Last week, I was tasked with designing the sound of a new character for a show.  She is a fast-moving wild cat, and the spotting session called for her to sound incredibly speedy and stylized, but also fairly natural.  She needed to be able to race past the other characters with astonishing velocity, leaving them in a trail of her dust.  

My inspiration: jet bys!  I wanted to create something from scratch that had the same effect of super speed as a jet by but was made from different sonic elements.  I played around with different ideas of what sound her quickly cycling legs would make as they rushed past, thinking that focusing on this aspect would give an added level of interest to the sound.  I considered using multi-swishes, speeding up her footfalls, etc.  But, in the end, I settled on using a helicopter blade wop to express this idea.  It had the perfect amount of high-frequency overtones  to really cut through a mix, and also had the repetitive whooshing nature that I was looking for.  

Here is a sample of the sound file I chose from my library:

The regular file was great, but it still sounded like a helicopter.  I wanted this cat to sound like something completely new and different. So, I employed my new favorite plug-in: Doppler. With this Waves plugin, you can take any steady sound and morph it into a Doppler effect by.  

Doppler by Waves lets you choose the position of the object as it starts, passes the observer, and ends.  You can also choose the speed and duration of the pass by.  

Doppler by Waves lets you choose the position of the object as it starts, passes the observer, and ends.  You can also choose the speed and duration of the pass by.  

For those who aren't familiar with this concept, according to Wikipedia, "The Doppler effect is the change in frequency of a wave (or other periodic event) for an observer moving relative to its source. It is named after the Austrian physicist Christian Doppler, who proposed it in 1842 in Prague."  In essence, as the object emitting the sound (such as a siren from an emergency vehicle) grows close to the observer, the observer perceives a continuous rise in pitch.  When the object and the observer are occupying the same physical space, the pitch is the same for both.  Then, the pitch quickly drops as the object moves past the observer.  You will notice this effect at its most obvious when you hear cars on a freeway passing by.  

When working with sound effects, you can fade in and out of a sound as the object approaches and passes camera.  But without the change in pitch, we are left feeling that the "by" falls a little short of realistic.  Thus, enters Doppler by Waves.  This plug in allows you to create a virtual Doppler effect by choosing the start and end points of the object in relation to the observer (or virtual microphone) within a two-dimensional environment.  You can also choose the duration of each "by" from start to finish and the time at which the object reaches the observer. In this screenshot of the plugin, you can see the observer as the central point on the parabolic curve, with the start and end points at either end of the yellow line. 

An added benefit of using the plugin over actually taking a microphone out into the real world is that it opens the door to using any sound as a starting-point, not just those which usually emanate from moving objects.  This means that you could create a Doppler by from a waterfall, wind, or even a synthesized laser beam effect.  The possibilities are endless!  

Here is the Doppler by that I made from the steady helicopter blade wop above:

And, after layering in several other elements, here is the fully-designed by:

Cool, right?

QUESTION: Have you ever used Doppler?  What kind of sounds were you affecting?  

Leave a comment with your answer here, on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter!  


Cover image by Chris Johns, courtesy of National Geographic.