December 23, 2019

Sound Effects for Beginners | Recording Arts

Dave Willis-Lorenz, a Recording Arts instructor here at F.I.R.S.T. Institute, walks you through the process of recording sound effects for your own video games and movies.

In this video, Dave uses a variety of found objects to make a tactile, crunchy sound effect to represent a football tackle. But first, he breaks down the different elements of sound and what makes a sound effect appealing in the first place.


Designing Sound FX

A sound is typically divided into low, mid, and high frequency layers. Low frequencies contain the muffled, heavy, bassy portion of the sound.

Mid frequencies are the “meat” of the sound. They are typically more detailed and higher in the mix than the other two layers. In this football tackle example, the mid frequency is the “crunch” of the football pads colliding.

High frequencies result in the “slap”, or “sting” portion of the sound. You could describe this part of the sound as the breaking of a bone, or two helmets colliding.


Finding Props

Dave’s favorite part of the sound design process is finding what objects, or props, he’s going to use to make the sounds.

For the low frequencies, Dave wraps some sandbags in a blanket and drops them on the floor. For the mids, he uses a collection of plastic objects and toys, and smashes them together in a milk crate. Finally, in an inspired choice, Dave breaks some dry ramen noodles to record his high frequencies – making a bit of a mess in the process.


Recording Equipment

Dave uses a Rode NTG-4 as his microphone. The signal is fed into a MixPre-3, which is then run into a standard Mac desktop computer running ProTools. Dave’s a professional, so his equipment is, too – but he stresses that money is not a limiting factor when it comes to designing sounds. You don’t need top of the line equipment to record great sound effects.


Using ProTools

Dave makes three separate audio tracks for the three frequency layers. He imports the video reference into the recording program so that he can sync his recordings with the visual, and sets the program to loop record, so he can perform multiple takes without stopping.

Once he’s done recording multiple takes for all three layers, Dave sorts through the audio clips to find the best ones. It’s important to grab multiple takes, in case the sound is recorded improperly or the timing is off.

In some cases, Dave combines multiple takes of the same sound to create a new, hybridized sound effect. Using techniques like this and thinking outside the box is key in creating unique effects!


Using EQ

EQ, or equalization, is the process of boosting or mitigating certain frequencies within a sound. For instance, Dave uses a high-pass filter on his high frequency layer, allowing only the “high” frequencies to “pass” through.

Similarly, he uses a low-pass filter on his low frequencies. This ensures that only the frequencies he wants are present, and any excess noises are eliminated.


The Final Product

After EQ, Dave reviews his work. Thanks to his sound design, the silent clip of the two football players colliding has a meaty impact.

Dave teaches lessons like this one with even more depth at our campus in Orlando, Florida. Our Recording Arts & Show Production program is a thorough 11-month course designed to offer students practical, hands-on experience in the industry of commercial sound.