Thundercats Episode 9: Sounds like… Cuddly Robot Bears?!? The Berbils are Back!

This week, a trip to the toy store brings creative inspiration.

What better way to kick off part two of this first Season’s run than the return of the Robear Berbils? As usual, the TCATS crew had some great ideas for this episode. It is a BIG one and the most important challenge we faced was addressing the sound of the Berbils themselves. We needed them to be cute… after all, they live in what is essentially a technicolor gum drop village and harvest candy all day! The sound of their movements needed to fit the character of a cuddly toy robot bear. Think: Teddy Ruxpin, but without that creepy element he had going on. Remember Teddy Ruxpin?

We have plenty of servos in our library after 2 seasons of work on Transformers: Animated, but they were too big and beefy. I needed something custom. What this challenge needed was a field trip! Off to Toys ‘R’ Us for some recon. I was looking for something with servos or mechanical arms that could be moved and manipulated to make cool sounds. Searching the shelves, I came to the following realizations:

1) There aren’t many toys that have servos these days (where there ever?)
2) Toys that might actually have servos were locked down heavier than Fort Knox so testing was not an option. (Seriously, the amount of twist ties, heavy duty tape and overblown packaging in toys today is incredible!)

After aisle upon aisle of strike outs I began to accept that I probably wasn’t leaving the store victorious.

And then I saw him.

On the bottom shelf, marked for clearance and covered in a layer of not so appealing dust was a remote control gorilla called PRIME8! Seriously?!? I mean, it’s not a bear, but after all the trouble I was having, it was close enough. Peering through the packaging, PRIME8 appeared to have a number of articulatable (made up word) limbs that could in theory possibly make some cool sounds. My mind was made up. I laid down my $36 and took PRIME8 home with high hopes.

Well, it’s safe to say I got lucky with this one. As soon as I turned him on (he required something like 40 batteries by the way. What is with toys these days!?!) he came to life and it was servo city. AND, he had a button that would mute his gorilla vocals which could get me super clean recordings. I was thrilled!

I set up my closet with a blanket and a bunch of pillows for sound deadening (nothing says professional like a patterned comforter from West End on the wall) and went to town recording PRIME8 with my trusty SONY PCM-M10 recorder.

In case you are wondering, this is all VERY professional. The yoga pants and T-shirt combination is the official working-from-home sound editor uniform (unsubstantiated). And what is the official in-studio uniform? Jeans and a button down (also unsubstantiated). Please take note. Now on to the sounds!

“PRIME8 Remote Control Servos (Selects)”
iPhone or iPad? click here

After finishing up a round of remote controlled actions, I also did a number of manual movements on PRIME8’s arms which gave me some really cool results. Lots of texture.

“PRIME8 Manual Servos (Selects)”
iPhone or iPad? click here

After all the recording was finished, I sorted through everything, chopped it up into the usable pieces and removed any room noise with my favorite noise reducer: X-Noise (and believe me, those recordings were plenty noisy). I didn’t want to process the sounds too much since I’d gone through the trouble of finding such a cool source, but I did run them through a Grain Shifter and Filter Bank just to give them a bit of a futuristic bend. Lastly, I took everything on the track, copied it down to another and pitched this set (maintaining the original length) so each servo would have two layers, giving it a slight chorus effect.

“Berbil Servos (Selects)”
iPhone or iPad? click here

Unsolicited advice: What I’m getting at with all the backstory in this post is anyone with a creative bend can go far in the world of sound design. You don’t need a huge budget, fancy equipment, a professional studio and loads of time to work through every challenge. I’ve been doing this job for a long time and I still can’t get over the fact that I recorded a toy gorilla in my bedroom closet and a few weeks later, there it is on TV! It’s important to have fun and to take every opportunity to access the kid in you. 

I made a point of categorizing all of the MANY servos by likely type of movement (arm, head, body) and length to help stay organized while cutting the show. And what fun it was editing with these custom sounds I had so much fun creating in the first place! The Berbils have truly come to life. As for PRIME8, he now holds a place of honor on my shelf at work.

As always, thanks for listening for what sounds like Jeff.

Creative Toolkit:

  • Recorded Samples PRIME8… purchased from Toys ‘R’ Us for 36 bucks
  • Sony PCM-M10 digital recorder
  • Native Instruments KORE 2 FX
  • Digidesign EQ3
  • Digidesign Compressor
  • Waves X-noise
This week’s image comes from the official Thundercats Facebook Page.
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