Portable recorder for recording ambience/effects/wind noise? Some foley advice?

Discussion in 'Mixing & Editing' started by JakeAC5253, Jul 19, 2014.

  1. JakeAC5253

    JakeAC5253 Active Member

    Feb 8, 2013
    NJ, USA
    I need a portable recording device for some light foley work where I would need to be outdoors or mobile. Sounds include banging and slamming sounds that would be dangerous to record indoors, ambient sounds like nature, rain, or speech in a social setting, and the sound of wind rushing.

    The wind sound is of particular importance as it needs to be sustained and would be difficult to fake, I think I would need to hold the recorder out of the car window while driving on the highway and hope to not pick up too much engine noise to achieve the desired sound. Maybe I'll have to turn the engine off to get a clean capture?

    I may also have to foley metal crushing sounds, simulating like a car crash, I was thinking I could crush a soda can or two and then slow it down or pitch it and see what happens. Maybe drop a heavy pan and mix it in as well? Maybe if I'm careless during the wind recording session, I won't have much simulating to do...

    Also I need to foley a convincing heartbeat sound, or record an actual heartbeat. Enough said.

    Anyway, so I need a recorder for mobile foley work, and some foley tips if you have the means to share them. I don't know much about portable recorders, would something like the well-liked H4N recorder suit my needs? How easy it is to import high quality recordings to a DAW from something like the H4N?
  2. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Moderator Resource Member

    Dec 18, 2008
    Western Pennsylvania, USA
    The Zoom would be a good place to start, if you'd like to practice ambient, effects recording. The step up to pro-level field recorders is a BIG step price wise. The Zoom wouldn't be a bad way to try and see if going to be something you enjoy. I'm doubtful any mic good enough to convincingly capture the sound of wind can do that without hearing the engine noise, tire noise, other traffic - but I like to see you're thinking 'outside-the-box'. Getting the sound of wind without a rumbly capsule is tricky.

    I do a little bit of sound-design for video and theatrical sound effects, but do not do much field recording. I'm at an age where, rather than invest a week's work into getting pristine field recordings - I'll hit up any of the numerous sound effects libraries and start with sounds that already exist and manipulate them to suit my needs. Some of the libraries are freebies (of varying quality) done by other folks who just love doing the recording, and apparently have a LOT of free time on their hands. Others libraries cost a buck or two, but are generally as good or better quality than I'd get running around with a Zoom. In either case, these libraries are royalty-free to use. I also have a number of SFX libraries on CD that I've bought over the years. Some are very specific (transportation, military, etc.) some are a very wide assortment. And when I say specific, I mean they tell you the make and model of car you're hearing the door slam, start-up, and drive away. I usually look through the CDs first then hit Freesound.org, or Sounddogs.com next if the CDs come up empty.

    The same goes for royalty-free music, buying a couple professionally done libraries for video background music, or radio commercial beds is money well-spent if that's a kind of production that interests you. If someone wants something specific, we can fire up the recorders and get them exactly what they envision. That takes time and money. More often than not though, they don't want to spend any more than they have to, they don't know what they want - but they know what the DON'T want the second they hear it. And naturally they've pissed around to the last minute and are now in a self-inflicted crunch for time to meet some arbitrary deadline. So, having a half-dozen viable music tracks to audition for your client that fit the mood you're trying to create for their project (mellow, corporate, news, patriotic, reggae, country, world-beat) is money in the bank too.

    Yes, the libraries have long sustained winds of several varieties, and wind sounds aren't that hard to dovetail together as long as there's no distinctive sound that will catch your ear if it repeats. Car crashes are usually composites of tires skidding, metal crushing, glass shattering, more crushing - so on.

    Working from SFX libraries can still be time consuming, listening to sounds until you find one that suits the situation then manipulating it, but I still feel like I've saved days of tedious field recording (making me more productive and the services more affordable).

    You can drop the finished sfx into the NLE (Premiere, FinalCutPro, Vegas, what have you) fairly easily. Once in a while you might find a crash, bang, boom, or other percussive noise doesn't sync up perfectly - it's because of the relatively coarse frame rate of video. So, you may on occasion have to add a fraction of second silence at the beginning of the sfx file in you DAW program to get it perfect when you drop it into your NLE program. (if you care about that sort of thing)

    Again, back to the beginning - if you want to develop the recording chops, that's great. Try it, see how you like doing it, and invest your time and money accordingly. Foley sounds you can record indoors, under much tighter control is a completely different story. Creaky door hinge, boots on your hands in corn-starch for walking in snow, cellophane for crackling fire, stabbing noises are often plunging the knife into a watermelon. That sounds like all kinds of fun. The guys who used to do the sound effects for the old live radio programs had tables full of fun stuff.

    Good luck Jake!!
    JakeAC5253 likes this.
  3. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Feb 7, 2014
    Lowestoft - UK
    Home Page:
    The trouble is that recording real sounds on location often produces sound that doesn't sound like we expect, hence why Foley techniques create the expected sound, even if it's actually totally false. Successful recording of wind noise involves the mic being in still air, capturing the sound of the wind passing by, not being in it, which just sounds like a roar. The back of a pickup, with your back against the cab puts you in a little 'bubble' and you get a very different perspective. This in the UK of course is banned on public roads because it's dangerous, but once you've discovered the place for the mic, you don't need to be out there, but inside.

    This effects - the crash and heartbeat, I would take from a library. Not really what Foley is for. Many people treat Foley as another word for sound effects, but it isn't, it's an artistic approach to recreation. It's great when done properly to the images.

    As for extending tracks - a piece of cake in a DAW layer them on timelines and blend together, very simple stuff.
  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Moderator (Distinguished Member) Resource Member

    Nov 25, 2012
    Akron/Cleveland, OH
    Home Page:
    "Many people treat Foley as another word for sound effects, but it isn't, it's an artistic approach to ( edit) re-creation."

    LOL... sorry Paul, I had to edit your word "Recreation". Here in the States, we would take that to mean as going for a swim, on vacation, or a night out on the town. LOL

    That aside, I totally agree with you. Too many people look at Foley as a generalized term for overall sound effects, when it's actually the use of sounds other than the true sound they are looking to re-create, and combinations of different sounds to substitute that which is generally very "undramatic" and at times, even dull sounding.

    For example, when trying to create the sound of footsteps on gravel, many Foley artists won't actually record someone walking on gravel... it's not dramatic enough. So instead, they might mic up a bowl full of cereal and capture the sound of that being crushed. My personal favorite for this effect is Chex Mix... LOL... here in The States, it's a snack mix, that when crushed with the palm of the hand, sounds just like someone walking on gravel, and in some cases, if pitch is adjusted down, can also give a sound reminiscent of troops marching. ;)

    Another often-heard effect is that of a switchblade opening... I happen to own a few (remnants of my misguided youth) and I can tell you that there's no real "sound" to them at all, other than a small "click"...
    most certainly not the dramatic, loud, powerful echoing "CLICK!!" sound that we hear when watching a movie where the bad guy faces of against the hero in a back alley, pulls out a spring loaded pig-sticker, and pushes the button. LOL

    For the movie Twister, I read an article in Mix Magazine which explained how they got the sound of the various tornadoes - how they combined many different sounds - none of which on their own sounded anything like what a tornado would truly sound like ... everything from pigs squealing to blenders crushing ice to jets taking off and brakes/tires squealing.... then they mixed all of these various sounds together, adjusted pitch, added various EQ filters, reverbs, delays, and voila'... the "sound of a tornado".

    Did it sound like a real tornado sounds? I wouldn't know. I've never stood smack-dab in the center of a cyclone holding a microphone. LOL. But whatever they used, and however they used it, it was effective and dramatic, (although it didn't help the movie from being terrible, LOL) and it at least sounded like what Hollywood thinks the center of a tornado should sound like... and who is really gonna argue with that, right? LOL

    So, to Jake, you're probably a lot closer to being on the right track of creating Foley by doing what you're doing - crushing metal cans, dropping pans, etc. It's all in the creative process in how you bend, twist, skew and blend sounds through the use of things like reverb, EQ and pitch adjust... It's an art form all to itself.

    IMHO of course
  5. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Feb 7, 2014
    Lowestoft - UK
    Home Page:
    Sorry about the 're' - then I remembered RV, we don't really have a name for those over here!

    When I was teaching in college - the students found this very tricky and didn't really understand. I always used to set them a task, very early on. Shoot 30 seconds of video of someone walking and then falling - as in feinting. I told them I needed to hear the footsteps and the fall. Footsteps of course set alarm bells ringing and they spent most of their time trying to record these live, and had little time left for recording the fall. In reality, the fall is almost silent. So next step was to re-record the sound, watching the picture and they soon discovered that no matter what they did, falling hardly makes any noise unless you crash into something. Unless you smack a head or arm on the concrete, it's almost silent. Maybe it was my sense of humour but watching them throw themselves on the floor over and over again was rather good! Eventually, they'd realise that the sounds they hear in the movies are not what things really sound like. Some were actually then rather good at inventing sounds that 'sounded' real, but weren't. Others never got the idea at all. Real Foley Artistes have a very different set of skills to mortals!

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