zs_overman (zs_overman) wrote in bloodspell,

Anatomy of a Crossbow

Some sounds are simple samples. (say that 10 times fast!) Others, such as the crossbows in Episode 1, are composites. Composite sounds are definitely the most fun to create.

The worldwide impression of Americans seems at times to be that we are nothing if not fond of stocking our homes with weaponry. Whether or not there is truth to this is probably best for a blog of another color. But in any case, having traded my crossbow for a Luger at the most recent gun show, I was in a bit of a pickle. Truth be told I'd never heard an old-style crossbow up close and in person, and couldn't find anyone local who had one... not the the wooden medieval kind, anyway. So I had to improvise, and not without a lot of coaching from Hugh, who is apparently a connoisseur.

It turns out that working for a construction contractor by day can, indeed, be helpful to machinima! I had no difficulty acquiring several choice pieces of scrap wood of various densities and lengths. For the "slappy" wooden sound of the crossbow's action, I found two different combinations of wood smacks which seemed to suit well, each pitched a bit differently, but neither seemed to be quite dirty enough on its own to be convincing. I ended up combining the two sounds, spaced a couple milliseconds apart to give a kind of "cuh-lap!" sound. I recorded about a minute of each, one clap after another, then spliced them into about 15 composites, no two sounding exactly the same (human + wood is lovely that way). Then I added to each a twangy "thu-wump" sound (processed) to get the feel of the string/wire release. The variations were important because very often there would be more than one crossbowman firing in short succession, and to have the exact same sound repeat twice in a row just wouldn't do at all.

When it's all said and done, the crossbow is probably the most sound intensive device in the whole of the first act: a creaking tension as it is loaded, a satisfying "click" as it is cocked, the above-described sound of release, the arrow whistling through the air, and of course the sounds of impact into a variety of materials.

Probably the most important lesson learned / remembered here was a simple one: many recording "takes" equals less redundancy in your final product. Whether you're constructing a sound from scratch, or simply shopping for a processed sound effect, it is always preferable to get several variations of that sound if it is going to be repeated at all in a scene or even in the course of the whole film. And if you can't acquire multiple takes, then you can forge your own multiple takes by creating several versions of the sound with a few semitones of pitch difference applied to each.

Interested in more about Bloodspell's foley work? Check here:

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