Thundercats Episode 10: Thunder, Thunder, Thunder, Thunder… BIKES!

Unusual source material gives these breakaway choppers their own signature sound.

Thunder-bikes? OK, so they are officially called Thunder Tank Bikes because (I assume) the name Thunder Bikes was used on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Still, Bandai occasionally calls them Thunder Racers. I can’t seem to keep up so I’m gonna stick with Thunderbikes because it makes me happy and sounds cool.

Call them what you will, point being, I knew they needed to sound cool. The sound of the Thunder Tank itself is very throaty, but we wanted the bikes to be super futuristic as a contrast. These babies aren’t propelled by your typical gas engine. Which means, in terms of source samples, Harley’s or any real motorcycle for that matter were out. Once again, it was time to think outside the box for Thundercats (which I realize has definitely become a theme for the sound design of this show).

Since our first perspective is the interior powering up of the computers and telemetry (When Lion-O first sits in the driver’s seat) that’s where I started figuring I’d get to the engine next. Well, it was a good thing I did because as I was auditioning samples for the tech, I came across a computer boot up sound that triggered all kinds of cool ideas for the bike engine. Forget the tech, that can wait… now I’m inspired and it’s time to get to work on making this sample sound like a futuristic motorcycle engine.

“Computer Whir Source Sample”
iPhone or iPad? click here

This one sample is the entire source for the engine sound of the bikes. Of course, I played around with it to coax out different pieces to work with, but it’s the only true source.

Watching through the scene, for the most part the bikes are accelating or decelerating, so I pitched and time compressed them accordingly with Serato Pitch ‘N Time to match the action. There were also a few spots that needed a steady engine sound (coasting) which was a bit of a challenge since the pitch is constantly changing in the sample. Luckily after some trial and error I managed to find a chunk of the computer whir that looped well.

After adding in the gravel and dirt layers for the tires as well as some whoosh sweeteners, I felt there was still a little more oomph that could be added. I found that layering in some high pitched bottle rockets added a hyper-real feel and some airy rocket launch sounds gave the bigger accelerations a boost.

“Thunderbike Various”
iPhone or iPad? click here

The last step was to utilize Waves Doppler to create some really cool pitch bending ‘bys’ for all the spots where the bikes speed by the camera.

“Thunderbike Bys”
iPhone or iPad? click here

Unsolicited advice: ‘Doppler’ comes up a lot on this blog so I thought it might be worthwhile to share how I use this super cool plug-in. A warning: I have a very specific way I like to use ‘Doppler’ which most likely is not the go-to method (or perhaps the preferred method from Waves themselves)… Works for me though!

‘Doppler’ likes to work in stereo, so the first thing I do is double up any mono source samples and get them on a stereo track. For fast ‘bys’ I like to start with the shorter length presets such as Rocket Flyby or U-Turn (which I find gives particularly cool results). Lastly, I don’t just process the source once. I like to make at least 4+ duplicates of my source sample and then space them out at random odd intervals. Since the plug-in tends to work in a time-based rhythm, I find that if you then process all of these at once you typically get 4+ different versions of your sample coming out… all the more to play around with! Try it out and let me know how your results turn out.

Sometimes picking the right sound from the start enables you to avoid too much processing or finagling to make things work. In the case of the Thunderbikes, one cool source sound became the seed for the entire build.

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

Creative Toolkit:

  • Computer Whir Sample
  • Serato Pitch ‘N Time
  • Waves Doppler Stereo
This week’s comically lo-def image comes from Bandai.com
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