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.
 

 

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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.

 

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  • Environments Rare Winds Play Track 102 sounds included, 233 mins total $149 $74.50

    From all 4 earth’s corners, air streamlines the environment and shapes our stories. Discover the cinematic world of rare winds!


    This sound library is the ultimate achievement of a really ambitious project of recording winds from very remote places across the world.

    Included are authentic recordings from the Boreal region (North hemisphere: in Canada and Iceland), from the Austral region (South hemisphere: Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and the Last Hope province in Chile), on Islands in Mediterranean region (Thira in Greece), in the Sahara desert (Marocco), Isle-aux-Grues (Canadian winter), and more (see file list for more details)


    These were recorded either in urban settings, countryside, or complete wilderness.

    Included is a set of useful synthesized, tonal, and designed winds.

    The sounds are categorized into 3 folders: Designed, Indoor & Outdoor.

    WHAT’S INSIDE:

    • 102 stereo files
    • Highly focused and meticulously edited sounds
    • Ready to use Loop
    • Urban area and Wild area
    • Useful Designed & Synthesized Wind Sounds
    • Recordings from the Boreal region (North) in Iceland & Canada
    • Recordings from the Austral region (South) in Argentina & Chile
    • Recordings from Islands in Greece & Canada
    • Recordings from the desert in Marocco
    • Abandonned houses and shelters
    • Marina, lake, forest, car, flags, arctic, metal pole, prairie, street, mountain, grass, …
    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
  • City Life Nature Ambients Bundle Play Track 263+ sounds included, 683 mins total $160 $80

    This bundle includes 4 different libraries.

    The Baltic Sea sound library is compilation of 56 WAV files recorded with Sound Devices 702, Rode NTG3, Sony PCM-M10, two Oktavas MK012 set in MS, XY and ORTF setup. All the sounds were recorded far away from the cities and roads. Since most of the sounds were recorded in late winter, there are no insects or birds in background. There are few files that includes the sound of birds, but I left them on purpose, because of the overall feel of the files. In this library you will find beautiful sound of waves crushing on the rocks and shore, recorded from different perspectives in different stereo configurations, during calm and windy days. In addition to those sounds, there’s foley like walking, running and swimming in the water.

    The Harbours Of Norway sound library features 25 files with ambients recorded in Myre, Sto and Nyksund, very small towns with direct access to the sea. Most of the sound effects were recorded at night, but since it’s a polar day time of the year, it was very pleasurable to walk and look for convenient places to set up my gear. Everything was recoded with ORTF setup built from two Sennheisers MKH 8040. Inside this library, you’ll find a lot of seagulls, waves crushing on the rocks and plants, windy ambients from the cliff, industrial sound from port in Myre with ship unloading the cargo, walla with steam engine boat and additional sounds from boat engine market and air cooling aggregates from food containers. Every file was recorded in 96kHz, edited (i removed any unintentional bumps, pops and unwanted sounds). I limited EQing to removing harsh frequencies, or enhancing a little bit the good sounding ones. At the end of the chain there is a small compression, for louder sounds.

    The Summer Ambients sound library contains 33 beautiful WAV files recorded with Sound Devices 702, Rode NTG3, two Oktavas MK012 in MS and stereo XY pattern. All sounds were gathered in different and beautiful places like forests, lakes, meadows or swamps. You can expect amazing ambients, textures, different birds, insects, forest during rain, calm and windy days. It’s a perfect library for designing background sounds. Everything was recorded in amazing Masuria in Poland.

    Summer ambients Update – library got 2x bigger and heavier than the original library. 59 additional files, 123 minutes of high quality audio recorded with Sennheiser MKH 8040 ORTF setup, Rode NTG3, Oktava MK012 XY setup plugged into SD702 and Sony PCM-10. It features ambients from the forests, ponds, swamps, meadows, lakes and suburbs recorded is very quiet locations, mostly just before the sunrise, during the day and before sunset far away from the cities.

    Water Flow sound library took me about six months to record, consumed about 15 thermoses of tea and 42 litres of gasoline to get to all locations. It offers 90 BWAV files recorded in different locations. Huge part of this library is based on the recording sessions on the rivers. Two completely different locations, recorded regularly for the last 5 months allowed me to create this unique sound library. Most of the recording sessions took place during winter just before the sun was rising to reduce the amount of unwanted sounds. Almost all recordings are completely clear and only few have birds in background, since it was my intention to record some location ambients with natural backgrounds.

    You can see the metadata and sound list below.

    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
  • Cars Cars In Motion Play Track 561+ sounds included, 340 mins total $150 $75

    The Cars In Motion sound library gets you exterior sounds of cars driving at different speeds, slow/medium/fast/very fast pass-bys, reverse sounds, accelerations, braking sounds and a lot of additional files. You’ll find different engines, and cars with different character.

    From a small BMW 114i through to a powerful Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 V8 with Magna Flow exhaust, up to a fast twin turbo BMW 640D F12. In addition to cars there are also files covering big machines like tractors and excavator.

    The library features 561 WAV files with total length of 340 minutes, recorded in 96kHz and 24 bits with a Sound Devices 702, two Sennheisers MKH 8040, Rode NTG3 and Sony PCM-M10.

    Here are the cars included in this library:

    • Audi A4 Allroad 2.0 TFSI – 73 files – 73 minutes
    • Audi A4 B8 2.0 TDI Avant – 11 files – 10 minutes
    • BMW 114i E87 – 20 files – 10 minutes
    • BMW 530D E60 – 55 files – 21 minutes
    • BMW F12 640D Gran Coupe – 87 files – 49 minutes
    • Excavator MF 860 – 30 files – 20 minutes
    • Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 V8 – 62 files – 51 minutes
    • Renault Kangoo 1.6 16V – 71 files – 32 minutes
    • Renault Master II 2.8 dTi – 21 files – 13 minutes
    • Renault Master F3500 dCi135 – 30 files – 12 minutes
    • Tractor Case II CX90 – 15 files – 10 minutes
    • Volkswagen Golf II – 26 files – 13 minutes
    • Other Cars – 60 files – 23 minutes

    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Cars Hyundai Kona Electric Car Play Track 428 sounds included, 98 mins total $100

    An electric car sound library with a range of FX from the Hyundai SUV, Kona.

    The library includes numerous driving FX on both gravel and asphalt including pass-bys, take offs, corners, approaches and skids.

    It also contains a large range of interior recordings from driving at highway speed all the way to buttons and switches.

    Multiple FX on each track – recorded in Sydney, Australia

  • Cars Car Interiors Play Track 430 sounds included, 14 mins total $69 $38

    car interiors library is a great supplement for all the car engine sounds that you already own. That way the action on the inside of the car is not stale at all. Dashboard buttons, seatbelts, automatic windows, switches, switching gears, brake, clutch and gas pedals, vents, turning signals. They’re all here!

    Got a whole bunch of roaring car engine sounds but then realised that you’re not equipped with all of the boring stuff like:


    car door handles, seatbelts, turn signal, air vents, buttons and switches, seats, storage compartments, horns, windows, pedals (gas, brake, clutch), handbrakes wend

    and all other Car Interior sound effects? Well then.. look no further! This is just the pack for you.
    160 wav files with over 400 single sounds in total. Car Interiors will spice up that car interior scene with real, crisp sounds, recorded from over 6 cars in total!

    45 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574981999
  • Destruction & Impact Cinematic Strikes Play Track Up to 4140 sounds included From: $119 From: $95.20

    ENORMOUS SOUNDING PERCUSSIVE HITS

    CINEMATIC STRIKES joins the BOOM Library Cinematic Series – and it focuses on big sounding drums. A whole world of cinematic percussive sound design lies a few clicks away: From devastating cracks and stomps over crisp swells and rolls to epic ensemble hits – you will be sure to find and build just what you are looking for.

    With the ultimate flexibility of different microphone positions, single and ensemble hits, flams and swells using various drums and beaters, you couldn’t be better equipped to design huge blockbuster and trailer hits – or simply place ready-to-use DESIGNED sounds into your timeline and feel the earth shake.

    CINEMATIC STRIKES – CONSTRUCTION KIT:

    FLEXIBLE SOUND DESIGN TOOLKIT

    The Construction Kit offers you one of the most comprehensive drum hit packages ever recorded. Carefully planned to satisfy and complement every spot in the frequency range, you will never run out of low end booms, aggressive cracks, mid-range body impacts, reverberant tails and excellent sweeteners to top it off.

    PERSPECTIVE & RHYTHM

    Not only are you able to produce impressive sounding hits, but also transition into, out of and between peaks. Control the attack and release of each sound, using rolls, flams, double hits and other meticulously performed techniques. Three coherent microphone positions make spatial adjustments a breeze.


    Files: 618 • Sounds: 3708 • Size: 13 GB


    CINEMATIC STRIKES – DESIGNED:

    MAXIMUM PUNCH – AND THEN SOME

    CINEMATIC STRIKES – Designed is what you get when layering and processing Construction Kit sounds BOOM Library style.

    From rumbling low-end BOOMS, soft and natural sounding WHOOSH HITS to aggressive, frontal CRACKS and PUNCHES, the Designed library showcases what’s possible, while saving precious time and budget on a tight schedule.

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    Files: 108 • Sounds: 432 • Size: 1.4 GB

    CINEMATIC STRIKES BUNDLE:

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    Files: 726 • Sounds: 4140 • Size: 14.6 GB
    Included sounds – keywords:

    BASS DRUM, BOOM, BOX, CAJON, CONCERT TOM, CRACK, CRASH, DAIKO, DOUBLE HIT, ENSEMBLE, FLAM, FOOT, GONG, HARD BEATER, HIT, JAM BLOCK, KICK, KODO, LOG, MALLET, BIN, PUNCH, ROLL, SINGLE, SNARE, SOFT BEATER, SPLASH, STICKS, STOMP, SWEETENER, SWELL, TABLA, TAIKO, TAMBORA, THUNDER SHEET, TOM, WHIP, WHOOSH HIT, WOOD PERCUSSION, WOODBLOCK
    20 %
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    Ends 1575500399
  • Destruction & Impact Implosion Play Track 42 sounds included $100 $70

    Implosion is a sound effects collection of buildings being destroyed with explosives. It features 10 unique building implosions recorded across the country.

    Each implosion was recorded with 4 to 14 channels of audio. To offer multiple perspectives, mics were placed as close as 150ft (~50m) and as far away as 2000ft (~600m) from the various explosive demolitions.

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    Ends 1575413999
  • Drones & Moods Audible Silence Play Track 105 sounds included, 170 mins total $80 $64

    The eerie sound of wind resonating through wires, fences and abandoned buildings.

    Recorded using the JrF C-Series contact microphone, these recordings capture the metallic resonance of wind with natural ebbs and flows.

    All sounds were recorded using the JrF C-Series contact microphone stereo pair and Sound Devices Mix-Pre 6.

     

    20 %
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    Ends 1574549999
 
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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!

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