In my opinion, designing believable and organic-sounding vocalizations is the most difficult kind of sound design. Over many decades I’ve received lots of audition tapes from young, aspiring designers featuring bizarre-sounding ambiences. Their assumption seemed to be that the weirder a sound is, the more interesting and useful it is, and the more it will impress me.

Actually, weird is easy. Anybody with access to various commercially available plugins can make inorganic, electronic-sounding effects all day long with very little imagination required. On the other hand, fabricating a sound that does not come fully formed from the real world, but sounds like it does, and has a useful range of emotional moods, is tough. Monster vocals, Dragon vocals, Pixie vocals, Dinosaur vocals, Space Alien vocals, etc. are all extremely hard to manufacture in a way that sounds fresh, original, and completely natural.

Eventually we will be able to electronically synthesize any sound, but we aren’t there yet as of 2023. So, to make a monster vocal that doesn’t feel artificial/electronic/processed, in most cases we still need to start with recordings made via a microphone of some real-world animal, bird, or person vocalizing. The sound design is in choosing material that has potential, then manipulating and combining those sounds to create the finished, organic-sounding product.

Choosing Material
Creature vocals usually need to have some of the characteristics of a language. A creature will be a lot more interesting if it isn’t always hitting the same note. We almost always need to find a range of raw material that has the potential to express several emotions for a given character. That range could be from pain to rage, from inquisitiveness to surprise; from nurturing to frustration, fear to delight, or any combination of those and others. Have you ever needed to make a tiger sound happy, or make a ten-ton dragon sound cute? You think a full-grown lion purring sounds happy? Nope, still kinda scary. But you desperately need it to sound happy? Welcome to my world.

For a creature character who displays a wide range of emotions, you will probably have to draw from recordings of more than one species, sometimes several. It took at least five species to do the bear vocals in The Revenant, and about the same for Toothless, the lead creature in How To Train Your Dragon. My approach is to listen to a huge number of animal recordings as I engage mainly one filter in my mind: emotion. The size of the animal can be cheated. The species can be cheated. But the original, raw material must have an emotion I’m looking for. Happy, sad, in-pain, quizzical, surprised, shocked, angry, fierce, raging, excited, content, sick, questioning, doubtful, disgusted, adoring, anxious, bored, afraid, triumphant, sleepy, calm.

These are some of the creature emotions I need to find most frequently. And there is no way to create the emotion completely with technology. At least not yet.

Next: Part Two:
Manipulating and combining emotional creature vocal elements to create believable, consistent, and powerful voices.

2 thoughts

  1. Hello, thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Can’t wait to read part 2 (and I still hope you will write a sound design book one day)

    Have a nice day.

Leave a Reply