Essential Bodyfalls: Sound Library Post-Mortem

Essential Bodyfalls is the second library that I’ve published. This is a brief account of what I learned during the process of creating it along side fellow sound designers Grace Canavan and Pearse O' Caoimh.

Where to record

At first, we considered recording outdoors, somewhere desolated and quiet but the Irish weather quickly encouraged us to go another route. It would be very tough to find enough days when the three of us were free plus the weather was decent.. So we considered finding an indoors place. After some looking around, we found that Grace’s family had a house that was in construction and there was a room in there that we may able to use.

The place was empty and echoey but fairly quiet and mostly for ourselves on the weekends so we decided to turn it into our improvised foley studio. We couldn’t do anything permanent to the room, so we did some research to find possible solutions that would be easy to remove afterwards.

This is how the room looked at first…

We were able to get some help from the builders working on the house and we built a wooden frame and two foley pits for us. The idea was to apply a poor’s man room within a room concept. The frame, which spanned two thirds of the room, was then covered with old blankets and duvets creating both a dream-like blanket castle and hopefully a recording studio.

The result, despite the low tech approach was pretty decent acoustically. The room was now very dry although from a frequency balance perspective there were improvements to make. Firstly, the high frequency absorption was maybe too much so we removed some of the blankets to make the room a bit more bright.

The naked wooden frame.

A view from the outside.

This is how one of the corners looked with all the blankets on.

The biggest issue, as always with amateur acoustical work, were the low frequencies. We had some big resonance modes on several places. To solve this (or at least to try to), we built some DIY bass traps on the corners. We had an improvement but it wasn’t very dramatic. We decided to continue anyways knowing that we would maybe need to do some EQ work with the resulting sounds.

Props: Building dummies

Although the idea of using your own body to record is tempting, it may not be very practical from a medical point of view. We knew we had to build some kind of dummy that we could use as an action double. Something durable, heavy enough and of course realistic sounding.

We tried several things to try to create the correct weight and sound.

Mark 1 (Fat Tony): Our first approach was to use sandbags covered with clothes. A big one would be the torso plus two smaller cylindrical ones for limbs. The resulting dummy was heavy (maybe too heavy) and it sounded quite dull.

Mark 2 (Potato Man): A different approach was to stuff some old dungarees with a mix of potatoes and foam. The result was a brighter sound that maybe needed more weight.

Mark 3 (Punching Bag): This time we bought a punching bag and we stuffed with old clothes and foam. This one sounded kind of in the middle of the two previous ones, it had a good amount of weight to it but without being too dull.

We also used other smaller props, like toys and stuffed animals to give the sounds more variability and to interact with the different materials and surfaces we had. At the end, the best results were achieved by combining two or more props in a single action, we were usually using two of our dummies at a time.

 Our collection of dummies during some initial testing.

Our collection of dummies during some initial testing.

Surfaces & Materials

Although we considered some others, the final library ended up having body falls on: dirt, gravel, sand, concrete, metal, grass and wood.

We were able to find some of the materials in construction sites where builders were kind enough to let us grab a bucket full of different types of dirt, sand and gravel.

For the concrete, we just use the bare floor of the room since it had no carpet or tiles. For metal, we used different pieces that we found around. We had a solid one and then a more hollow sounding one.

The grass was recorded using combinations of dry grass and VHS tapes to achieve both short and tall grass. Finally, the wood falls were recorded on an old door and a abandoned pallet.

We used a piece of cloth to contain the materials and easily swap them when needed. Something we quickly discovered was that to get more interesting results, it´s a good idea to combine different materials. The dirt, for example, had a bit of gravel mixed in to enhance the crunchiness.

Here you an see our buckets + the cloths we were using to contain each material + the old wooden door on the left.

Recording sessions

Something we learned while working on this project was that at first we were being too ambitious. We were planning to record several falls from each of the dummies with three different intensities on each variation of every surface. This would have taken forever.

At the end, we decided to streamline the process, focusing of getting nice sounds for each of the surfaces regardless of the prop used and mixing up intensities. The best results were probably achieved when combining the dummies and using two of them at the same time.

Since we were a team of three, two would be recording while the third is editing and checking takes on a Pro Tools rig that we set up on another room. This way, we had quick feedback on what was working the best.

After we have recorded enough falls on any given surface, we would record some isolated interactions with the material like drags, impacts, debris, etc… This proved to be essential on the editing phase.

The gear used was quite simple. A sennheisser MKH416 and a Shure SM57 into my faithful Tascam HD-P2.

Gear in action.

Editing, mixing & Mastering

This is probably one of the most gruelling steps of the process. We needed to process and combine hundreds of sounds to get to the final product. The approach we used was to have a master Pro Tools session with every single dummy and surface combination. We then did a selection of the best sounds from each of the takes.

Our glorious master session.

We then created a new session per final bodyfall type where we combined all the different layers of sounds to achieve a nice range of intensities and complexity. In some cases, we could even use a dull, neutral fall recorded on concrete and for example add a gravel impact and debris to create a gravel body fall.

Izotope RX was used to clean up takes and EQ + compression was applied all around. We were also mindful about audio levels and we applied the same mastering process to all the final sounds so they have a confortable level of loudness to work with.

Conclusions

In my opinion, the main lesson learned from this project, was that it´s important to set a realistic goal and focus on getting that done to the best of your abilities instead of planning to do something too ambitious that you probably will never finish.

Another lesson was that sometimes it´s easier to just pay for something instead of expending a lot of time trying to get it for free. Every problem can be solved with either time or money and knowing when to use each is key if you want to get things done.

If you work on any library creation project, something that you should always keep in mind is that the editing and mixing process is tough and very time consuming. Try dividing it into smaller chunks or assigning different sections to different people to make it easier.

With all this work now behind us, we are very happy with the results and with how the library is doing. We are definitely looking forward to tackle new projects and apply all the learned lessons but in the meantime, you can check out the library here: