Monday, December 21, 2009

Foley for people who suck at sound

Oh look, a blog post! Gosh, it's been a while. Must have something to do with me changing this to an Official Dev Blog (TM) and then not doing any significant game creation for a good two months. Holy crap, I've been a naughty boy.

So anyway, I've been working on a little something called ArGeeBee for Game.Dev's comp 24. It's nothing much, but I'm quite proud of the ad-hoc sound effects that I've made for it. Why? Well, because I'm about as amateur as one gets when it comes to working with audio. I've taken a radio course and done my own fiddling about, sure, but aside from knowing how to hold a microphone and pressing the "record" button, I can't exactly say that I'm an experienced sound engineer.

Fortunately, one doesn't need to be a pro to make a delightful range of sound effects for videogames -- I do it all the time using a technique known as foley.

Foley is better known as the art of grabbing everyday objects and banging them near the microphone. It's used by professionals all over the world in a variety of fields, but few people realise that it's pretty easy to do at an amateur level too. Here's a few examples of how I made some pretty exotic sounds with some very rudimentary techniques and household objects. The results aren't studio quality, but they're a damn fine alternative to relying on your "1001 Free Sound Effects" CD.

Don't forget to grab my game if you wanna hear these noises in action. Because hearing them would be half the point, duh. Oh, and I edited most of my sounds using the basic options in Audacity. You should get it and learn to use it. You can still get quite far without knowing any funny sound jargon.

Now, on to some examples:

1) If you want to sound like something, grab that something

Enough ice to choke a polar bear.

One of the characters in my game has the ability to lay mines that can trap enemies in ice. I think the resulting sound is still my favourite effect in the project because, well, it was so damn simple. I needed a crackling-icy-freezy noise, so I looked inside my fridge, found a bag of ice and played about with it near the microphone. Afterwards, I cropped the recording to the bit that I wanted and with no further editing had a sound effect ready to inject into my game. Totally freaking awesome, right?

2) If you don't have something, grab something else

I don't own a Zippo, but I thought it would make for a sexy picture.

In situations where you need to use a jetpack, but don't happen to have one lying around (where do all those jetpacks go, anyway? They're like lost socks in the wash), there's still hope. Instead of going to the bother of borrowing a friend's jetpack for the weekend, I simply consider what else sounds like a small combustion chamber and throw that in instead. And that's how I turned to the jetpack's humble little brother: the humble lighter. A nice one, mind you -- mini-blowtorch style. In what's probably a very irresponsible move (kids, don't try this at home) I used one to light a coal by my (cheap) PC mic and got a pretty acceptable burst of "jet noise". After a bit of editing to make it sound sci-fi (just flanging the hell out of it, really), it was ready for game use.

Of course, I could also have simulated the noise using something else:

3) Blah blah blah ...

DISCLAIMER: Not my mouth.

Pretty much every other sound effect that you'll hear in ArGeeBee emerged as a product of Tongues 'n Teeth Incorporated: home-brewed and packed with lots of love, squirrels and other fluffy things. Those high-pitched voice clips are obvious enough (DISCLAIMER 2: Not my original voice), but everything else I got across just by making an approximation with my mouth and then fiddling with (literally) random filters until I got a sound I liked.

Given all of the above situations, I now ask myself three questions.

How was my expertise? Laughable.
How satisfactory were the results? Passable.
How fun was it making my own sounds compared to picking through a minefield of free sound libraries? Dear reader, it was enough fun to kill a whale.

On a final note: I'm not a professional foley artist. Heck, I'm not a professional when it comes to any form of audio. As a matter of fact, I probably even got the definition for foley wrong. But, you know, doing stuff this way is still pretty damn fun. If you're hopeless with sound like me, give this easier stuff a whirl to whet your appetite, even if you initially make someone's ears bleed.

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