Asbjoern Andersen


Sound designer David Farmer has worked on a number of blockbusters such as the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, King Kong, Underworld Awakening, Cowboys and Aliens, God of War 2 & 3 and many more – and in this special A Sound Effect Q&A, he shares his approach to creature sound design. Read on for his thoughts on sources, tools and his personal favorite creature sound designs:
Hi David, what’s the first thing you do when you’re tasked with designing the sounds for a creature?

I find out if they need to speak most importantly, which fortunately most don’t. Right after that, how many different types of creatures are they, and how much screen time do they each have. Sometimes you have to define what is used to make a creature based on how much source you can come up with, where budget and time can be limiting factors. Also vital are what do they look like and what size are they? What is their role in the story? Are they friend or foe?
 

How do you source sounds for creature design – and what are some of the sources you recommend?

There are a handful of staple sounds that we generally find ourselves using, like tigers and lions. They are overused, and at the same time hard to overuse. They both provide a size and ragged aggressiveness that are just hard to find elsewhere. What they tend to lack though is that tonal projected bellow that gives a creature a distinct “voice”.

Pigs and dogs are also great bases.
 

What’s important to listen for in the source sounds?

That central “voice” can be pretty elusive. There have been creatures over the years that re-defined this. I didn’t make either of these, but Chewbacca’s cry, and the T-Rex roar from Jurassic Park, really raised the bar when it comes to creatures. From what I’ve been told, the defining bellow of the T-Rex roar came from a single baby elephant sound, that only happened once.

You might just find that signature sound in a place you weren’t looking for it.

So when listening through sounds, it’s important to listen for parts that might stand out. They may be quite short, but you might just find that signature sound in a place you weren’t looking for it.
 

Other than vocalizations, what are some of the other sound components you consider when designing the sound of a creature?

The larger elements are what gets the most attention, but breaths, lip smacks, and smaller expressive pieces can be the real threads that stitch a creature together. No pun intended, these bits really breathe life into the final result.

For me personally, Smaug, particularly in “The Desolation of Smaug” has been my favorite creature I’ve ever done. And I’m not talking about the big action sequences, but rather the more subtle dialog scenes between Smaug and Bilbo.

For me personally, Smaug, particularly in “The Desolation of Smaug” has been my favorite creature I’ve ever done.

The most important part of that treatment was to take Benedict’s voice and make it sound like that was an actual dragon in the room speaking. Making it sound large but natural and authentic was the trick. So first I got all the dialog lines processed in place and what I determined to be believable. Then it was time to add other elements between Smaug’s lines to tie it all together. Those were things like alligator growls, but also some breaths and hisses that came from Benedict, and myself, vocoded with alligators that had hints of both human and alligator. This kept him alive both on and off-screen, and gave the spoken voice a place to come from, as well as go to.

Video Thumbnail

The trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, featuring David Farmer’s sound design. Meet Smaug around the 2-minute mark


 

How do you make your creature sounds expressive? And how do you come up with a creature’s ‘language’, to give the impression it’s actually communicating?

Expression and communication are very time-consuming aspects. Projects really have to allow the designer extra time if they want creatures that are really expressive. Snarls and growls are much easier to come up with. It takes a lot of listening through animal recordings to find those little bits that will work as expression. It’s always best to have a sound that works well without having to manipulate it too much. But there are some things you can do to help things along, mostly to do with pitching. Samplers work well for performing pitch moves, but they can be pretty tedious to get sounds in and out of. Plugins like Waves Soundshifter Graphic, and Serato’s Pitch N’ Time can be used to add more performance.
 


Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
  • Animals & Creatures Amazon Jungle Play Track 49 sounds included, 357 mins total From: $95 From: $66.50

    Amazon Jungle is a collection of unique ambiences recorded in the Amazon rainforest on the border between Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. The library was recorded during the rainy season when birds are vocal and humidity is at its highest. These recordings feature species such as the Screaming Piha, Toucans, Howler Monkeys, Trogons, Tinamous, Owls, very vocal Bamboo Rats and a multitude of insects and frogs.

    30 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576537199
  • Destruction & Impact Just Impacts Bundle Play Track 1434+ sounds included $183 $146.40

    This bundle includes these libraries from the popular Just Impact series:

    Just Impacts – Simple
    Just Impacts – Processed
    Just Impacts – Designed
    Just Impacts – Extension I
    Just Impacts – Extension II

    – at a great discount!

    20 %
    OFF
    Add to cart
  • Military TANK T-44 Play Track $149

    Tank T-44: The great hulking mass that would spell doom for the Red Army’s enemies has been captured in all its glory trudging along, with every turn of its metal treads and gears recorded masterfully.

    The sound capture equipment used were best-in-breed Neumann U87 and Schoeps M4 microphones, and the tank’s authoritative rumbles and clangs were recorded from various positions, and at various speeds as the treads grip the ground and transfer the power of its mighty engine, transmission, and parts. There are also stereo recordings for the tank’s engine and the tank’s exhaust pipe.

    We at Flysound have dusted off the cobwebs and taken this 30 tonne beast for several victory laps to record its belligerent brilliance. The T-44: one of the great patriotic tanks! In a time when action productions are all to often devolving into the fake and unrealistic, this sound package is an authentic antidote of epic proportions. Tank you!

    Add to cart
  • DESCRIPTION:

    Here you can find 61 HD quad surround ambiences of the wild North European nature. They were recorded during a two-week recording trip on foot and by rowing boat in the hot July of 2018 at the heart of the national park in Karelia, North-Western Russia. Spacious, transparent, immersive and absolutely free from any technogenic and anthropogenic sounds. Still air and wind through grass or trees. Birds and insects from single and sparse at the cloudy morning to dense and busy at the hot sunny noon, a mosquito chorus at dawn and ear-piercing grasshoppers at sunset. Distant thunder rolls and disturbed Arctic Loon, huge old trees creaking and grumbling in the wind.

    10 % of the library’s revenue goes to nature preserves and animal shelters.

    Add to cart
  • Ambisonics Vintage Trams Play Track 46 sounds included $30 $20

    Vintage Trams: passes and rides from a number of perspectives.

    The bygone sounds of rattly old trams, passing in the street: the rumble of the metal wheels on the tracks, the sound of the pickup rods on the overhead wires, the clang of the bell and the voice of the conductor, all of these are here for your delight. Starts and stops, rides and passes, all lovingly collected in First Order Ambisonic surround and collated in FuMa & ambiX orders and weighting. Full Soundminer metadata and Excel Spreadsheet included.

    And there’s more! A bonus collection of sounds in stereo from my extensive archive, with a ride on a San Francisco cable car, more vintage trams and a series of recordings of a Trolley Bus, an electrically powered bus running form overhead cables, but so quiet in operation, it was known as ‘the silent killer’ as pedestrians tended not to be aware when it was approaching.

    33 %
    OFF
    Ends 1577228399
    Add to cart


Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

If a creature REALLY has to communicate distinctly, it often has to have elements of a human actor in it to get that expression. Most Sound Designers I know that do a lot of creature work, perform a lot of material themselves. If the budget allows, there are several voice actors around that can do some pretty amazing things with their voices. But since the budget doesn’t always allow this, I keep a microphone handy in the studio so I can record something new and specific quickly.
 

ARVE Error: The video is likely no longer available. (The API endpoint returned a 404 error)

Here’s Benedict Cumberbatch delivering the mo-cap performance for the dragon Smaug


 
 

Creature sound design – further reading & resources:

Want to know more about creature sound design? Here are some more resources to explore:

Reading:
Emotional Beings – A Creature Sound Design Discussion (Beau A. Jimenez)
Creature sound design tutorial (Daan Hendriks)
A Modular Creature Sound Design System (Varun Nair)
Creature Sound Design (Darren Blondin)

Resources:
Animal and Creature Sound Effects – raw and designed
Dehumaniser

 

Any processing tips for creature sound design? And let’s say someone wants to do some terrifying monster sounds – how would you recommend they go about that?

Like most things, there is no single way to do it. I switch up my approach all the time, because it’s hard to keep it fresh doing the same thing again and again, especially with what is really limited sources when it comes down to it.

I switch up my approach all the time, because it’s hard to keep it fresh doing the same thing again and again

Compression and saturation are both great for adding aggressiveness and size, but both contribute to a sound becoming “noisy” as well. You have to be careful with the noise factor, especially if the scene is sonically busy. I like to push processing too far, then pull it back a little. The most common note I still get, even after all these years, is “it doesn’t sound big enough”.
So my first suggestion is probably to make it bigger than you think you need to, because then it will “almost” be big enough. :)

A big thanks to David Farmer for these insights on creature sound design!
 

Please share this:


 


 
 
THE WORLD’S EASIEST WAY TO GET INDEPENDENT SOUND EFFECTS:
 
A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog
from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement
- a few highlights:
  • Environments Historical Houses & Barns Play Track 5000 sounds included, 604 mins total $170

    This is a collection of location foley sounds (anything we could find that makes sound) recorded over 3-year period in authentic historical houses and barns.

    This includes 1700s peasant village houses, 1700s manor, 1850s farm, 1900s manor and 1930s cottage. These are recorded for film projects so they have the right cinematic feel, dynamic and variation.

    The houses were full of period props, so the recordings are rich and have lots of details that take you to the right time and feel.

    The library weighs in at more than 20 GB total, and features 5000+ sounds & 10 hours of recordings in 347 files.

    Highlights:

    • Many are long takes (8+ minutes) with lots of performance variations
    • The stereo recordings have often one channel as close-up mic and other as distant / room mic.
    • All recordings are 96khz 24bit with metadata.
    • We used the best sounding equipment – sound devices recorders (744, 702, mixpre), Sennheiser mkh 8040,  mkh416 and DPA 4006a microphones.
    Add to cart
  • City Life Town Winds Play Track 34 sounds included $25

    From winds rushing through empty streets to winds whistling and whipping across a marina, “Town Winds” offers a broad spectrum of wind ambiences in urban environments.

    This library includes the sounds of wind blowing through flagpoles, strong wind gusts at a railway station, and wind whirling around a backyard. There are recordings of clattering masts, fluttering plastic, rattling fences, and much more.

    Taken in very calm spaces, these recordings have minimal traffic bleed and are nearly bird free. Recorded with a Shoeps MK4/MK8 MS, paired with a Sound Devices 702 recorder.

    Whether you’re designing a stormy scene in a city or a suburban environment, this is the library for you.

    Locations captured:
    Empty streets, parking lots, railway stations, school, rural street, marina, harbor, lighthouse, athletics field, backyard, town square

    Add to cart
  • City Life Diffuse City Play Track 116+ sounds included, 752 mins total $75

    Diffuse City is the unique urban ambience sound effects library you didn’t know you were missing. It captures the urban environment in its many forms – all based around the idea of diffuse ambience.

    The Diffuse City library is purpose-built for the times an environment needs to be felt, but not be distracting.

    Every track in Diffuse City was recorded with some sort of real life “filter” in mind; be it distance, elevation, time of day, physical material – Anything to provide the feeling of city life with out the specificity of many urban ambience libraries. No distracting close car pass-bys or people talking; only great natural ambience beds.

    Diffuse City was recorded in big cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural settings over a span of two years. It was largely recorded over very late nights, when very few people we’re around. Occasionally, however, a car would pass by… a gun would go off… While these were edited out of the recordings, they are included as “extras” in the library. Perfect for adding some flavor to a moment that’s authentic to the environment it was recorded in.

    Metadata – and markers:

    In addition to thorough metadata, each ambience in Diffuse City is embedded with markers highlighting unique moments that aren’t easily visible in a waveform. Software like Soundminer v4.5 and Reaper can display these markers, making it easy to identify distinct sonic moments in an otherwise nondescript waveform.

    reaper-markers-example

    Markers in Reaper

    There are 10 areas of focus in Diffuse City:

    Elevated City • Distant Highways • Underground City • Distant City • Under Bridges • City Rumble • Empty Parking Lots • Alleys • Industrial • Window Contacts

    Hear examples and learn more about each one below

    Add to cart
Explore the full, unique collection here
 
   
FOLLOW OR SUBSCRIBE FOR THE LATEST IN FANTASTIC SOUND:
 
                              
 
GET THE MUCH-LOVED A SOUND EFFECT NEWSLETTER:
 
The A Sound Effect newsletter gets you a wealth of exclusive stories and insights
+ free sounds with every issue:
 
Subscribe here for free SFX with every issue

One thought on “Creature Sound Design Insights from David Farmer, sound designer on The Hobbit & LOTR

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.