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Reverb. Reverb has two specific uses in sound design: placing a sound in a space and adding depth and size to a sound. If you have a dry sound and want to give it the illusion of being in a particular type of room, you can use fairly short room reverbs with a high wet/dry mix. I’ve never found this to be as convincing as recording the sound in an appropriate space, but it works well enough. You can also use longer reverb programs, typically plates and halls, to add weight and drama to sounds such as gigantic dinosaur footsteps and cannon shots. For this type of approach, I use the original sound completely dry and add reverb as a separate layer. I then raise the volume of the reverb at the tail portion of the sound.

Worldizing. Digital reverb units are stocked with enough horsepower and brilliant programming to sound terrific, but to my ear, the digital version never sounds quite like the real thing. The most convincing way to make something sound like it was recorded in a room is to record it in one—but sometimes that’s not possible. In addition, you may have several sounds recorded under different circumstances that you want to sound as though they belong together.

The solution to both problems is to worldize the sounds, that is, to play them back in an appropriate space and record the playback. That means lugging around a high-quality sound-playback system along with your recording rig. Place a speaker in a room or location with the desired aural fingerprint and position a microphone some distance from the speaker. Next, play back your original sounds through the speaker and rerecord them on another tape recorder, capturing the sound with all the reverberant characteristics of the space. That requires much time and effort, but when only the most authentic reproduction will do, worldizing can get you there.

FIG. 7: Symbolic Sound’s Kyma System is one of the most powerful sound-design workstations around. It’s especially easy to load a “default” source sound into the system and try dozens of different manipulations.

Other options. You can find useful processing functions in special-purpose sound-design tools, such as U & I Software’s MetaSynth ( and the Kyma System from Symbolic Sound (; see Fig. 7). Also available is a seemingly endless supply of plug-ins available for transforming audio in unusual ways. But don’t worry about owning one of everything; just master the tools you have and try to get the most out of them.

Once you’ve collected and processed the sounds you like, import them into a multitrack editor and align them with the visual image. If the visual material has been rendered in a computer, it is delivered to the sound designer in QuickTime format; otherwise, it typically comes on a VHS videotape. In the latter case, I import the picture into the computer as a QuickTime file, which Pro Tools plays along with the audio. If possible, it’s nice to have a dedicated video card, such as the Aurora Fuse, which takes much of the burden of video playback from the computer CPU.

Sometimes I do the processing and manipulation at this point by letting the visual imagery tell me what the sound needs. I import the sound into the Region bin of Pro Tools and drag it into the edit window, roughly where the sound should be. Then I tweak the timing against the visual and adjust frame by frame until it is perfect. Synchronization is as much an art as a mechanical skill—you can’t just assume that the closing-door sound should land exactly on the frame in which the door closes. You have to watch each motion repeatedly and adjust the timing of the sound until it feels right.

Reprinted with permission from Magazine, March, 2001
© 2001, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved.