Plugin Alliance recently approached me to ask if I would like to try out one of Krotos’s newest plugins, the Reformer Pro. As a big fan of Dehumanizer by Krotos, which we previously blogged about using to create alien vocals, I quickly agreed.
Not able to wait until I had time to install the plugin and really dive in, I took a few minutes between clients at work and checked out the Krotos website to see what Reformer Pro had to offer. What I found was this description:
Perfect for audio professionals in all industries, Reformer allows sound artists to shape and sculpt effects in real-time with any audio input, from a live mic, pre-recorded sample or a beat track. From voices reforming into explosions or a revving engine melding into ferocious black leopard snarls, with Reformer, artists go beyond traditional sound design methods and literally re-form sound.
I wasn’t really sure what to make of that description. Did I want to "literally re-form sound?" Yeah, that sounded cool. But what did it mean? What exactly did the plugin do? I wasn’t so sure. So, I clicked over to the product video next to the description. Surely, I thought, a video with someone using it would shed some light on what exactly Reformer was. Here’s what I watched:
Now I was even more intrigued by what this plugin had to offer. Let me say that maybe you’re quicker than I am, or maybe you’re more in touch with how to translate sexy product information (and let me say, this product video is definitely well-produced and super sexy), but I could not for the life of me figure out why or how a plugin would require a woman to act like a black leopard on mic or perform servos live in a studio with her mouth. You guys, I’m not going to lie: a few giggles may have escaped my mouth.
I’m not hating on the Reformer plugin. Seriously, not at all. I just couldn’t tell what it did. So, I resigned myself to waiting until I had a good amount of time to devote to actually playing with my new toy. It seemed that the internet would not be helping to whet my appetite for a new sound design adventure.
Understanding Reformer & Reformer Pro
A few weeks later, I hunkered down with a few hours and an intense curiosity about the Reformer Pro. I installed it, and then, I opened the manual (I’m a total manual gal. I like to know absolutely everything about using a plugin before I get started). Here’s what their intro says:
Reformer Pro is a unique plugin that allows you to perform pre-recorded audio instantly and intuitively. This means you can produce dynamic, responsive, highly realistic sound design in real-time by using an audio input or pre-processing. For the first time, you can perform sample libraries with any input signal in a dynamic, flexible way, as you would by using an instrument...The plugin performs various forms of real-time analysis on the signal and uses this to produce a composite sound, based on various files from a pre-recorded library.
Okay, now I was getting the picture. But, let me break it down for you: Reformer and Reformer Pro use any input signal you’d like (an open mic, an audio file placed in your ProTools timeline, etc.) to trigger sound library files which you load into the plugin (either from one of their libraries or your own). But, it doesn’t just play back the original library sounds like a traditional sampler would. Instead, it uses the frequency and amplitude of your input signal to break apart and then re-composite the library sounds so that you get unique variations each time based on the input.
There are two versions of Reformer: Reformer and Reformer Pro. Reformer is currently available for free download, and comes with one complimentary Reformer library (Black Leopard). You do not have the ability to load any of your own personal library sounds into the plugin to use, but you can choose to add any number of Reformer libraries available for purchase. The Reformer Pro ($399) gives you the ability to load your own sound libraries into the plugin and also includes access to the Krotos Bundle of libraries ($499 when purchased alone) which can be used with the Reformer Pro or as standalone sound libraries. If you're still a little unsure about what the plugin has to offer, here is a great explainer video:
Now, this whole woman-acting-like-a-black-leopard thing was starting to make sense. But, while that totally makes for a fascinating product video, I’m not sure that performing real-world sounds into a live mic is really the best application for this plugin. It looks cool, but it doesn’t really seem that cost- or time-effective to me. I have to say that as a business owner as well as supervising sound editor, I’m always thinking about the bottom line just as much as the creative potential in any sound design situation. You could probably get as good or maybe even better results by just choosing a leopard sound effect from a library and syncing it up in your timeline, and it would take you approximately 500 times less effort. But, it seemed to me that there would be great potential to do some cool design work from the ground up using this plugin.
So, I set out to load in some sounds of my own and see how much design potential this beast really possessed.
Using Reformer Pro with the Reformer Libraries
You start by loading up to four libraries into Reformer to use at the same time. Just click on one of the gray buttons above or below the X-Y pad’s quadrants, and the library selection window will appear. Choose one of Reformer’s pre-created libraries (if you have purchased them), or load your own. Then, you will be able to move the node around within the four quadrants to vary the amount of each library that is triggered by your input signal. Mute any library you don’t want to hear, but then be sure that you move the node into another quadrant.
When you start your input signal, you will see the visualizer come to life. This gives you real-time feedback as to the frequency and amplitude of your input as well as output signals. The outermost yellow ring represents the frequency of the processed signal, the middle red ring represents the amplitude of the processed signal, and the innermost orange ring shows you the amplitude of your input signal.
Overall, it’s very intuitive and pretty simple to use. So, let’s dig in!
First, I used one of my blood-curdling screams to trigger Reformer’s black leopard library. To do this, I muted all quadrants other than the black leopard library one and played back my scream file from my ProTools timeline. Here’s what I got:
Moderately cool, right? I mean, it does the trick and triggers a roar. Then, I used totally silly old alien conversation vocal I recorded to trigger Reformer’s black leopard library. (Please forgive how ridiculous this particular file is. We recorded it keeping in mind that it would be pitched way down and processed. But, I have entered into the realm of having no shame as a blogger, so I'm letting you hear the original file. Also, this is Jessey's favorite thing I've ever recorded, so this one's for you, Jessey!)
So you can see how the input material really affects the nature of the audio. If you needed to, say, design a black leopard having a chat with someone, this might come in handy. I’m not sure if you’ll ever come across that particular scenario, but hey, crazier things have happened. In other uses, I could see this being an awesome way to trigger non-vocal effects (like R2-D2-type beeps) to have the cadence of a human speaking.
Next, I loaded up both the leather and fruit libraries by Reformer and used one of my underwater recordings to trigger them together.
Using Reformer Pro with Our Custom Boom Box Library Sounds
After trying out a few of the libraries that Reformer had to offer, I decided to try working with some of our Boom Box Library sound effects to see how those would differ. We released the Heads Up Display library as part of our Robotic Creations Collection last year, which contains entirely synthesized sounds. So, these would have the potential to react very differently than the naturalistic effects that I had been triggering from Krotos.
First, I chose to load some of our power ups and data readouts as two separate libraries into the Reformer. To do this, I found the files that I wanted to use within our Heads Up Display SFX Library and copied them into two different folders: data readouts and power ups. This was necessary because the libraries you load into Reformer Pro must be a max of 1 GB, and our library is larger than that. I also wanted to be able to choose the blend between the two types of sounds. I should note that all audio files must also be more than one second for Reformer Pro to be able to properly analyze them. But, that having silence between audio instances within a file does not seem to affect the usability of the file.
Once I had my libraries copied into separate folders, I clicked on the gray icon at the top right of the library screen. This opened the analysis tool. I chose the folder which I wished to upload, my sample rate, and clicked the “create” button. I then named my library and it began the scan, which only took a few moments. To make the library appear in the plugin, I closed the plugin instance (no need to remove it, just close the window so it can refresh), and then reopened it to see my new custom libraries in place. Super easy!
So, I then used an underwater recording that I named "lava boil" to trigger both the power downs and data readouts equally. This was a steady audio file with a fair amount of motion, so I thought it might yield some interesting results.
Then, I muted the data readout quadrant and used another super silly alien vocal recording that I created in the past to trigger just the power ups. This gave me some really interesting new sounds. They’re not exactly robotic vocals, and not exactly power ups. But this was definitely a cool way to add variation to pre-created sounds. (Again, forgive the ridiculousness of the alien vocals. These are original recordings that were earmarked to heavily process. But I have no shame.)
Using Reformer Pro with a Live Microphone Input
And finally, I opened up a mic and did a little random vocalizing so that you can see the whole shebang in action.
Overall, this was a really fun plugin to use! It is definitely a great sound design tool for those times when you would like to really customize something. It’s especially wonderful for those times when you have a client say something like, “We’d like for that giant slug’s movements to sound just like a screaming child!” If you need the qualities of one sound melded together with those of another in a seamless way, this is just the right thing.
Intrigued? I would highly recommend giving the Reformer a try. It’s really simple to set up and totally fun to use. Right now, you can download Reformer (the stripped-down version of Reformer Pro) for FREE on the Krotos website. Once you have it installed and activated, you’ll be able to use the black leopard library for free as well. You can also download a free sample of our Boom Box Library Heads Up Display SFX Library to use with Reformer Pro. Check it all out, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below! I’d love to hear how you’re using it!