Thundercats Episode 13: Astral Plane and Simple

Ever wonder what the world collapsing under your feet would sound like in another dimension? Yeah, me too.

As Lion-O and Tygra defeat Mumm-Ra, the ground beneath their feet begins to break apart. In our original workprint, the pieces of the astral plane were all white but I was informed that it would eventually be mapped with the surrounding astral plane backgrounds. This gave me the idea that the earth below their feet was less like the ground and more like a giant mirror, shattering as it collapsed.

With that idea in mind, I started by looking for window and tile smashing sounds, cutting each in place to match the timing of the large cracks appearing on screen. I like the fat, somewhat bassy impact of these sounds.

“Window Smashing Sample”
iPhone or iPad? click here

Then, to fill the scene up a bit, I added a bunch of layers of debris… crashing/crumbling rock and earth ( I know it doesn’t fit my ‘mirror shattering’ concept, but it feels right within the context of the scene).

Unsolicited advice: You can drive yourself crazy trying to sync every little element up on screen. I find it best to pick out a focal point (the larger shattering in this case) and cut those to picture first. Then, have fun layering in some other elements to really give the scene some depth. You can fill up a scene pretty quickly with just a few good choices. Maybe every little sound doesn’t have a corresponding bit of animation to show for it, but trust your ears. As long as it sounds cool, you’re good to go.

Once the astral plane’s own steady sound (whomp whomp whomp) were layered in and volume graphed to crescendo to the end of the scene, everything was sounding pretty good.

But just pretty good. Not great.

I needed something to send it over the edge. I’ve talked a lot about fancy effects processors, but for this challenge I kept it very simple. I decided to start with the current window smashing samples I had already cut into place. Since I wanted them to sound more other-worldly my approach was to purposely degrade the sound by over stretching them. Using the Time Compression/Expansion tool built into Pro Tools (the one that looks like a bracket with a little clock on it) I was able to drag the edge of the file off to the right and ultimately stretch the samples of glass breaking well beyond any reasonable amount. This give the sound a strange robotic/digital quality.

Fair warning folks, it’s about to get technical up in here.

Now, I have a marginal background in audio theory but I’m going to fake my way through an explanation of how this works regardless. Recorded sounds are made up of samples which are tiny snapshots of the sound that’s being recorded, like frames on film. Our ears interpolate the missing bits upon playback and so we do not notice these holes. Higher quality sounds are recorded at higher ‘sample rates’ (taking more snapshots within the same given amount of time). The higher the sample rate, the better the samples respond to time expansion because there are still plenty of snapshots in the sound to play back. However, if you stretch a sample far enough, eventually you’ll get to that breaking point no matter how high the sample rate. When you stretch any given sample past a certain point, it begins to degrade and you start to get that weird robot/digital kind of sound. I believe it’s because Pro Tools fills in the gaps by doubling samples up and this doubling, when compounded, starts to sound very unnatural. Remember the way Neo’s voice goes from natural to digital as he is transformed into The Matrix? That’s the sound I was going for!

Turns out it sounded really cool and layered in well with the rest of the build.

“Astral Plane Cracking
iPhone or iPad? click here

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

Creative Toolkit:

    • Window Smash Sample
    • Pro Tools Time Expansion/Compression Tool
This week’s image comes from the Rabidhamsters Blog.

Special Edition: Designing Sound for iPad eBooks

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I’ve worked on a bunch of projects over the years for the good folks over at JibJab.com and was lucky enough to be called upon to add sound to their new eBook line for the iPad, JibJab Jr. The books are designed for kids and parents to enjoy together. Since the books were recently re-launched with sound, they have posted a really great blog entry highlighting both my work as well as the stellar work by their tech team on implementing sound into the books.

JibJab Jr. Blog

Let me know what you think of the post and if you have kids, check these books out! They are really something special.

Thundercats Episode 12: Crocodile Hum-Vee

The lizards have fancy bikes of their own…

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!!

This week’s order was to give this breed of motorcycle a lizard-like quality to match their drivers.

I’m usually searching for a while to find the right source sound but this one came up quickly. It’s a crocodile growl that sounds an awful lot like a Harley idling (at least to my ears… You might have to squint… If ears can squint).

“Crocodile Growl (Source)”
iPhone or iPad? click here

Next up was experimenting with the sample and a pitch modulator to give the performance the feel of acceleration and deceleration.

“Crocodile Growl Pitch Experiments”
iPhone or iPad? click here

These experiments gave me a lot to work with but I needed another layer. I dug up an older build I had made for the mining carts in episode 6. These were also ‘lizard inspired’ and paired nicely with the modulated croc growls when globally pitched.

“Lizard Mining Cart Idle”
iPhone or iPad? click here

The last step was adding in a startup sound, which I grabbed from an old Harley. (after many attempts at creating one with lizard sounds, I decided going with the real deal here was much more successful). The idle it leads into is the croc.

“Lizard Bike Start-Idle”
iPhone or iPad? click here

Here are some examples from the final builds that ended up in the show.

“Lizard Bike Accelerate”
iPhone or iPad? click here

“Lizard Bike Group”
iPhone or iPad? click here

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

Creative Toolkit:

  • Crocodile Growl Sample
  • Serato Pitch ‘N Time
This week’s image… Is awesome. And yes, I realize it’s a frog, not a lizard.

Thundercats Episode 11: A Little Help From My Friends

For some sound demands, you just gotta call on foley for help.

What do you do when you are faced with adding sound to a group of warriors armored in paper, fighting with paper, living in a castle… made of paper? This is one of those episodes I would call ‘high concept.’ Obvoiusly, the driving force is the paper and so our sound design has to reflect that by putting the sounds of all the paper elements first and foremost.

Here’s the problem… paper is tough! As sound editors, certain challenges pop up and we face them head on with sounds from our library or custom recordings. But paper is one of those things that can all too easily sound repetitive if it’s not walked directly to picture on a foley stage. It needs the randomness to sound natural. Luckily, I knew just the guys for the job!

Foley walker Alex Ullrich and Foley mixer John Sanacore were kind enough to spare some time on the foley stage for our dilemma. These guys are the Award winning team that did all of the foley for The Hurt Locker so of course, Thundercats was in good hands! I went ahead and made a wish list:

  • paper armor movements
  • rapid paper flapping
  • large paper movements (for the dragon)
  • stacks of paper falling (for the castle)
  • oragami paper folding

Of course, they did an amazing job and now the guys are kind enough to let me share some of their work with you.

This first clip is two different performances of paper flapping. The first, slightly bigger, was used to sweeten up the character ‘Snips’ windmills. The second gave the wings of our main Wood Forger some texture as he is flying in the final showdown.

“Paper Flapping”
iPhone or iPad? click here

These next paper records are a few of the sounds we used to sweeten up the large paper dragon.

“Large Paper Movements”
iPhone or iPad? click here

Next up are some ‘performance’ pieces which are various paper movements, all done live to sweeten up some more complex sequences. The first half would be the scene where ‘Gami’ is spinning around her magic paper and then folding it up. The back half is our lead Wood Forger’s wings unfolding. The texture they got out of these performances is fantastic! This is what I’m talking about when I say editing library sounds simply won’t cut it.

“Paper Performances”
iPhone or iPad? click here

Finally, as a one off, I also requested Snips’ scissors to see if we could get something unique from the stage and the sound turned out so cool, I just had to include it here.

“Snips’ Scissors”
iPhone or iPad? click here

All in, this episode shines because of John and Alex’s hundreds of clips recorded to picture… effectively sweetening the entire episode. And would you believe, Alex said he didn’t even get one paper cut!?!

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

Creative Toolkit:

  • 2 talented foley virtuosos
  • stacks and stacks of paper

This week’s image come from the Official Thundercats Facebook Page.

Sound Off! Big Sword of Omens Grab


Sound Off! is a series of quick posts sharing custom sound effects. 

“Big Sword of Omens Grab”

iPhone or iPad? click here

Metadata Keywords: Sword Grab, Big, Heavy, Metal Grab

Image from the Official Thundercats Facebook Page.

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