Starship Troopers: Designing Assets

Hey everyone, here’s the big blog post on how I’ve designed my sound assets that you’ve been waiting for! I’m aware that I haven’t done a blog in almost a week, so hopefully this makes up for it!

The assets that I have designed for this project are:

  • Head Splat (being shot)
  • Buzzer (start of the course)
  • Reload
  • Laser
  • 3x Machine Gun sounds

 

Head Splat

Head Splat

I designed the head splat sound by using the sample of oranges that I recorded in the first week of the project. I separated the tail and the transient of the sample in case I wanted to warp (lengthen) the tail at a later point to exaggerate the impact. I partly got the idea to separate transient and tail from the video in the Machine Gun section with Harry Cohen, where he and Wylie Stateman talk about producing handgun sound effects. While Harry and Wylie are talking about transients, bodies and tails in the context of location recording, I found it useful to apply this methodology in the editing and mixing phase of my sound design. It lets me compress the transient while keeping the tail of the clip fairly organic, and also let me EQ the transient and the tail separately. This was important because I could get some of the sound of the hammer making contact with the stepping stone out of the transient while retaining those frequencies in the tail, and it also let me boost some of the high frequency content in the tail without making the transient too obnoxious. I then added a little bit of reverb to the tail, which gave it a little more depth.

Buzzer

Buzzer

The buzzer sound was easier, as it is just one constant sound from the electric shaver I recorded. For this, I applied a high-pass filter at around 80hz, a low-pass filter at around 7khz, and took out some frequencies in the low-mid register. This gave the buzzer a more refined area to operate in, namely the high frequency register, though I did remove some of the high frequencies from the reverb that I applied through an auxiliary track.

As the feedback that I have received so far has suggested, I may have approached this the wrong way, as it still sounds very sharp rather than the dull sound that would come through a megaphone or loudspeaker like in the clip. I plan to resolve this in the second pass of the project next week.

Reload

Reload

The reload sound was the easiest to create, as all I had to do was align the small stapler sample with the sample of me moving my keys, car remote, and cigarette lighter around in my pocket. I then compressed it through an aux track to bring up the quieter parts of both samples to make it a little chunkier. I’m happy with this sound and it probably won’t see much alteration between now and the end of the project next week.

Laser

Laser

I spent a lot of time deliberating over how to use EQ with my sample of the slinky being hit, as it provided many stylistic choices to work with as the original sample provided a wide range of frequencies. The main thing that I wanted to eliminate was the metallic buzz of the coils colliding, for which I applied a narrow band EQ which took out a lot of the ~2.5khz area. This worked quite successfully. in order to smooth out the sound, I also applied a high-pass filter at around 415hz and a low-pass filter just above 2.5khz so that I still got some of the high frequency content.

I also ran the slinky sample through an aux track to give it a slight reverb, but not enough to muddy the tracks in the placement phase, which will be a topic for my next blog. Finally I added a final layer of EQ, a pitch shift, and a compressor to the resulting sound. EQing post-reverb allowed me to raise some of the resonance of the sound without reintroducing the buzz of the coils that were present earlier.

The pitch shift I used shifted the sample down by 5 semitones to give the sample a more serious tone, as these lasers were being fired in a military setting as opposed to a game of recreational laser tag that you might partake in on the weekend. The last stage to this final track was a compressor, which I used to bring up amplitude of the tail of the track that I had created with reverb.

Machine Gun

I could probably do a whole other blog about just the machine gun sounds, but I will try and keep this as concise as I can, and as such I will explain how I set up my channels of different samples first, before I delve into my choices of which combinations of channels I used to create each different machine gun sound.

As you will see for each of the examples below, I had a setup of 7 different tracks for my samples, with an aux for each low, mid, and high varieties of samples. This is not accurate in a frequency sense, but relative to the overall sound of the machine guns. I also had an aux track that I used to compress my party popper samples. Using this method, I was able to organise each section of my sound a lot more easily than simply mixing 7 different tracks. I got this methodology from a combination of this video that explains the composition of machine guns in the Battlefield game franchise, as well as this video with one of the original sound designers from Starship Troopers, Harry Cohen:


The following is a gallery of the configurations I used to create the three different machine gun sounds. I made three variants of the machine gun sound as there are variations of the machine gun sound in the original clip depending on the context or tone of the camera shot.

Note: The order in which plugins are placed makes a world of difference to the end result. For example in my PPRg track I made sure to place the pitch plugin early in the signal chain in order to get the right overall tone, and then used EQ as a way to correct any issues in the harmonics. If I did this in the reverse order then I would be fixing problems with EQ at the original pitch, but other problems would arise from changing its pitch. Even the importance of my SPAN (spectrum analyser) plugin is crucial in giving me the correct information, and as you can see on my ChainRtl track, I placed a SPAN plugin both pre-EQ and post-EQ to observe the change in frequencies that I was making. This is especially important in larger processing chains as any number of plugins could be making the difference to your frequency spectrum and by changing the place in the signal chain you can use the SPAN plugin to troubleshoot your mix.

The 7 different audio samples I used were as follows:

  • Cardboard box being hit [Used in all]
  • Piece of leather being shaken [Used in papery and rattly variant]
  • Broken kick pedal [Used in all]
  • Party popper (regular) [Used in papery and rattly variant]
  • Party popper (cone) [Used in boomy variant]
  • Snares brushing against a soft drink can [Used in rattly variant]
  • Chain links brushing against each other between my palms [Used in rattly variant]

You may not recognise all of these samples, as some were recorded in our last, undocumented session in the C24 Studio where we also recorded Vishnu as the voice for Dizzy.

The processing involved in each of these tracks was fairly minimal per track, but made a huge difference when combined, and as such I decided to process them in order of relative tone (lower sounds first, higher sounds last), to slowly build up my collection of refined sounds to combine. This was done mostly just with EQ and compression, however I also pitch-shifted the party popper (regular) sound down one semitone as it was sticking out a little too much when I combined it with other samples.. I then adjusted levels as necessary per sample, and then adjusted the aux track levels until I was happy with the overall product.

Summary

A lot was learnt about layering sounds, and utilising certain elements in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate, such as a piece of leather shaking to muddy up the lower frequency band, as well as how effective my broken kick pedal was when combined with the cardboard box being hit in providing a foundation for a machine gun sound. I’m not so confident that the snare brushing on the soft drink can was really ideal, so I’m waiting to see how this is reflected in feedback. Personally, after listening to it so much it got kind of annoying, even in the background, but I can also see it from the perspective of being an abrasive texture to the rattly machine gun sound and an interesting point of definition. I’m really happy with how my laser and reload sounds turned out, and am looking forward to implementing the feedback on my buzzer and head splat sounds next week to provide an awesome end result.

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