I'm coming to the end of my trimester at uni now and there are still a couple of things I haven't done yet, but have wanted to do in my time at uni. Amongst my love for writing and recording music I have also discovered a taste for post-production in the last year, and really wanted to dip my toes into making some audio assets for other forms of media. So when my good friend and usual collaborator Mike told me that a design student had approached him about making some sounds for a map he had made, I put my hand up straight away. The request was simple, he wanted some background sounds for his map, but unfortunately simple requests often leave you with little direction, and that's where this journey of discovery started.
After my chat with Mike about taking on this project we organised a meeting with our "client" to see what this map looked and felt like. He told us that he based it off of a map from Battlefield and sent us some pictures to show us a little bit of where he got the inspiration.
The idea is that the city is based in Germany has been abandoned during the second world war, so my initial thought was that there wouldn't be much going on in a city that has nobody in it so I had some trouble figuring out what sort of sounds we might actually need. That's where procrastination actually came in handy! I've been playing a game called Metro 2033 recently and it's based in Russia after a nuclear war so the whole city has been abandoned and has a similar vibe to what we were looking for. There's a lot of musical elements laid into this, with the light guitars over the top, so when I should this to Mike his thoughts were that we add some guitars over the top of our would be atmospheric sounds.
He seemed confident in his direction so I left the background and ambient music mostly up to him. After recording a really dodgy minute worth of wind in his backyard with my H4n Zoom recorder, we sat down to see what where we could start. I loaded the recording we had just done into Pro Tools and immediately noticed that horrible rumbling you get when you don't have a wind guard on your mic. I decided we make due with what we had and took out a fair chunk of the low end in our wind recording, this alleviated that annoying rumbling but Mike made mention that it just sounded like rain after all the low end was taken out. I figured some reverb might be in order so I loaded up Space and selected an ambient reverb that was titled "Nuclear Silo" and ended up turned it into an interesting, washy and distant ambient sound, then decided to add some of the low end back in to see if it sounded any different. What I discovered was that the reverb turned the nasty, rumbling low end into some almost metallic rumbles and whines that fit perfectly with our theme of an abandoned, mid-war city. I left Mike to add to our new ambient sound and started on some foley work.
When we were checking out our clients map I noticed that there was something missing that I would expect as part of a soundscape, the footsteps. It almost felt like you were gliding around the map rather than walking, and seeing as our instructions were to "do what we thought was best" I decided I needed footsteps.
I've seen foley sound done before and had a general idea of how I would achieve the sounds of walking on gravel, brick and metal. There doesn't seem to be one right way of doing foley sound and so, rather than spending time researching, I settled on experimenting. I hadn't picked the best day for recording outside as it was blowing a gale and I knew I'd get that nasty rumble from the wind in my recordings. Inside was obviously the best place to record, so rather than trying to do something with the gravel outside, I took some pebbles and rocks from my garden and piled them up in a storage container. The storage container was admittedly too big so instead of filling it all the way up I just created a thick mound of rocks in the middle. Because I obviously couldn't walk on such a small area without rocking the container and getting unnecessary noise, I put my hand in a shoe and simulated walking on the gravel while holding my Zoom recorder in my other hand, facing directly at the sound source. Next was the sound for walking on bricks, and so I did the same thing with two bricks.
I found myself searching around my house for something big and metal to record my final set of footsteps, and just as I was about to give up I noticed that our outdoor chairs had big, thick, metal bases. Using my newly discovered technique, I produced some pretty nice sounding metal footsteps. I honestly wasn't expecting to get such rich sounds from my Zoom recorder, but even without any EQ, compression, or any kind of processing for that matter, the footsteps sounded full and natural.
It's not that easy to simulate a steady paced walk with one hand in a shoe and the other holding a microphone, so I needed to do some editing to make it sound a bit more natural. Our client was again being vague about how he wanted these footsteps to sound or how he would implement them into the game, even after I suggested that just having a loop of the footsteps I had created would sound annoying and unnatural. So I asked a friend of mine, who is a game designer, how he would go about putting footsteps into a game, and he suggested that a loop would work, but having singular footsteps sounds that you could sync up to the frame-rate within the game engine and then randomise to not sound so repetitive, would be the best option. However, I wasn't sure whether our design student would be able to pull this off as he wasn't clear about his limitations, so I stuck with making a 10 second long loop of the footsteps, at a pace and rhythm that I found most natural.
I still don't like the idea that they are loops but here are the results;
I think over all I'e learned a lot about sound design during this process, and even more about the importance of having clear communication between myself and the client. If the client is unsure of what outcome they want, it makes it harder to produce something entirely appropriate for their needs. However I think I've also learnt that being even a little bit versed in how their side of the audio will work, certainly assists with creating something that fits both practically and aesthetically. In regards to way things were recorded and my process, I would say that the space I had available for recording was not ideal, especially for the outdoor wind recordings, but the end result is definitely satisfactory. When I next try to do some foley work I think I would like to be in a proper recording environment with different microphones to see if I can achieve a different result. While the mic and technique I used was effective for recording footsteps, having mic stands and possibly someone to help with recording would allow me to use both hands to create sounds and may present better conditions to make different sounds. The outdoor recordings didn't at all go to plan, however we were able to overcome the lack of quality in our recordings by kind of almost "over-processing" them so that they sound completely different to the original recording. I think if I was to do outdoor recordings again I would definitely need to invest in a wind shield, and possibly some time into researching the best possible way to capture the sound I am aiming for.
Over all this was a good experience and I enjoyed every minute of it; I can't wait to work on more post-production and foley sound.