Creative dialogue processing is a unique and fun challenge that varies from the sound design work we typically encounter on a daily basis.  For this month’s Inside Sound Design post, I’m going to walk through one common and simple processing chain we might use for science-fiction themed computer or robot dialogue.  

This is the raw dialogue sample we are working with:

The first tool I’m going to use is pitch.  It is generally good to consult your client or supervisor on how the processing should sound, but you can infer a lot about based on the emotion and context of the line.  If the read is angry you might attempt to process it to sound more aggressive and pitch it lower.  If the line is more neutral or cold, you could attempt to make it process it with less distortion to sound more friendly and relaxed.  If it is supposed to sound silly, you could pitch it higher to enhance the humor.

To beef up our raw sample I’m just going to take the pitch down 1 semitone.  Here is the pitched version:

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My next step is to add a phasey, robot-y type effect.  To achieve this I'm using the Waves Meta-flanger plug-in, which allows me to set the depth and rate of the phase effect.  I set the depth to the maximum: 100, and the rate to .41, which is relatively slow.  

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To further fatten up the now-phasey sample, I’m adding Waves Doubler 4 plug-in, which allows you to layer in multiple pitched versions of the sample while adding slight delay.  I used all 4 voices, but kept the tuning under 50 cents, to add some slight dissonance.

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To wrap up the processed sample I’m layering in a small plate reverb, to add a short metallic verb implying the voice might be echoing out of a speaker or robot head.  For extra credit, you can use an Impulse Response reverb, and use an IR of a metal bucket or helmet.

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There is a near unlimited number of methods and tools for processing and designing creative dialogue and vocals, the best way to learn and come up with ideas is to experiment.  There are even tools designed specifically for inhuman dialogue and vocal processing, such as Voxpat and Dehumanizer.  For further reading on dialogue and vocal processing check out Ryan’s post on Morphoder, and Jeff’s post and duplicating C-CPO!

What are your favorite speaking computers, robot and droid voices in movies and TV?