Picking up where I left off in Part One, the emotional content of a creature vocal is almost always its most important characteristic… more important than how technically good the recording is, more important than the size of the creature in the original recording, and more important than how “coolly” weird the sound is.
In storytelling with sound, emotion is queen and king. Authenticity is crucial too. I have to say that I haven’t liked any of the creature vocal design I’ve heard produced by starting with a human voice and “animalizing” it with software. Maybe there are fantastic ones I haven’t heard, but the ones I know about sound inorganic, synthetic/electronic, and minimally interesting. In this piece I’ll be talking about building new creature vocals mostly from actual creature vocals you record and/or find in a library.
When you are listening to candidate sounds, those that will be your building blocks for the finished creature vocal, have your ears open for emotions like funny, sad, happy, angry, ferocious, confused, hurt, injured, bored, curious, nurturing, affectionate, surprised, startled, etc. And when you are building a sound effects library, don’t forget to attach those kinds of descriptors to each sound, so that searching for pure emotions will be easier. By the way, don’t limit your search to actual creature vocals. When building certain kinds of creature vocabularies, non-animal recordings can be useful too. One great example is the metal screeching sounds often used as elements for the vocals of Godzilla, Kaiju and other monsters in the Japanese tradition.
I’m a big believer in starting any kind of art project doing something close to throwing paint at the canvas. I suggest that you work quickly and be tolerant of mistakes, imperfections, and even stuff that just sounds wrong. Put a sound of some kind there, and then move on. The opposite approach, making sure that each step (in this case each vocalization) is perfect before moving on to the next one, will paralyze you.
As you work through a sequence, or a series of sequences, you will discover sounds that you’ll want to insert into a sequence you did earlier, where you previously just had a placeholder. That’s great, and exactly the way it should happen.
When I’m working in ProTools I’ll usually have an area of tracks after the end pop for a reel where I can do pure sonic design, paying little or no attention to picture. With almost all sound effects, certainly with a creature vocal, I usually break a sound into three parts: beginning, middle, and end. Just like a story, or a musical note.
When I’m trying to use real-world animal vocalizations to construct a fiction creature vocal, I rarely find a recording with a great beginning that also has a great middle and a great end. By “great” I mean great for my purposes, for the scene I’m working on. The attack of the sound may be weak, or distorted, or have any number of other problems that make it less than useful, but the middle or the end of that vocal might be gold. So, I’m always prepared to use pieces of a vocal I’ve recorded or found in a library, and then connect one piece with another and another so that the result is a compelling beginning, middle, and end.
But… connecting pieces of different recordings, and especially if those recordings are not even the same animal, is often hard. There are several ways to unify a sequence of disparate sounds.
I’ll describe some of those techniques in the next blog: Designing Creature Vocals, Part Three.