Special Edition: Paying it forward with Calming Waves

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Hi all! Yes, it’s been a while, but I have a decent excuse. Soundslikejeff has a little one now and it turns out life can be time consuming when you have kids. Which brings me to my next topic:

When the little one was going to sleep at night, we wanted to have something soothing playing for her. I like waves because I have a certain fondness for the beach. Well, the ‘soothing lamb’ we bought turns off automatically after 45 minutes, which was simply not long enough (plus, the fidelity was horrible). By the time our little one woke up to start a new sleep cycle, the waves were long gone and every noise in our tiny house was audible.

My wife had the genius idea to have me create a seamless loop that could play all night on an old iPod. I gathered some of my favorite wave samples, worked a little EQ and compression to make sure nothing odd poked it’s head out and did my best to space them out somewhat evenly.

It’s been a while now and the little one is a fantastic sleeper. I thought I’d pay it forward to all of you frustrated parents out there who might be in need of a hand. As with all my sounds, the download is free. Happy sleeping and thanks for listen to what sounds like Jeff.

Sound Off! Sword of Omens Unsheath/Sheath


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

“Sword Of Omens Unsheath”

iPhone or iPad? click here

“Sword Of Omens Sheath”

iPhone or iPad? click here

Metadata Keywords: sword, sword of omens, sheath, unsheath, metal scrape, ringing

Image from the official Thundercats Facebook Page.

From the Trenches: Spec Work

From the Trenches is a series of posts sharing true life experiences and stories from within the fun and exciting (although sometimes crazy and convoluted) world of sound design.

And we’ll start with some unsolicited advice:  If you can avoid it, don’t work on spec.

I get it. When you’re first starting out in any job, it’s truly hard to get your foot in the door. It’s the classic Catch-22 of needing to know a skill to work in a field where you can only learn that skill by working in that field. A large majority of people then chose to work for free (or peanuts) in order to gain the necessary experience. All I’m saying is, if you can avoid this route, please do. And if you absolutely must work ‘on spec,’ keep the projects small and don’t do it for too long.

That said, once you’ve been working for a while in this industry, it can be pretty common practice to do a ‘test’ on a LARGE project before it will come to your door. In my case, I’m specifically referring to projects on the series level of television. If a production is going to drop 26+ episodes of television work on your doorstep, wanting a small taste of what you can do for them is completely understandable.

The Backstory:

A few years back I was asked to create some spec sound design in hopes of attracting an animated series about a kid who can turn his body into all kinds of machines and weapons (as a courtesy, I’m not going to mention the specific show. But you’re smart. You’ll probably have enough clues to figure it out). Long story short, we didn’t get the show. There are a number of reasons why any given television series can chose to go to any given studio.

The point is, besides the handful of people that got this batch of test sounds in their email, these sounds never saw the light of day. They are highly specialized so reusing is probably not much of an option. Thus, I’m posting them here for you to check out. If nothing else, it should be (slightly?) interesting to hear an entirely realized set of sounds created without any images or references.

The direction:

Organic matter gives way to metallic contructs. Think: trees creaks and liquid bubbling to create high tech metal machinery. Also… we need big footsteps. And servos.

The product:

“Organic Robot Transformation 1”
iPhone or iPad? click here

“Organic Robot Transformation 2”
iPhone or iPad? click here

“Organic Robot Servos”
iPhone or iPad? click here

“Organic Robot Walk Cycle”
iPhone or iPad? click here

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

This week’s image comes from the futuristicky.

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.

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 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

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.