN YOU!"

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re: SoundFX Production Enviroments

You would do good to find a simple stereo/mono audio editor (ala Wavelab/Peak/Deck)

One of the most satisfying aspects of Sound Effects creation IMO is conjuring something cool out of (almost) nothing, using plug-ins and shaping/sculpting tools.

While I will agree that good sound capture is integral to the process, once you've got the sound, what you do with it is what sperates it from the other "canned sounds" out there.

Good Luck!
DK
LostChocolateLab
http://www.waste.org/lostchocolatelab/LCLDKDemoReel.html

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Boy oh boy... if I only had a nickle for every time I heard someone ask for a good mic/mixer/recorder/headset combination, and then add that they only have a hundred bucks kicking around. To put things in perspective, \$100 might buy you a decent shockmount. That is, if you really shop around and know exactly what you're looking for. Save your hard-earned money. Come up with a list of effects you want or need, figure out how to record them all in a 24-hour period, then rent a EFP sound kit for a day. It'll blow your entire mic budget, but you'll be using excellent gear that you couldn't otherwise afford. You're better off learning on good, solid gear than on what you can actually afford. That way, you'll have a solid point of refference.

As for using MKH-series mics versus other mics for foley, there's no reason that you couldn't try another mic. The main reason for the prevalence of the 416 in post-production (both ADR and foley) is the need to match production sound in film work. The 416 continues to be the workhorse of film production, so it's a logical choice for the looping and foley stages. That said, I do typically use a large-diaphragm vocal mic as a perspective microphone in the corner of the room.

Personally, I prefer shotgun mics to cardiod mics for effects work for one reason in particular: the side rejection means that you can be a couple of feet away without getting too roomy-sounding. This is very good if your recording particularly destructive or flamable effects.

As for guns... guns are tricky. They're also potentially very hard on your gear. You also have to get your mitts on the weapons you want to record, in an environment conducive to doing so. You'd probably be much further ahead to invest in a high-quality gun-only effects library. I'm rather fond of the Sound Ideas "Dynamic Range" collection, but that may be overkill for your needs. There's no shortage of good firearm effects out there. The hard part is finding good stock footsteps or other subtle effects.

DK had a very good point, as well, regarding obtaining a wav editor. I would go a step further, though, and suggest a multitrack program. Many of the effects I use started as half a dozen individual elements, and layering is a big part of sound design. As a died-in-the-wool PT guy, I reccomend you download ProTools Free from Digidesign's website (www.digidesign.com I think).

Stephen Muir
Dreaming Monkey Sound Services Inc.
dreaming_monkey@hotmail.com
http://www.geocities.com/drmngmnky/index

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Unfortunately ProTools Free falls into the "dead software" realm. From the PT Free website:

Quote:
 System Software: Windows Me or Windows 98 Second Edition (will NOT run on Windows XP, 2000, NT, 95, or 3.1)

I think the "Music Software" thread has some free multi-track software suggestions...

Epolevne

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Hi.

Do you want to make realistic sound effects, or arcade-y sound effects? If you're going with arcade-y, I strongly suggest you ditch the mic idea and learn to use a synthesizer.

Not only is it cheap (free soft synths are everywhere), it's fun to make your own sounds from scratch PLUS you'll probably learn a thing or two about music.

I wish I could recommend some software to you, but I use a hardware synth to make my sounds (it's just because I hate using a PC... i know.. whatever), but I've gotten a lot of help from these folks:

http://www.dancetech.com

when starting out getting my music gear.

I've also fiddled a bit with "Reason" (http://www.propellerheads.se/), and the version I had (adapted for M-Audio) had a pretty decent synth on it. You may want to check to see if they have a demo.

I have to warn you that learning to program a synth can be overwhelming at first, but it's very rewarding. Just think, once you get good enough, you'll be able take that sound in your head and make it a reality. It's incredible!

OH! One more thing you can consider. Grab a copy of goldwave (should be free) and just download synth samples off synth manufacturers website and mangle them. Plenty of cool sounds to sculp and shape just by doing that.
[/edit]

-j
ps: there are many different types of synths out there. You'll most likely want one that does "subtractive synthesis".

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Believe it or not, I'm actually using Reason to create certain placeholder sound effects at the moment. :)

I'm certainly looking towards more move-like sound quality, thus a fair bit of realism/'believability'. Naturally getting there wont be an easy nor quick task, but it's what I'm aiming for in the long run.

Oh, but on the note of Synths; I'm having to use Reason at work at the moment, but wouldn't mind being able to do synth stuff at home. I've heard about Buzzer (Which I believe is free), is it worth a look in?

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Sorry, like I said, I don't do a lot of music on computer (and when I did, it was all Fast Tracker 2). I hadn't heard of buzzer but did a google search on it and got this:

I'd say it's probably ok but a bit limiting in terms of wild sounds. But hey, anything that's free is worth looking into.

Other free softsynths? I did a quick glance around the dancetech.com site and found:

http://www.dancetech.com/aa_dt_new/plugins/index_plugins.cfm

At the bottom lists free plug-ins which might be worth looking into.

By the way, what did you mean by "more move-like sound quality" ?

-j

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Sound design is a quite varied area to get into. I've been professionally sound designing for 2 years for games.

If you're serious about it but can't quite afford equipment right now. Grab as much free sound creation and mangling tools you can online.

Free music programs which can host VST synths and effects is a good place to start. At least with these tools you can start synthesizing sounds and mangling them.

Stuff like Psycle tracker is good, Renoise, Mod Plug .. etc

Check out http://www.kvr-vst.com they have a section of free-vst synths and effects.

Once you can afford it, get a good sampling mic.

You might be able to get away with semi professional mono mic which is used for Tape recorders, Walkmans. Read up on mics to see what it is you will require it for.

Cardiod polar condenser mics make good sampling tools. Condenser mics tend to have good flat response (crisp high frequencies). Dynamic mics seem to have more vocal frequency response and require louder sounds and are less sensitive. Read up on mics.

A good starting mic to get is something like a Rode NT3. It's a Cardiod Condenser, and can run on a 9V battery or phantom power. Makes good for walking around where there's no power. They are not too expensive, though out of your budget at the moment.

A recording minidisc is a good starting medium, though if you can afford something better like an iRiver iHP120 which can record stereo wavs in 16bit and 48kHz direct to hard drive then it's going to produce much better results!

Sound design is learning what to do with sounds. Layering them, combining them, tweaking and mangling them. Some hollywood sound effects can contain over 40 layers!

Start out with the software and see how you go from there. It's the cheapest option. A good mic can expand your textures as you can add samples and voice.

As far as recording rooms, you want something where the sound is not going to reflect too much (ie a blank wall, or a wooden cupboard) Padding will help dampen the high frequencies which cause reverb and echo. You can learn about acoustic design, bass traps, diffusers .. etc but to get started just something which can give you a raw sound without echos/reverb to start with.

Sampling out doors in the country side at night can also help, not very much reflections outside in the open spaces.

I could go on and on.. but this is a place to start.

Good Luck!

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http://www.filmsound.org/

This is also a good place to start.

DK
LCL