A COLLABORATIVE POST BY BRAD MEYER
SOUND EFFECTS EDITOR, BOOM BOX POST
There are a few scenarios that I, and every other Sound Editor I know, come across in almost everything that we work on. The most persistent of which seems to be water. In the last month alone, I’ve cut a scene with a family of octopuses swimming in a shallow bay, a scene with a whole ocean being split like Moses at the Red Sea, and an action packed surfing sequence.
Cutting Water sounds effects can be really hit or miss if you don’t have the right tools in your arsenal, so here are a few tips to make sure your water sounds really make a splash.
When it comes to water, matching the size of your body of water and the size of what is in the water is really important. An ocean can sound much different than a lake, and a raging river sounds much different than a babbling brook. This may seem self-explanatory, but it is all too easy to think “water is water, what’s the difference”? However, it is helpful to remember that all water is not created equal, which is important while trying to match the body of water on screen.
Additionally, duplicating the size of what may be interacting with your water is essential to cutting water sound effects. A cargo ship moving through water disturbs the water much more than a small rowboat, and a hippopotamus paddling through a lake will be much more explosive than an otter splashing around.
A regular problem I come across when I encounter water scenes, especially with large bodies of water, is the lack of frequency variation. Waves crashing, water washing, waterfalls raging, rivers rushing, etc. can all come across as white noise. With music, other sound effects, and dialogue, white noise can muddy a mix and get completely lost in everything else going on in a scene. It is essential to make sure you have a variety of frequencies in your water. For example, a large waterfall should certainly have a low rumbly element to it. But it should also have some high end, splashy water movement as well, just like a natural waterfall. This means that no matter what else is going on in the scene, the waterfall has enough frequency variation to shine through in the mix.
More often than not, when cutting water sound effects, you’ll be tasked with making the sounds for something moving through or in the water. Whether it is a dolphin swimming through a coral reef or an oil tanker ripping through the ocean, water movement sounds are as much a part of cutting water as the sound of bodies of water themselves. Here are some terms to help with cutting water movements:
Water Pass Bys: water pass bys can be both underwater or on the surface, and can really help bring a swimming creature or vessel to life. If you are cutting an aquatic vehicle or vessel, try to find a recording or sound effect without engine sounds, so you have as much control over the scene as possible by cutting motors and engines separately.
Water Washes: a wash is the sound of something constantly moving through water. Instead of a pass by, think of a wash as a steady. In real life, when a ship or boat is moving through water, it is constantly creating a wash on the sides and front of the boat. This should be recreated in any water scene you cut. Washes really only happen on the surface of water. This also pertains to animals swimming on the surface.
Submerge: A submerge is the sound of something going into or entering a body of water. Someone jumping into a pool, a ship sinking, and a coin plopping into a fountain are all water submerges. Matching size is key here.
Emerges: an emerge is the sound of something coming out of or exiting a body of water. A dolphin surfacing for a jump, a submarine coming up from the deep, and an oar surfacing as part of a canoe paddle sequence are all water emerges. Matching size is also key here.
Underwater Sound Effects
Underwater sounds can be tricky, since they are tricky to record, as well as tricky to recreate. That being said, it’s always best to try to find underwater sounds that occur naturally if you can.
A solid underwater background track is a good jumping off point when cutting underwater. For starters, I’d include some low water drones and a non-intrusive bubble steady as part of an underwater background. It’s important to establish natural variants in the underwater sound itself before moving on to whatever may happen in your underwater scene.
Water pass bys, steadies, and swimming sounds all apply underwater, but have a very different timbre than their above-the-surface counterparts, so be sure to again use naturally occurring underwater pass bys, steadies, and swimming sounds if you can.
Lastly, it can be hard to make or recreate sounds of things happening underwater that aren’t necessarily water related. A character handling a long-lost treasure chest, a submarine crashing into a trench, or a ship’s anchor crashing onto the ocean floor are all great examples. Sometimes sounds like these are very hard to find recording of, but can be made or recreated with the right tools. There are a few ways to recreate underwater elements using plugins such as the “Underwater” setting in Waves Metaflanger, various phasers and vocoders, but I think the coolest option I’ve seen is using water elements to create an impulse response (See previous blog pulse on how to make an Impulse Response: https://www.boomboxpost.com/blog/2017/3/26/lunch-and-learn-convolution-reverb-and-impulse-responses) and running your sounds through a convolution reverb.
It can be hard to get perfect, but with some plugin tweaking, and careful layering and effect choices, cutting sound effects underwater is a total blast.