A few more words about creatures, then I’ll move on to other subjects for the next few posts.

Breathing!!! Extremely important and often overlooked. When we are designing vocalizations for creatures… monsters, fairies, pixies, dragons, etc. we tend to obsess about vocalizations like roars and growls and chitters, and we forget about (or don’t pay enough attention to) what makes those voices possible in any vocalizing creature: breaths.

Great breathing in between vocals will help enormously to make your overall creature sound believable and alive. The breaths can also carry quite a bit of the emotional/dramatic weight as well. They can be sinister or comical. They can vary dynamically in terms of volume, which is an important element of drama. Remember that the near-far dimension carries a thousand times the drama that the left-right dimension does. When we were living in caves and roaming the grasslands looking for food it wasn’t nearly as crucial to determine whether the predator was to the left or right as it was to determine how close it was, so our nervous system is set up to be super sensitive to that information.

Creature breathing does not always have to be at regular intervals. Often it’s better, and more believable, if it is not at regular, predictable intervals. The inhales and exhales can also vary quite a bit from moment to moment in terms of the nature of each sound, and that will increase their credibility too.

Record animals breathing as often as you can. In a longish career you will use every one of those recordings. As I mentioned recently, breath and breath-like elements can also be great transitions into and out of vocalizations, including roars. The coughs, sneezes, yawns, tongue flaps, drinking, gulping, etc. of dogs and horses and cows are all very useful.

And a note about extending the duration of breaths (and most other sounds)… We often have a great sound that is unfortunately too short in duration for the job we want it to do. Making a copy of the sound and reversing that copy, then using that to extend the duration of the original sound can sometimes save the day. This won’t work for all sounds because transients and reverb tails within the sound will flag it as being played backwards. But sometimes it’s possible to editorially remove the offending backwards transients and tails so that the sound is just as plausible backwards as forwards.

You’ll usually want to get the original end of the sound and attach that to the end of the backwards version to give it a believable decay. If you decide that the backwards extension sounds too much like a repetition of the original you can try dynamically pitch changing all or part of the combined sounds. Also remember that in many cases these sounds will be accompanied by lots of other simultaneous sounds, so you’d be surprised how much “murder” you can get away with editorially without anybody noticing.

One thought

  1. I always look forward to your blogs, but this particular post is quite timely!

    Im currently working on an extended dragon scene with lots of destruction. It is jam packed with roars, screams and other vocalizations. While those are fun to do and add a lot of excitement, it’s the breaths, mouth chomps, slobbering, nose snorting and chuffs that really bring it to life. As you mentioned, using irregular intervals of breathing and non vocalized efforts really help to create a dynamic emotional state for a creature. It helps to articulate more than just power, which can feel like a one chord song. Using the various elements together can illustrate frustration, compassion, unpredictability and even intelligence. All of these things connect the viewer with the creature in a more meaning full way and it feels more rewarding as a sound designer when you tap into this resource.

    I would only add that in addition I find it also rewarding to try and implement as wide of a sonic spectrum as appropriate for the creature. Layer in lower register elements to bring fullness to breaths, higher pitched elements to top off nasal wheezing as an example. This is especially true in regards to your near vs far note. Using proximity as an opportunity to implement detail is a very fun tool to use.

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