sound design ideas Asbjoern Andersen


Figuring out what works for a given project can be a challenge – and to overcome that, sound designer Barney Oram has devised a system to make the process easier. Here’s his sound design system:


Written by Barney Oram



 

Rule of Thirds is a technique I’ve been developing to foster creative re-iteration in my sound design work. It’s hardly a new approach, per se, but I’ve formalised it as a process and implemented it into my own workflow with great results. The phrase ‘Rule of Thirds’ is taken directly from photography, a technique by which the photographer uses a grid when framing photos to create a cohesive and pleasing image. I’m really just stealing the name – my approach doesn’t particularly bear resemblance to the photographic technique. The division of thirds is also fairly arbitrary for my approach, as I’ll go on to explain, but I found it to be a number I was most comfortable with.

As a sound designer, possibly the most important thing to learn is taste – a taste for what ‘works’

As a sound designer, I think possibly the most important thing to learn is taste – a taste for what ‘works’. The ability to understand aesthetic (be it defined by visuals, by direction, or by yourself) and practically apply that understanding in a proficient way is, in my opinion, what produces cohesive and impressive sound design. Some sound designers are inherently good at this – many are still figuring it out. I personally feel like I am still grappling with this concept, and I developed the Rule of Thirds approach out of the need to practice aesthetic understanding and aesthetic exploration in an easy way.

When initially approaching a sound design task, it can often be difficult, if not impossible, to design the perfect sound on the first try. With practice, it can become easier to get closer to initial perfection. Personally, I will almost never use the first sound I make. I have previously fallen into the trap of being content with the first sound I design, but I have slowly realised that I can miss potential to make the sound even cooler, by settling on my initial attempt, and not exploring everything a sound has to ‘offer’. As such, I needed a technique by which I was able to factor quick re-iteration into my workflow on the first attempt at creating a sound.

So, the Rule of Thirds approach is simply this; three steps of iteration for each sound you design.
Let’s unpack that with a conceptual example – this technique will work with any sound you need to create; say a rockfall, a reload, a magic attack, an explosion – even an ambience – anything.
 

 

Let’s use a magic attack, for a fantasy game or film, as our subject. Perhaps you may have an animation, or visuals, to design to – or maybe you are designing blind. Either way, you’ll jump into your DAW, and begin to craft a sound. Maybe you could pull in some organic elements, rocks, whooshes, synth textures, and squash them together to create your first attempt. It isn’t bad – it hits the timings you need it to, it communicates the ‘magic’ aesthetic, and performs as a functional sound. You know it can be better, but you don’t know how to make it better.

Choose a stimulus to work from and iterate with that in mind

This is where we can use the Rule of Thirds – you’ve already done a third of the technique – the first iteration. Now, you will re-design the sound, two more times, with a brand new approach each time. I recommend you choose a stimulus to work from – I usually use a word – and iterate with that in mind. Think of it as a trick to stimulate inspiration.

Take a concept like wide. You’re going to re-work or re-design your magic attack with wide in mind. Instantly, that provokes ideas – you could make more use of panning; you could use chorus effects to add to the width; you could add some subtle movement in the sound by automating an element to pan across the stereo field; you could avoid occupying the central channel for your core elements altogether; or you could duplicate your entire sound, pan hard left and right, and offset the timings by half a second to create a huge, wide sound.

It doesn’t have to be wide – it could be short, long, small, muffled, backward, thin, red, blue, obtuse, organic, quirky, comical, chunky, gritty, smooth, rocky, hot, cold, dense, wet, tonal, hollow, flexible, ornate… anything. Take a descriptive word, be it something related to your target aesthetic – or not – and re-work or re-design with it in mind.

Instantly, your sound has gone in a new direction, and you’ve explored a new aesthetic that you almost certainly wouldn’t have entertained had you approached the sound from a surface level analysis

That’s your second iteration, and second step of the Rule of Thirds technique, done. Let’s move onto the third. This time, let’s take a conceptual aesthetic to work with, rather than a descriptive term; steampunk, for example. Initially, there’s a lot of directions that this could be taken, especially considering steampunk and magic are generally not close neighbours, aesthetically. Perhaps you could use some more clicky, mechanical elements in your magic attack sound; you could use Foley elements like leather, or clinking gear, to punctuate your sound; or you could decorate your sound with subtle air or steam release sounds. You could even just use distortion to make the sound a bit more aggressive, a bit gritter.

Instantly, your sound has gone in a new direction, and you’ve explored a new aesthetic that you almost certainly wouldn’t have entertained had you approached the sound from a surface level analysis. If you do it subtly, and cohesively, it won’t seem unusual to the end user – they’ll just hear a cohesive sound and accept it as part of the product’s aesthetic direction. Only you will know that, in order to get to that final interesting sound, you had to follow a slightly unorthodox approach. And again, it doesn’t have to be steampunk. It could be any aesthetic, any genre, that you weave into your sound.
 

 

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

 

Latest releases:  
  • Horror Giant Pinecones Play Track 500+ sounds included, 44 mins total $79

    • In Giant Pinecones, get a visceral collection of scraped and eviscerated pinecones from the gray pine trees of Northern California. Scrape the razor-sharp hooks of the cone petals and hear guttural scrapes crackling with energy. Hear rolling cones popping and fluttering with rich stuttering tones. Hear fully open cone pedals squeaking with woody vocalizations like supernatural animals and hardy crunches filled with organic grit.
    • This library offers you an extensive collection of sounds from a unique organic sound source. Digger pinecone sounds are incredibly soft and intimate in real life, but when recorded from two inches they morph into a unique wooden sound source brimming with powerful glitchy and stuttering textures.

    2% FOR THE ENVIRONMENT & CARBON NEUTRAL:
    • Two percent of the price of this library is donated to an environmental cause, as an “artist royalty” for the planet!
    • Carbon offset credits were purchased to offset my field recording travel for this library.

    KEY FEATURES:
    • Woody vocalizations
    • Rolling, scraping, and stuttering textures
    • Visceral and guttural scrapes
    • Fluttering and popping textures
    • Rich crunches
    • Chalkboard-like squeaks and squeals
    FILE LIST & METADATA:
    • View larger version or Download CSV
    • A spectrogram is included for each audio file. Double click on the photo to enlarge.
    MORE INFO:
    • Read 40+ testimonials for Thomas Rex Beverly Audio
    • Read my Field Recording Mastering Rules and learn more about how these recordings were mastered.
    • Browse the Library Info Master List to compare specs on all my libraries.
    • Browse the Metadata Master List to search my entire catalog.
    • MD5 and SHA 256 Checksums are included for each zip file in my catalog. Use these hashes to check the integrity of your downloaded files.
    GEAR USED:
    • Sennheiser MKH8040 and MKH30 in MS
    • Sound Devices MixPre-6
    Add to cart
  • Recording of the American 2017 Polaris Ranger EV. Powered by an electric utility vehicle’s 48-volt high-efficiency AC-induction motor.


    The American 2017 Polaris Industries Ranger EV sound collection shares 44 sounds in 3.49 gigabytes of audio. It showcases the sound of an electric utility vehicle’s 48-volt high-efficiency AC-induction motor in 4 channels with 2 custom stereo mixes.

    The sound pack includes 4 synchronized takes of onboard driving. 4 channels of audio capture the engine and onboard perspectives, with 2 custom stereo mixes provided. Performances include driving slow and fast, with steady RPMs and ramps, starting, stopping, and more.

    The package includes Pro Tools and Reaper mixing sessions, full professional metadata, and metadata import files in 7 languages.

    Add to cart
  • A crush on music

    Distortion and saturation play a very important role in music production. From subtle, clean and warm tube or tape saturation to the wildest multiband guitar amp effects: FabFilter Saturn 2 delivers.

    Saturn 2 introduces a host of new features such as a redesigned interface with modulation visualization, new subtle saturation and linear phase processing for mastering, many new distortion styles, and more.


    Warmth, harmonics, color and dynamics

    FabFilter Saturn 2 offers a range of different high quality distortion models, inspired by the vintage sound of tubes, tape, transformers and guitar amps. In addition, you get five creative FX distortion styles to mangle your sounds in weird and unexpected ways.

    With its multiband design and per-band feedback, dynamics, drive, tone and modulation options, Saturn 2 will bring a unique flavor to your music.

    Bring your sounds to life

    Add life and depth to your music using the extensive modulation section. By applying subtle modulation to crossover frequencies, dynamics, band levels or tone controls, great warmth and definition can be achieved.

    With all the XLFOs, EGs, XY controllers/sliders, envelope followers and MIDI sources you will ever need, you get practically unlimited modulation possibilities. Creating new modulation connections could not be easier: just drag and drop. And Saturn 2 visualizes all modulation in real-time to show exactly what’s going on.

    FabFilter goodies

    Finally, FabFilter Saturn 2 contains all the usual FabFilter goodies: perfectly tuned knobs, MIDI Learn, Smart Parameter Interpolation for smooth parameter transitions, interface resizing and full screen mode, support for Avid control surfaces, GPU-powered graphics acceleration, extensive help with interactive help hints, SSE optimization, and much more.

    Add to cart
  • Cricket – Junior & Senior is our latest SFX library toolkit, created to cater to cricket specific sounds. We have covered a broad range of specific sounds that differentiate Cricket from other batting sports. Included are sounds for Cricket Gear, Movements, Batting, Bowling, Fielding and Other Miscellaneous sounds.

    17 %
    OFF
    Ends 1590530399
    Add to cart
  • An ice hockey game is an exciting, dynamic and powerful sonic experience. From the thunderous crack of a puck hitting the boards at full speed to the gentle scrape of a stick on the ice, this library contains a complete range of the game’s on ice sounds, all captured with natural reverb in an indoor arena.

    Included are a range of performances of skate, stick, puck, and whistle sounds, as well as rink door opens and closes, and various board, glass, and ice impacts.

    The skate sounds include starts, stops, turns, and pass bys, as well as single steps and scrapes for detailed editing and layering. Stick sounds include different kinds of shots, passes, drops and scrapes, and impacts with other sticks, the boards, and the ice. Puck sounds include impacts with the ice, boards, skates, the goal metal and net, and even goalie pads. Rink sounds include the opening and closing of doors, impacts with the boards and glass, and a goal horn. Two different types of whistles were recorded, with varying durations.

    Each sound effect performance was recorded from multiple perspectives – a stereo ORTF pair of Lewitt LCT 540s microphones, a closer wide XY from an Audio Technica BP4025, and a close mono Schoeps CMC6/MK41 – either stationary or following the action on a boom, depending on the type of sound. The ratio of direct to reverberant sound differs between these perspectives, offering a variety of options when editing to picture.

    Also included are quad-channel room tones from two different ice rinks, and a special onboard recording of a puck, made by taping a Sony PCM-M10 to a puck and sliding it across the surface of the ice.

    The actions were performed at a range of speeds and energy levels, with multiple takes for variety. Please refer to the sound list pdf below for details. Captured at a sampling rate of 96kHz, these recordings contain detailed information above 20kHz, expanding the possibilities for manipulation when slowing and pitching them down.

    30 %
    OFF
    Add to cart


Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

 

Here’s a practical example, with some sounds I’ve designed. I decided to make the sound of a big metal machine – perhaps some kind of hydraulic press in a factory, or maybe even a huge robot’s footsteps. It’s perhaps not the best sound I’ve ever designed, but it communicates the idea – and also could represent an attempted first-pass at a sound design task. I began by making a big, chunky sound – lots of metal elements, some punchy transients, some nice mechanical movements and some servos – arranged them into a rhythmic pattern, and created a couple of extra variations by subtly shifting clip timings. I tried to keep the elements relatively raw, minimal processing was used and I mainly capitalised on some great source. You can hear the resulting sound below.
 

Next, I copied my first sound, and chose a stimulus to re-design it with. I decided to make it tight. So I worked with the original layers, stripping back the overlapping aspects, tightening up my fades, layering in some new elements for more of a rhythmic flow to the sound. I also accentuated the transients a lot more, making them shorter and adding some elements to the initial transient to make it more sharp and harsh. I also shortened the servo sounds, and used pitch to make them feel quicker, smaller and more accurate. I think the resulting design is much tighter than the original – and whilst maintaining some elements, has taken on a new life of its own. You can hear the resulting sound below.
 

Lastly, I decided to pick a conceptual aesthetic to work with. I chose an aesthetic close to my heart – Sci-Fi. Again, I copied my original sound, and took it in a completely different direction. My approach to Sci-Fi sound design currently rests upon modulation, and I used a few of my favourite plugins to warp and bend the elements. I decided to flatten my transients and make it more of a flowing, washy sound, whilst maintaining the rhythm of the original. The result is a spluttering, rubbery Sci-Fi style sound, which would be great to describe an alien or future energy. You can hear the sound below.
 

For me, approaching my sound design in this way has proven to be very helpful. I usually find that creating a sound three times, twice from different mindsets and aesthetic approaches, can yield great results. I think it’s about forcing my brain to consider a sound in a different context, and typically that context can stimulate enough ideas for me to make a sound much more interesting. As I said, three is arbitrary – you could, and should, re-iterate on a sound as many times as you need (or as you have time to) til it’s as close to perfect as it can be.

I hope this is an interesting look at my approach, and I hope it is useful. I’d love to hear how you’ve used it in your own work.
 

Big thanks to Barney Oram for sharing his insights on creative sound design!


 

ABOUT BARNEY ORAM

Barney Oram is a video game sound designer, currently working for Cloud Imperium Games on Star Citizen. He’s passionate about designing sounds, and creating audio experiences that are visceral and exciting. Barney is an active member of the game audio scene in the UK and online, and is a co-host of the Soundbytes Podcast, a monthly podcast focused on games and audio. He can be found on Twitter, and on his personal website.

 

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:
 
 
  • Sci-Fi Advanced Propulsion Play Track 1191 sounds included $99

    ADVANCED PROPULSION is a next-gen sound design toolkit built for creating dynamic sci-fi vehicle engines and passbys. The designed engine sounds are all seamless loops, making them perfect for use with various plug-ins and interactive applications. All raw source material used to design the engines is included, giving you maximum creative flexibility.

    Add to cart
  • Rocky Impacts is a collection of 262 rock & stone impact sound effects.
    Rock impacts, LFEs, Debris, Moving textures and more

    Collection consist of 150 designed sound effects and 112 source sound effects. All sound effects were recorded with Sennheiser MKH8060
    + ATE 208 in mid-side at superb 192KHZ. Recording session took place in a quiet canyon between mountains.

    All SFX have baked-in Soundminer’s meta data.

    Download includes additional 44.1kHz 16Bit version for Unreal Engine.
    RECORDED WITH: Sound Devices MixPre 6 + 2 x Sennheiser MKH8060 + ATE208 (M/S)
    EDITED AND MASTERED WITH: Pro Tools, BOOM ReCenter, iZotope RX, Brusfri, FabFilter, ReFuse, Reaktor

    50 %
    OFF
    Add to cart
  • Need sound effects for your explainer videos? The EXPLNR sounds series is a collection of sfx libraries designed and produced with the classic 2d animated explainer video in mind. These sounds will give quick and useful coverage to the common moves used in this style.

    Vol 1 is an excellent all-around base library that includes whooshes, clicks, pops, swells, ratchets, slides, rips, drags, flicks, crumples, and dings – all custom designed with the playfulness and clean edges required to match the explainer video style.

    To help cover repetitive visual movements, multiple iterations of each sound are included. A host of designed sounds will quickly cover more complex movements.

    The next time you have an explainer video in the house, you know your starting point.

    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Horror Giant Pinecones Play Track 500+ sounds included, 44 mins total $79

    • In Giant Pinecones, get a visceral collection of scraped and eviscerated pinecones from the gray pine trees of Northern California. Scrape the razor-sharp hooks of the cone petals and hear guttural scrapes crackling with energy. Hear rolling cones popping and fluttering with rich stuttering tones. Hear fully open cone pedals squeaking with woody vocalizations like supernatural animals and hardy crunches filled with organic grit.
    • This library offers you an extensive collection of sounds from a unique organic sound source. Digger pinecone sounds are incredibly soft and intimate in real life, but when recorded from two inches they morph into a unique wooden sound source brimming with powerful glitchy and stuttering textures.

    2% FOR THE ENVIRONMENT & CARBON NEUTRAL:
    • Two percent of the price of this library is donated to an environmental cause, as an “artist royalty” for the planet!
    • Carbon offset credits were purchased to offset my field recording travel for this library.

    KEY FEATURES:
    • Woody vocalizations
    • Rolling, scraping, and stuttering textures
    • Visceral and guttural scrapes
    • Fluttering and popping textures
    • Rich crunches
    • Chalkboard-like squeaks and squeals
    FILE LIST & METADATA:
    • View larger version or Download CSV
    • A spectrogram is included for each audio file. Double click on the photo to enlarge.
    MORE INFO:
    • Read 40+ testimonials for Thomas Rex Beverly Audio
    • Read my Field Recording Mastering Rules and learn more about how these recordings were mastered.
    • Browse the Library Info Master List to compare specs on all my libraries.
    • Browse the Metadata Master List to search my entire catalog.
    • MD5 and SHA 256 Checksums are included for each zip file in my catalog. Use these hashes to check the integrity of your downloaded files.
    GEAR USED:
    • Sennheiser MKH8040 and MKH30 in MS
    • Sound Devices MixPre-6
  • Recording of the American 2017 Polaris Ranger EV. Powered by an electric utility vehicle’s 48-volt high-efficiency AC-induction motor.


    The American 2017 Polaris Industries Ranger EV sound collection shares 44 sounds in 3.49 gigabytes of audio. It showcases the sound of an electric utility vehicle’s 48-volt high-efficiency AC-induction motor in 4 channels with 2 custom stereo mixes.

    The sound pack includes 4 synchronized takes of onboard driving. 4 channels of audio capture the engine and onboard perspectives, with 2 custom stereo mixes provided. Performances include driving slow and fast, with steady RPMs and ramps, starting, stopping, and more.

    The package includes Pro Tools and Reaper mixing sessions, full professional metadata, and metadata import files in 7 languages.

  • A crush on music

    Distortion and saturation play a very important role in music production. From subtle, clean and warm tube or tape saturation to the wildest multiband guitar amp effects: FabFilter Saturn 2 delivers.

    Saturn 2 introduces a host of new features such as a redesigned interface with modulation visualization, new subtle saturation and linear phase processing for mastering, many new distortion styles, and more.


    Warmth, harmonics, color and dynamics

    FabFilter Saturn 2 offers a range of different high quality distortion models, inspired by the vintage sound of tubes, tape, transformers and guitar amps. In addition, you get five creative FX distortion styles to mangle your sounds in weird and unexpected ways.

    With its multiband design and per-band feedback, dynamics, drive, tone and modulation options, Saturn 2 will bring a unique flavor to your music.

    Bring your sounds to life

    Add life and depth to your music using the extensive modulation section. By applying subtle modulation to crossover frequencies, dynamics, band levels or tone controls, great warmth and definition can be achieved.

    With all the XLFOs, EGs, XY controllers/sliders, envelope followers and MIDI sources you will ever need, you get practically unlimited modulation possibilities. Creating new modulation connections could not be easier: just drag and drop. And Saturn 2 visualizes all modulation in real-time to show exactly what’s going on.

    FabFilter goodies

    Finally, FabFilter Saturn 2 contains all the usual FabFilter goodies: perfectly tuned knobs, MIDI Learn, Smart Parameter Interpolation for smooth parameter transitions, interface resizing and full screen mode, support for Avid control surfaces, GPU-powered graphics acceleration, extensive help with interactive help hints, SSE optimization, and much more.

  • Cricket – Junior & Senior is our latest SFX library toolkit, created to cater to cricket specific sounds. We have covered a broad range of specific sounds that differentiate Cricket from other batting sports. Included are sounds for Cricket Gear, Movements, Batting, Bowling, Fielding and Other Miscellaneous sounds.

    17 %
    OFF
    Ends 1590530399
  • An ice hockey game is an exciting, dynamic and powerful sonic experience. From the thunderous crack of a puck hitting the boards at full speed to the gentle scrape of a stick on the ice, this library contains a complete range of the game’s on ice sounds, all captured with natural reverb in an indoor arena.

    Included are a range of performances of skate, stick, puck, and whistle sounds, as well as rink door opens and closes, and various board, glass, and ice impacts.

    The skate sounds include starts, stops, turns, and pass bys, as well as single steps and scrapes for detailed editing and layering. Stick sounds include different kinds of shots, passes, drops and scrapes, and impacts with other sticks, the boards, and the ice. Puck sounds include impacts with the ice, boards, skates, the goal metal and net, and even goalie pads. Rink sounds include the opening and closing of doors, impacts with the boards and glass, and a goal horn. Two different types of whistles were recorded, with varying durations.

    Each sound effect performance was recorded from multiple perspectives – a stereo ORTF pair of Lewitt LCT 540s microphones, a closer wide XY from an Audio Technica BP4025, and a close mono Schoeps CMC6/MK41 – either stationary or following the action on a boom, depending on the type of sound. The ratio of direct to reverberant sound differs between these perspectives, offering a variety of options when editing to picture.

    Also included are quad-channel room tones from two different ice rinks, and a special onboard recording of a puck, made by taping a Sony PCM-M10 to a puck and sliding it across the surface of the ice.

    The actions were performed at a range of speeds and energy levels, with multiple takes for variety. Please refer to the sound list pdf below for details. Captured at a sampling rate of 96kHz, these recordings contain detailed information above 20kHz, expanding the possibilities for manipulation when slowing and pitching them down.

    30 %
    OFF
 
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

2 thoughts on “Rule of Thirds: A Sound Design Approach by Barney Oram

  1. This is a very useful article. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Its useful to have an approach and methodology. I’m going to try this.

  2. This is a really cool way to think about things differently and come up with something super unique. I will definitely be trying this out – thanks, Barney!

Leave a Reply

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

HTML tags are not allowed.