… Dominic Lawrence, sound engineer. It’s not all about the picture you know…
9:00 am (-ish): It’s either the height of nerdyness or a touch of laziness, but my computer is automated to turn on, open up my email, connect to all the necessary servers and start up ProTools on its own, so by the time I’ve turned on TV/monitors and sat down, I’m ready to go. I can’t quite quantify how much time it saves me but its bound to add up, surely…
9.05 am: Checking emails – unless it’s audio related mix notes most of it gets filed away or deleted. Then, bar the odd commercials VO recording (and a lunch time blast of anything guitar-based to erase that episodic theme you’ve heard over & over & over), it’s pretty much Noddy all day. What I get up to in a day pretty much depends on what Noddy gets up to on-screen. So for a recent underwater episode, these are some of things I did:
Obviously its pretty hard to recreate underwater ambiance in a sound studio and unfortunately the Brown Bag studio doesn’t have room for a swimming pool (something to do with desks and edit suites apparently – see how they did the Finding Nemo sound design here). So the low-tech alternative was a friend’s bathtub, an empty water bottle and a cheap microphone (ie. expendable if it all went wrong!) After filling the bath, I put a mic inside the empty bottle, weighed it to the bottom and hoped that it was watertight (i settled for just about…). You can see just how low-tech it was:
Then it was a case of swishing hands/combs/spaghetti/shampoo bottle in the water nearby – the raw sound wasn’t quite right but after some tweaking and processing, it sounded like watery swishes. Here are 3 of the better ones. The metal groaning from the submarine was a creaky door that was slowed down/pitched and pretty much processed to within an inch of its life, as you can hear here.
For treating voices underwater, I set up a trigger on some bubble recordings so that as soon as the characters spoke, the bubbles reacted to their words. Then, using a phaser and some reverse echos, you get that ‘wavey’ water distortion. Noddy was travelling in a submarine cockpit which is all glass, so to treat Noddy’s voice I used 2 layers. The first was a tweaked reverb impulse taken from a fish bowl (try talking into a glass jar and you’ll get the idea). The 2nd layer involved running the voice through a simulated subwoofer and adding a small reverb to it so it sounds very muffled and slightly resonant (like talking to someone through a closed window).
For the propeller sound, I used a mix of 4 samples: 1) A helicopter blade whoosh, 2) Some wind-up toy/rattle type noises, 3) A sample of a small outboard propeller taken from underwater, 4) A drone/low hum noise made from some bass guitar samples. Then I automated the pitch and speed of the samples to go with what the propeller was doing ie. when it slows down, you get big, slow deep whooshes. After some filters and echos, it sounded pretty good. Like the underwater voices, I triggered bubbles and some watery swishes to react to the propeller and used tremolo (with its tempo automated) to create rhythm in the swishes/bubbles so it didn’t become a wishy-washy mess. All this was then mixed in with some ambient effects so everything meshed together nicely. Here is the raw propeller sound, followed by versions processed with effects, then bubbles/swishes and lastly with the ambient effects. The final mixer looked a bit like like this:
My end of day varies really. Depending on deadlines, I could work till 6.30 pm or 6.30 am so when possible I try and leave the easier work till the end of the day and get the creative stuff done when I’m fresh. I’ll often record sounds in the evenings or weekends (eg. the ‘bath-tub sessions’) so its pretty time-consuming and a lot of work for 3 mins screen time! As always, the subtle stuff gets a bit lost under dialog (VO is nearly always king of a pre-school mix) but hey, there’s always the ’sound designers’ cut…..