Asbjoern Andersen


What does a superhero sound like? That was what Empty Sea Audio’s Mark Camperell had to decide when designing the sound for hit series ‘The Flash’.

‘The Flash’ is a spin-off from popular superhero series ‘Arrow’, and it’s been a runaway hit on The CW network, making it their most popular show ever. Season two premieres this Tuesday at 8pm/7pmC on The CW, and I got the chance to get the story behind the sound for the show:

Here’s sound designer Mark Camperell, on superhero sound effects, excitement, workflows – and how you strike that delicate balance between high-impact vs too much in sound design:

 

I was hired by the good folks at Atomic Sound Post Production to edit and design the sound effects for The Flash. I had previously worked with Atomic Sound on Almost Human so they were familiar with my work. The show’s sound supervisor, Michael Mullane has been kind enough to let me, more or less, have free reign on the sound effects and sound design. It’s always great to have ownership of something! (Aside, I don’t cut the BGs on the show. Sebastian Sheehan Visconti, another one of the team members at Atomic Sound, expertly cuts the BGs. I’m just on the hard sound effects and sound design. It’s a big show)
 

What does a superhero sound like?

BOOM! ZOOM! BAM! CRAAAK! BOP! CRASH! POW! THWACK! We’ve no doubt all seen these in countless comic books (and Adam West era Batman episodes) over the years. “The formation of a word… …by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent” is onomatopoeia, according to Dictionary.com. The challenge of sound design and sound editorial for superhero shows is to give the onomatopoeia of comic books a voice in a manner that is organic, iconic, signature, and consistent with the feeling of the book. All in real acoustic space mind you. The signature nature and iconic qualities have been my focus on The Flash from day one. These also prove to be the most challenging sounds to get right because they are so subjective. Every comic book fan could have a different idea of what “THWACK!” sounds like. Thankfully though, the more challenging a sound is, the more fun I get to have. I feel pretty lucky to work on a show that challenges me in this way every week.

Excitement is the key goal for the sound of The Flash. Everything I’m doing on the show is to excite the viewer and to add to the overall storytelling experience. There are superpowers, special weapons and gadgets, natural disasters, creatures, futuristic vehicles and plenty of other craziness to contend with. There are also good and evil variants of these categories and thus the sounds need to be consistent with a viewer’s already preconceived notion of this classic dichotomy.

Excitement is the key goal for the sound of The Flash. Everything I’m doing on the show is to excite the viewer and to add to the overall storytelling experience.

Finally, I’m trying to make sure that everything is properly covered. I don’t go to the mix stage, so I end up having to over cut stuff in case the client wants an alternate take on something or they might want to hear something that I might not have considered the focus of the scene. There isn’t a lot of time for back and forth, so we have to make sure absolutely everything is covered.
 

Sound workflow on The Flash

This is how I work: I’m not suggesting that this is for everybody, but for me it has managed to be a good strategy.
When we receive an episode from the picture department, the first thing I do is drop markers in Pro Tools for just about everything I see. I’m not dropping markers for every gunshot in a gunfight, but I am marking those sections. VFX dependent shots are marked as such and the marker isn’t deleted when I’ve cut this so that I don’t have to search the timeline for them. Again, time is at a premium so we don’t want to miss anything. Dropping the markers gives me a visual list of how deep an episode is sonically. Additionally, it helps me to figure out exactly how much I need to get through each day. After I’ve dropped in my own markers, I’ll drop markers for the stuff that the supervisor and clients have noted as needing coverage.

After the markers have been dropped in, I start cutting sound effects in. This is where things might be really unusual

A big episode will have well over 500 markers dropped. A lighter episode will have 350-400 dropped. And this isn’t even taking BGs into account.

After the markers have been dropped in, I start cutting sound effects in. This is where things might be really unusual. I have a master sessions built with all of the episodes from each season. There are a lot of repeated sound effects throughout the series that need to maintain continuity so these things need to be moved over and dropped in. For the stuff that is continuity based, its like a really big conform. The sync won’t be exactly the same, but it’s a start. This way too, the SFX mixer (Ethan Beigel) is getting the material in the similar way every week. Avoiding surprises for mixers will keep them happy and hopefully make their process run smoothly.

Once the continuity type things get cut in, (screens, Flash powers, weapons and gadgets) I move on to the new material for the episode. We only get about a week on each episode so the first couple of days are spent doing the continuity items. After that, I try to leave myself an entire day for the material that is new and unique to the episode. Usually each episode is dealing with at least one new super power, vehicle, disaster, or some new and unique piece of technology. I’m trying to build these new items from scratch as much as I can and giving an entire day to these things helps me to focus on them.

Finally, the VFX shots start trickling in and I go back and check my sync on these shots and adjust the sound accordingly as the final concept can be drastically different than the pre-vis and temp VFX, both in look and in detail.Usually what I end up doing is re-syncing stuff and adding detail to the shots.
 

Mark Camperell and the independent sound effects community:

Some of you may know Mark Camperell from The Library by Empty Sea, a great collection of independent sound effects libraries. He’s been involved with the independent SFX community for many years, and has also written this guide on how to get started creating your own indie SFX libraries. Here are some of the libraries from The Library by Empty Sea:
 
  • Drones & Moods Dronos Play Track 154 sounds included, 154 mins total $30 $24 incl. vat

    Brand New Sci-Fi Ambiences from The Library by Empty Sea. 6+ GB, 150+ sounds, almost 3 hours of material, all 96k, all looped for easy use.

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  • Foley Gateway – Part 1, 2 & 3 Play Track 600-3200+ sounds included From: $30 From: $24

    Tired of those same old door knobs and hinge squeaks that you hear in every single game, film and TV show? Well, Gateway aims to remedy that issue while providing you with a brand new palette of sounds.

    Gateway comes packed with doors, doors and more doors! Low end, high end, slow horror creaks and squeaks, huge slams and impacts, tiny compartment doors.

    The Gateway family now includes the just-released Gateway Part 3, with more than 1400 new sounds.

    Doors, gates, overhead rollups, cabinets, closets, drawers, garage doors, fireplaces, sheds, you name it!

    Latches and knobs, wrought iron and chain link! Metal, wood, glass and MORE! All of these doors were acoustically captured in the real world. You won’t find anything synthesized here!

    Did we mention doors? Yeah, Gateway has those too.

    Gateway Part 1 features 675 files, 1200+ sounds

    Gateway Part 2 features 365 files, 600+ sounds

    Gateway Part 3 features 772 files, 1400+ sounds

    The Gateway 1-3 Bundle features 1812 files, 3200+ sounds

    Special offer:Do you already have Gateway Part 1 or 2? Send a message here for a special upgrade offer for part 3.

    Choose your preferred version below – or land some great savings by getting all three in one handy package!

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  • Mechanical Robobiotics Play Track 3600+ sounds included $144 $114 incl. vat

    Robobiotics is an exciting new sound effects collection from The Library by Empty Sea. It delivers 3600+ original sound effects for scifi and robots. We’re talking about almost 3 hours of material here.

    We spent over a year recording and designing Lasers, Robot Vox, Impacts, Servos, Ratcheting Metal, Ambiances, Transformations, Foley, Vehicle Bys and much much more!

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  • User Interface (UI) Ui One Play Track 1400 sounds included $42 $33.60 incl. vat

    This collection contains over 1400 original sound effects for user interfaces, telemetry, gadgetry and more.

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Designing the sound of speed

The Flash is all about speed. In season 1, Barry was discovering his abilities and learning to push them to the limit. He is really, really fast. Sometimes he’s only on screen for a few frames as he motors by. Sometimes he’s on screen for 20 seconds and objects are flying by him. My approach for the sounds of The Flash’s ability was to editorially treat him like a really aggressively driven hot rod. This doesn’t mean that I used car sounds for him, though. What I mean is that when thinking about how to edit his sounds, I thought about it like cutting a car chase. There are approaches, bys, aways, stops, on-boards, even power slides and skids… but all for a superhuman speedster and not a Ford Mustang. This approach for cutting has helped to keep up the aggression and the excitement of his power.

My approach for the sounds of The Flash’s ability was to editorially treat him like a really aggressively driven hot rod. This doesn’t mean that I used car sounds for him, though.

Next up were the sounds themselves. I have blended several items together to make up Barry’s sound. There are elements of thunder, electricity, jets, fireballs, and various custom whooshes and impacts. These things are manipulated for certain situations to give a feeling of perspective. A more distant shot of Barry speeding through the city could be more on the side of fireball and jet, whereas a closer Flash by is heavier on the electricity and impact elements. POV and on-board type shots are more focused on the blur of his body moving, electricity zapping around him and environmental elements speeding by. If this isn’t crazy enough, there is of course the evil variant of Barry in season 1, The Reverse Flash. So same approach, but you know, completely different and evil sounding.
 

Serious about superheroes – striking a balance between high-impact vs overblown & too much

Very few superhero-related things on this show are requested as subtle elements. It’s a big show in size and scope. I’ve alluded to our short timeline for an episode previously. My thought has always been it’s a lot easier for a mixer to pare something back and make it smaller than it is for them to make something bigger. So I always aim to provide the elements as big — bordering on overblown, big. The SFX mixer, Ethan, has the difficult task of adjusting the size of the sound to be appropriate for the situation. (Bless his heart.) This could be via EQ, some reverb for perspective, or ducking out elements of what I have provided to make a sound fit better. It varies from situation to situation.

So while what I’m cutting for The Flash is big, I aim to hit it hard quickly and then try get out of it quickly. This keeps things punchy and allows for space between elements, which in turn gives clarity and dynamic range.

That being said, I try to be sensitive to a mixer’s plight. Something I learned early on in my career is that when you’re working with a lot of material that is large, you need to hit the big moments quickly and get out of them. Then, fill in the gaps with unique, detail elements. That way, you aren’t simply filling your entire timeline with massive stuff. If you make everything big, the viewers won’t perceive it as such. So while what I’m cutting for The Flash is big, I aim to hit it hard quickly and then try get out of it quickly. This keeps things punchy and allows for space between elements, which in turn gives clarity and dynamic range. Big is always exciting. But so are dynamic changes.

In some of the more cinematic sequences, a sound designer / editor needs to try to make sure to think like a mixer. With all of these choices though, we need to be prepared for the possibility that the producers will want it the opposite way. This leads to cutting variations or alternate versions of things. For instance, I might want to let music have a section completely to heighten an emotional connection to a moment. But if something is happening on screen there, I still have to cut the material and leave it muted on the tracks. This way, if my concept doesn’t pan out with the producers, the material is already cued and ready to be played.
 


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

 

Latest releases:  
  • Paper Paper (Kaibrary) Play Track 500+ sounds included, 267 mins total $48 $36 incl. vat

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    This collection also comes with two folders, a close up set of recordings, and a sister collection of medium-distant recordings back in the room. This is for use in background, like a person in an office turning a page over, a man shuffling a newspaper, or counting money on a table.
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    Whether your need to bring a lone rogue to life or a surge of arrows in an epic battle scene, Nocked will provide you with a plethora of flexible content.

    Our largest library to date, this collection is a comprehensive focus on the sounds and functions of the archer and the act of archery. Included are eight recorded bows (2 crossbows, olympic recurve, traditional recurve, longbow, long compound, short compound, and Magyar bow) with 2 additional 'mythic' bows of our own design, each using 3 types of arrows (aluminum, carbon, and bamboo) on 3 varying surfaces (hard, soft, and dirt) from 4 simultaneous recording positions (at bow, at target, midflight mono, and midflight stereo). Each bow and each arrow type have a character all there own.

    The content’s dynamic range is wide, from whispering bamboo arrows gliding on rests as they are drawn to firing position, to the powerful THWACK of crossbow bolts striking their target. All non-firing sounds were recorded in a controlled studio environment while all recordings of the bows being fired were taken on a plot of wide-open rural farmland, encompassed by forests. When needed, this ambient natural environment provided an ideal impulse response to be used in the design and editing of some of the sounds to create a heightened effect.

    Included are a wide array of archery actions and Foley:
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    Arrow and accessory Foley (handling, selecting, gathering, dropping, etc.)

    A multitude of takes are provided across each bow/arrow/surface/position combination for easy randomization and differentiation of sounds, or to track any number of unique archers at any given moment.

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Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

Favorite sound design tools for the show

As much as I’d love to be able to build everything from scratch on a show like The Flash, it simply isn’t possible in the time allowed. So first and foremost, my number one tool for the show is my ever-expanding sound library. That is slightly misleading, because it makes it sound like I have a massive library.

I know my library extremely well and that’s important for hitting a deadline

It’s actually kind of on the small side, but I feel having a smaller library helps me to better know what I have to work with. I know my library extremely well and that’s important for hitting a deadline. I also like constraints and limitations. I feel they help me to make better choices because I don’t have the ability to noodle around as much, looking for all the sound possibilities that could work.

I guess it’d be nice to give some credit where it is due so here goes. My library is made up of indie collections (in no particular order and I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff too, sorry) from Rabbit Ears Audio, Echo Collective, Airborne Sound, Tonsturm, The Recordist, Sound Morph, Boom Library, Sound Dogs, and my own material from The Library by Empty Sea as well as proprietary stuff I have recorded that isn’t a part of any collection. There is also stuff from The Hollywood Edge and even some things that I personally recorded for the Soundelux Library back in the day.

As far as software tools go. I’m using a lot of Izotope Iris, Waves Element, and Absynth to make unique UI for some of the story-driven screens and sci-fi stuff for weapons and vehicles. I’m using Waves Soundshifter to varispeed things quite a bit. I’m also using Melted Sounds Whoosh to create layers for the sounds of the Speedsters (Flash / Reverse Flash). With Whoosh, I’ll start with their presets, manipulate settings and add in my own sounds to create weird stuff. There are countless others, but I’ll round out the name-dropping with Waves MondoMod and SuperTap Delay. They have been very useful for making unique layers on pretty much everything.
 

Looking back at the sound for season 1 – and what awaits in season 2:

Season 1 was a blast. We had a girl who could teleport, a guy that could shoot lightning from his hands, another guy who could turn into a toxic mist, people who could manipulate the weather, a giant telepathic gorilla and that’s just a few of the super powers.

We had a girl who could teleport, a guy that could shoot lightning from his hands, another guy who could turn into a toxic mist, people who could manipulate the weather, a giant telepathic gorilla and that’s just a few of the super powers.

We had tidal waves, weird vortices, wormholes, and event horizons. Special weapons like a gun that could freeze people, a super flamethrower, a gun that could turn things to gold. Weird vehicles like drones and time machines. In short, we had lots of fun stuff to play with sonically.
I can’t go into much depth as to what there will be in season 2, but I can say with certainty that it is going to be just as challenging as season 1. You’re going to have to tune in to hear it!

 

Please share this:


 

 
A big thanks to Mark Camperell for sharing the inside-story on the sound for The Flash! The Flash Season 2 premieres Tuesday October 6 at 8pm/7pmC on The CW.

 
 
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:
 
 
  • Foley Modern Seating Play Track 75+ sounds included $30 $24 incl. vat

    Modern Seating is a library compiled of a variation of modern chairs found in the office or home. The idea is to fill the need for chairs which aren't always on the verge of breaking or creaking in every direction. It's a foley library of rolls, pickups and general movement in each type of chair or seat. The library was recorded using the Shoeps CMIT5 and the Avedis MA5.

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  • Foley Real Outdoor Footsteps Play Track 13500 sounds included, 184 mins total From: $70.80

    REAL OUTDOOR FOOTSTEPS is part of our successful “Foleyart Collection” series. With an additional 13,500 externally recorded footsteps, this library offers unprecedented content!

    Sometimes there are problems with mixing when the Foleystage is too present. Outdoor recordings are difficult, so we have recorded at up to 2500m altitude in very quiet places of the Sierra Nevada in Spain and the Swiss Alps.

    These samples are also available as expansion for Edward Ultimate SUITE  and Edward Foleyart Instrument. In this case you need a full version of the instrument to use the expansion. Choose your desired package below!

    Key Features:
    • 13 500 outside recorded Foley sounds @ 24Bit, 96 kHZ
    • 25 combinations of shoes and surfaces
    • Different walking speeds and behaviors
    • WAV files are Meta ready (not included in EUS and EFI Expansion)

    Includes the following surfaces:
    Asphalt • Dirt • Deep Dirt • Grass Long • Grass Mud Mix • Grass Dry • Gravel Mix • Gravel Wet • Leaves • Rocks • Wood Mix • Wood Dry

    Includes the following shoes:
    Sneakers • Boots  • Sandals

    Performances:
    Extremely Slow Walk • Medium Slow Walk • Walk • Jog • Run • Stairs Slow • Stairs Fast • Stomp • Land • Scuff • Scrape 1 • Scrape 2 • Scrape 3

    Recording Equipment:
    Sennheiser MKH 416
    Neumann KMR 81i
    Sounddevices
    Rycote Windshield

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Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Paper Paper (Kaibrary) Play Track 500+ sounds included, 267 mins total $48 $36 incl. vat

    This is a collection of various types of paper being performed in common actions like turning pages, crumpling, tearing, and other handling sounds. Included are more bizarre textural sounds using paper like violent flapping, buzzing, bowing, and squeaking.

    This collection also comes with two folders, a close up set of recordings, and a sister collection of medium-distant recordings back in the room. This is for use in background, like a person in an office turning a page over, a man shuffling a newspaper, or counting money on a table.
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    25 %
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    Ends 1535752800
  • Trucks, Buses & Vans GMC Pickup Truck Play Track 42 sounds included, 23 mins total $46.80 incl. vat

    A grumbly old GMC pick up truck you might find on the farm, likely from the early 90’s. Exterior pass by’s, up and stop’s, start and away’s, idles, revs and doors.

  • Weapons Nocked Play Track 2047+ sounds included $102 incl. vat

    Whether your need to bring a lone rogue to life or a surge of arrows in an epic battle scene, Nocked will provide you with a plethora of flexible content.

    Our largest library to date, this collection is a comprehensive focus on the sounds and functions of the archer and the act of archery. Included are eight recorded bows (2 crossbows, olympic recurve, traditional recurve, longbow, long compound, short compound, and Magyar bow) with 2 additional 'mythic' bows of our own design, each using 3 types of arrows (aluminum, carbon, and bamboo) on 3 varying surfaces (hard, soft, and dirt) from 4 simultaneous recording positions (at bow, at target, midflight mono, and midflight stereo). Each bow and each arrow type have a character all there own.

    The content’s dynamic range is wide, from whispering bamboo arrows gliding on rests as they are drawn to firing position, to the powerful THWACK of crossbow bolts striking their target. All non-firing sounds were recorded in a controlled studio environment while all recordings of the bows being fired were taken on a plot of wide-open rural farmland, encompassed by forests. When needed, this ambient natural environment provided an ideal impulse response to be used in the design and editing of some of the sounds to create a heightened effect.

    Included are a wide array of archery actions and Foley:
    Nocking and unnocking arrows
    Drawing
    Firing (loosing)
    Mid-flight pass-bys
    Releasing / relaxing a draw
    Impacts on targets
    Arrow and accessory Foley (handling, selecting, gathering, dropping, etc.)

    A multitude of takes are provided across each bow/arrow/surface/position combination for easy randomization and differentiation of sounds, or to track any number of unique archers at any given moment.

    Go ahead, let them fight in the shade.

  • Environments The Netherlands Play Track 70 sounds included, 350 minutes mins total From: $60 From: $48

    Recorded over the course of two months this sound library features an extensive amount of Dutch ambiences including locations such as train stations, parks, cafes, streets and forests.

    All atmospheres run for approximately 5 minutes and were recorded at 24 bit/96khz using the DPA 5100 and Sound Devices 788T. This library is available in stereo or 5.0.

     

     

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1534543200
  • Foley Modern Seating Play Track 75+ sounds included $30 $24 incl. vat

    Modern Seating is a library compiled of a variation of modern chairs found in the office or home. The idea is to fill the need for chairs which aren't always on the verge of breaking or creaking in every direction. It's a foley library of rolls, pickups and general movement in each type of chair or seat. The library was recorded using the Shoeps CMIT5 and the Avedis MA5.

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1534543200
 
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