Category Archives: Sound Design

Vintage Sound Effects

You may have heard of the recent work by Craig Smith, digitising and sharing a 27GB collection of vintage sound effects. The sounds form three collections, and I’ve included details & links at the end of this post.

The sound that drew the most initial attention from the collection was the original recording that the Wilhelm scream was selected from. It is fascinating to hear the context & direction which created such a sound. More info at freesound here – have a listen:

But I’d like to draw attention to another iconic sound in the collection.

I’ve always been a huge fan of submarine movies, and years ago collected up every submarine film I could find. From 1943 We Dive at Dawn to 2018 Hunter Killer, including Das Boot, Hunt for Red October, Run Silent Run Deep, Ice Station Zebra, Crimson Tide, U571…

The sounds in such films are fascinating but there is one sound that I love above all else: the sonar ping!
So I was overjoyed to discover amongst all these libraries, a source recording of sonar pings and the selected take.

The source recording is here at Freesound and the selected take is here

What an evocative sound! Its also interesting to think about why the sonar ping is so interesting. Apart from the weird tonality, when we hear it in the context of a film the sonar is often used in a critical moment eg when the enemy is close. And it is also usually spatialised and reveberated, to convey that sense of underwater space.

Have you found any favourite classic sounds in the collection? Please share a link in the comments if so!

Here is more info on Craig Smiths excellent work, and links to explore more at Freesound.

“The Gold and Red Libraries (Gold effects start with “G”, Red with “R”)) consist of high-quality, first generation copies of original nitrate optical sound effects from the 1930s & ’40s created for Hollywood studios. They were collected by a prominent sound editor who worked in the industry for 44 years. The fragile optical elements were donated to USC, and transferred to tape by USC Cinema students in the early 1970s.

I have digitized them for preservation, but they have not been restored. You may want to use some noise reduction. Or you may embrace the noise of history.

Read more about the Gold Library
Read more about the Red Library

The Sunset Editorial (SSE) Library was also donated to USC around 1990. It includes classic effects from the 1930s into the ’80s. These effects are from 35mm magnetic film. They were often several generations removed from the originals, and not as clean, so some careful restoration was done to make them more useful. SSE effects start with “S”

Read more about the Sunset Editorial Library



UNDERWATER sound design

A reblog from MUSIC OF SOUND: Underwater

Someone asked about making underwater sounds so I thought I’d post a few examples of approaches I’ve tried that worked to varying degrees. And an escape clause before you listen to anything: while physics is fascinating, unless you are working on a documentary about how sound is heard underwater, then the aim is to evoke the feeling of being underwater. Often when I hear hydrophone recordings I think that isn’t how I remember underwater sounding. Now my memory is partly based on decades of hearing underwater sounds in scuba documentaries and films, but I don’t think thats actually what makes me think this, its more visceral than that. My memory comes from going for a swim – in a pool or in the sea. And what I hear from hydrophones doesn’t tend to remind me of my own underwater experiences…. But that isn’t to say you cannot get interesting sounds from a hydrophone as plenty of people have. But for the project that I needed underwater sounds for, using a hydrophone was not on the top of my list…

A few years back I worked on a short film called WATER, directed by Chris Graham. The basic premise is that there is a leaky tap in someones house & no one notices except a young girl who tells her family, but they all ignore her. Slowly the house fills with water, until the family are all swimming around the house, seemingly oblivious… Its a not hugely subtle meditation on global warming & people living in denial, but anyway they went to great lengths to make it work visually – literally sawing a house in half so they could slowly lower it into a swimming pool. Accordingly making appropriate water sounds was vital, especially for the climax, much of which was underwater….

So I tried a lot of different approaches – we had some great wildtracks from production sound of people moving in water within the half submerged house. And for a previous film I had done a lot of recording at an exterior swimming pool, exhausting a poor swimmer getting him do things like dive to the bottom of the pool, release all his air & then surface…. I also dug through my library for interesting sea, lake & mud sounds… So the main starting point for me was a lot of great recordings and armed with all this source material I started trying different processes with them…

First I tried doing pitch sweeps in Metasynth – parts of this file are very useful and other parts aren’t (ie when the grain starts to show)

Next I tried vocoding, back then I had the Digidesign Orange vocoder plugin which has the usual cheesy synth built in for when you want to sound like bad euro synth pop, but you could disable it and use a second audio file as the source. So this file I was taking sounds like those swimming pool water bubbles and vocoding them against explosions….

And just for fun I tried vocoding some of the dialogue guidetrack from the film against waterlapping sounds