by Julia Skubisz
Take an inside look at how to approach sound design for creature sound effects.
Have you ever been tasked with the challenge of creating original sound effects for a creature or otherworldly monster? It may be intimidating to begin from scratch – but in our latest tutorial video, sound artist Chris Kokkinos (Audio Lead, Rooster Teeth) takes us through his process for creating lively, energetic, and unique creature sounds.
Following the steps below, Chris guides us through a redesign of the The Hound – one of the Creatures of Grimm from Rooster Teeth's series RWBY.
1. Make a List and Mindmap
Chris suggests to first make a list of what the creature reminds you of or any realistic sounds you associating with the creature. Creating a mindmap of what sounds might work will help you determine which terms to look for during your search. Chris' first search is looking for human made noises, especially in frequency ranges he cannot hit on his own, & encourages designers to record themselves!
2. Select Your Sounds
Once you have a solid idea for your creature and you move on to searching for sound effects, Chris encourages you to pull more sound effects than you need so you have a base to work from. Besides human noises, Chris gravitates towards expressive animal sounds — such as tiger growls & purrs, rather than just roars, elephant air blasts, and sounds which fill out the entire spectral frequency such as dolphin trills.
Chris pulls sounds from The Odyssey Collection: Creatures to select high quality animal recordings for use as source material in the design process.
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Sonify the beasts and critters of your wildest dreams with The Odyssey Collection: Creatures – featuring characterful animal recordings from over 100 different animals – curated from the private library of Academy Award®-winning sound artists Mark Mangini & Richard L. Anderson.
3. Build, Layer, & Design!
As you begin to play and layer the sound effects which you've pulled, Chris reminds us to pay attention to the lead up of an event on screen in addition to the primary action you are sound designing. For instance, if the creature is rearing up for a big roar, don't only focus on the roar, pay attention to the surrounding motions of the creature as well, this will make your creature that much more expressive and realistic. And as always, don't hesitate to mess with the sound effects you pull — pitch & time shift them, reverse them, & cut different elements together to have even more ingredient to play with while keeping them within the same tonal family. Chris also recommends to EQ sound effects to highlight the specific elements you'd like to incorporate in your sound design, such as high passing a dolphin thrill to eliminate any lower unwanted frequencies which may muddy the rest of your mix.
4. Plugin Processing
The same way a mixer adds life to a films soundtrack by EQ-ing dialogue and adding reverb — once you have assembled your creatures noises, it's time to add some processing to your creature. Chris' go to's are pitch shift tools and saturators. Pitch shifting offers sound effects more movement, while saturators can modify the tonal quality of sounds, giving them more bite & aggression.
"I like to automate the pitch tool to give the sound a little bit more movement to try and match what's happening on screen."
At the end of the day, you don't need dozens of fancy plugins or thousands of sound effects to create creatures, just a couple great quality sound effects and some imagination. Remember to play off what you see on screen, to hit every movement, and if all else fails search for a good 'death scream' sound effect to get you started.
Chris Kokkinos is a sound designer based out of Austin, currently the Supervising Sound Editor & Audio Lead at Rooster Teeth.