Starship Troopers: Location Recording

I remember my first experience with Sound Design was in the early 2000s, I went to Movie World on the Gold Coast with my family and we saw the Lethal Weapon sound design presentation. I remember thinking it was so cool how those guys took mostly unrelated sounds and made effects out of them. I didn’t think that almost 15 years later I would be doing the same for my own projects.

On Saturday I gathered materials for sound effects that I required, including a bike helmet, some plywood, staplers, and a range of other things as well. Most of these are recorded in the studio, however to get the right aesthetic sometimes you have to go somewhere that changes the flat sound of your source to something closer to your idea.

Party Poppers – Gunshots

For gunshots I thought it would be interesting to go to my old primary school in Ashgrove, as they have a room under the main building that was mostly concrete, giving a really nice reverb, which is a huge part of an explosion sound. There I recorded the sounds of some party poppers, both regular-shaped ones and cone-shaped ones to see the difference in sound between the sources.

ash state

The location for the recording of the party poppers, which may be used for guns firing.

The following is how I positioned and angled the microphone. The position I was in didn’t change, just the angle. The main reason for this positioning is that there is a main road that runs behind the windows in the picture, so I wanted to face away from it to make the most of the hyper-cardioid pattern of the microphone and isolate my sound source properly. Most of the samples were taken from the centre position, though I tried some off-axis takes as well. The isolation of the sound source worked pretty well, with the only times we had to stop being when a big truck or motorbike drove past.

This is where the sound sources were placed respectively.

I was extremely happy with the recordings I got from under the school. The natural reverb I got was even better than I had originally thought, and should make for some great effects when combined with a little bit of EQ. It turned out that the cone-shaped party poppers provided a bit more of a high frequency sound and took longer for the sound to fade. The regular-shaped party poppers on the other hand provided boomier, shorter sounds. Both have their uses, for example using a higher frequency sound for a starting gun or the boomier sound for a hand gun in a spaghetti western. There’s also the option of layering these samples to give it more definition, as there is a lot that is happening mechanically when a gun is fired. There’s even this short documentary from some sound engineers that worked on Tarantino films going into detail about constructing an awesome gun sound.

Fruit – Head Splatting

For the sound of the head being shot to pieces, I recorded my friend smashing some fruit on stepping stones at my house. I tried recording him pegging the fruit at the stepping stones as well as smashing them with a hammer while they were sitting on the stepping stone. The fruits I recorded were oranges (for a really juicy, squelchy sound), apples (for more of a crack, with a small amount of juiciness), and pineapple halves (for a combination of the two).

The orange sounds were awesome, especially once we had a few of them already smashed with the hammer. We then piled them on top of each other and smashed them together with the hammer which sounded a lot closer to the original in the clip (more organic). The fact that there were multiple sound sources meant that there was more texture to the recording, which you want for a head being shot as a head is obviously a lot more complicated than one orange. As well as the texture from the multiple fruits together, the separate recordings of the apples and pineapples let me add even more definition to my sound design.

This was a little bit of a struggle at times because my neighbours all decided to do their mowing within 15 minutes of each other, but I decided to make use of the disturbance and pointed my mic towards the sound of the mower/leaf-blower/whippersnipper/other garden machinery that was going on, in case I could use it for future projects or assets.

Plywood – Targets being shot

The last thing I recorded was some small rocks hitting a thin piece of plywood that I bought from Bunnings, which I also did in my back yard. This was for the sounds of the targets being shot by bullets. I also recorded the piece of plywood being cracked to layer with the the rocks being thrown. Together I’m confident I can get something I’m happy with for the sound of the targets. To add variation, I will probably be pitching the cracks up or down for different hits.


Overall, I found my first location recording session to be very…. fruitful (I’m sorry, it had to be said). The only thing that I need to record for Sound Design now is something for lasers and the electric shaver for the buzzer at the start of the course. The samples recorded should provide me with a lot of options in the editing phase, and I feel like I’ve made a really good start to this project.