He gained access to an abandoned warehouse, and he sure made the most of that, recording lots of weapons in lots of different indoor locations. Here’s the story behind the making of a weapons library that sent the ceiling tiles jumping:
Hi Steve, welcome to A Sound Effect – please introduce yourself:
Hi! I’m a freelance Audio Director, Sound Designer and Recordist. I have my own company called Audiobeast, I’m based at Pinewood Studios in Shepperton and I work on games and films for Pinewood and all sorts of other clients. Previously I was at Splash Damage where I was Head of Audio on Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Dirty Bomb and the multiplayer half of Batman: Arkham Origins.
What’s The London Warehouse Firearms library all about?
It’s a library of high quality recordings of guns in various interior spaces, created for sound designers and editors in the games, film and tv industry. I know these sort of recordings are hard to get – and I’m sometimes asked to help people get them – so I thought I’d sort out a library.
How did you come up with the idea of recording an indoor firearms library? And what was your approach and recording setup for the library?
While working at Splash Damage I got the chance to do quite a lot of weapon recording and sound design, I did almost all the guns for Gears of War: UE and Dirty Bomb for example. I wanted those guns to be unique with lots of character and – especially in the case of Gears of War – they had to be huge-sounding, they needed to be the biggest-sounding/feeling guns of any franchise.
I tried worldizing stuff in various environments and that worked to an extent, but you can’t beat actually firing a weapon in a space
To date I’ve done around a dozen gun recording sessions including over 60 guns, anti tank missiles, grenades and other things that go bang, but they were mostly outdoors. There isn’t much library material out there for indoor weapons and the stuff that exists has been used a lot. I tried worldizing stuff in various environments and that worked to an extent, but you can’t beat actually firing a weapon in a space – the blast just pushes so much air. So I had the idea of making an affordable library of all the sort of interior weapon recordings that I would find useful, massive warehouses, offices, stairwell etc, common environments for shooters. I may follow this up with more spaces in the future.
Examples from The London Warehouse Firearms library
I’ve refined my approach for recording weapons through trial and error, experimentation and discussion with friends at DICE and other studios. I’ve documented some previous sessions on my blog where I have videos showing what mics have worked, where they were positioned, and what didn’t work. This is to help people who want to do a weapons session and don’t really know where to start, but experimentation is key. If you were to summarise my approach, and this is an over-simplification really, but you can roughly work out where your mics should be positioned depending on the SPL ratings and work from there with a variety of shotguns, cardoids, omnis and other mics.
What weapons did you record for the library?
Just a few carefully selected weapons – Steyr .50 cal sniper rifle, Browning M2 .50 cal machine gun, M1911 pistol, H&K 416 assault rifle, Remington 870 pump action shotgun and a Brown Bess black powder musket.
I have lots of recordings of weapons fired outdoors where it’s possible to trim the tail in order to get a fairly neutral initial gunshot, and lots of sound designers I talk to have lots of that material too, so what myself and other people seem to need is spaces. Firing a few different type/calibre weapons in various spaces to capture different tails. Switching or blending that content in a game engine or in a scene of a film is much more realistic and characterful than using reverbs. When you listen to Dirty Bomb, Battlefield or Star Citizen’s FPS module, you can hear this sort of technique working in real time. When films do gun sound design well a lot of it comes from using recordings from different distances and perspectives, to sell the space and the threat/exchange of fire.
What locations did you record in – and how did you find those locations?
I was tipped off about an empty warehouse in an industrial complex in the outskirts of London, and it looked perfect for what I wanted. Lots of different spaces in one complex, we would be able to move the setup several times in one day to capture as many spaces as possible. There were no houses or busy shopping streets nearby, so recording on the weekend meant the area was very quiet.
I can imagine safety being a concern when making a library like this. How did you handle that?
Considering the current global climate and the use of firearms, it means that filming or recording them is about being careful and respectful. I work with very safety conscious armourers who handle the weapons, and I’ve built up a relationship with the Metropolitan Police so that if they get a call about hearing gunshots it can be checked while they’re on the phone and they can be reassured that authorised sound recording is taking place and nothing bad is happening. A lot of people don’t realise you can record firearms in the UK and assume you have to go abroad to do it, but anyone can organise this sort of recording session as long as you carefully follow a few clear steps, I’m happy to give advice to anyone who wants to organise their own session.
Weapons fired in the large and medium warehouse spaces:
• Browning M2 .50 Machine Gun
• Steyr HS .50 M1 Sniper Rifle
• H&K 416 5.56 Assault Rifle
• Remington 870 12g Pump Action Shotgun
• Brown Bess Black Powder Musket
• Colt M1911 .45 ACP Pistol
Weapons fired in the stairwell, office and small room spaces:
• H&K 416 5.56 Assault Rifle
• Colt M1911 .45 ACP Pistol
What was it like when the recordings took place?
You don’t realise how much dust there is in a building until you shoot a .50 cal sniper rifle in there, and then you find out! Ceiling tiles were jumping, lights were shaking and thick clouds of dust came from everywhere limiting visibility and the amount of time we could do a take for.
Ceiling tiles were jumping, lights were shaking and thick clouds of dust came from everywhere
You feel the shockwave in your chest from the Steyr more than a lot of guns, even a few metres away, its hard to overstate just how extremely powerful it is. While the DPA4062 is my favourite mic for strapping to a gun for its unique capacity to handle very high spl, the Steyr .50 cal sniper rifle is just too loud for it, that’s the only gun from the session where I couldn’t attach the 4062, well I did, and the recordings weren’t useable haha. On the other hand I was surprised that the 4062 would handle the black powder musket without getting melted or singed, if you look at the slow motion video of the musket firing you can see the 4062 cable leading right up to the where the hammer is. It’s a pretty hardcore little mic and get’s you right up close to the firing mechanism, a bit like being in the gun.
‘Ceiling tiles were jumping, lights were shaking’, – Steve Whetman, recording weapon SFX
What are some of your favorite sounds in the library?
The stairwell was a bit of a surprise, I’ve worldized gun sounds on stairs before but this was something else, massive pulsating swells of bass and metallic ringing, with many of the mics at the edge of the SPL they’re able to capture.
Any other questions about the library, you’re very welcome to leave a comment below.
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