Death by Frosty the Snow-lass

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Research
Recording
Library Curation
Sound Design
The Final Result

Research

This section focuses on the research I performed before gathering recordings and starting the sound design process. I cover my thought process for selecting the source material to redesign and reference material I found. Believe it or not, this meant less time playing Mortal Kombat and more time watching and rewatching clips, obsessing over the sounds, stories, and experiences the game offers.

Material Selection

To start, I pulled up the character roster on the Mortal Kombat website and dove into the various characters, their backstories, and abilities. I owned and played several of the Mortal Kombat games while growing up, but I hadn’t touched the series in at least a decade.

  • The sequence should be 30 seconds or less
  • The source video should be at least 720p and ideally 1080p
  • The fatality should encourage a diverse sonic palette
  • The material should get me excited about the sound design possibilities

Reference Material

Working with reference material is invaluable, so I considered the different types of sound effects I would need and started looking for content that would give me a good starting point. The main sound effects groups I initially identified were combat foley, gore, ice and magic sounds, and cybernetics.

Recording

This section covers the recording sessions for gathering original sample material. I recorded my sounds directly into Reaper using the Sennheiser MKE 600 microphone and my Steinberg UR44 audio interface. I decided early to forgo recording my own ice samples because I knew of Alex Barnhart’s Frozen Sample Library. His recordings are incredibly well done, save me loads of time, and free me up to focus on the other sessions I need to do.

Gore Session

Appliance Session

Library Curation

This section covers sample selection and editing, as well as how I curated my library and file-naming conventions for this project. Full warning: This is a topic I enjoy diving deep on, so it’s quite lengthy. And before I get started, I want you to know the kind of obsessive you’re dealing with. The image below is a picture of a cabinet in my kitchen.

Not so bad, right? …But it’s still not perfect.

Naming Conventions

I decided to use techniques outlined in the Creative Field Recording blog for my file-naming convention. To avoid a library full of numbered and generic filenames (e.g. Grapefruit_Squish-01, Grapefruit Squish-02, etc.) the idea is to listen intently to the samples and determine what makes each of them unique, so that the name accurately reflects the content. If there are two samples that sound the same, is it really necessary to have duplicates?

Sample of food filenames

Defining a Library Standard

I’m considering changing the approach to how I organize my library (again). Over the years it’s been difficult to define a library standard because I’m constantly learning about recording techniques, naming conventions, the development pipeline, and personal workflow. As I gain more experience and update my standards, I’ve often realized the method I was previously using was ineffective, or only useful in certain circumstances.

The bucket method
An previous naming convention

Composite Files

Typically, I avoid composite files because I have a tendency to only use the first or second sample in the sequence. My other reason to avoid composite files was that by having individual samples, auditioning becomes super fast. But with my new approach to library curation, splitting out every sample quickly becomes a tiresome file-naming exercise.

  • Why am I recording this sound?
  • What is the purpose of this sound?
  • Are numerous variations necessary or will a few, high quality takes suffice?
Take it from a sound nerd: that’s satisfying to look at.

Mastering & LUFS

The final stage of library curation is mastering. I recently learned about Loudness Unity Full Scale (LUFS) and how this guideline allows you to normalize samples based on the perceived loudness. This way, if I normalize my samples to the same LUFS level, then the perceived loudness will remain consistent across the entire library instead of jumping around as I cycle from sample to sample. While my understanding of LUFS is somewhat superficial, it seemed like a great way to add consistency to my library. I quickly found that it’s not quite that simple.

Cranberry sauce from top to bottom: Original, -0 dB, -23 LUFS, and -15 LUFS
Power drill from slowest speed to highest

Lessons Learned

  • Understand why I’m recording a sound. What is the purpose and intended use of the sound?
  • Keep a notebook handy and write notes for each take. The notes may be helpful with file naming.
  • Learn more about LUFS normalization and how best to use it.

Sound Design

I sometimes struggle with pushing my sound design far enough, often because I’m too focused on simply designing what’s on the screen and not cultivating a truly convincing presence of sound. I decided to aim to complete this project within three iterations. With the first iteration, I will push the design well beyond what I think is necessary. The second iteration will involve refining and pulling back the excessive design. After completing the second iteration, I will seek feedback from industry professionals and then perform a third and final iteration.

Ice Beam

Freeze

Punch

Torso Shatter

Spine Break

Drone

Cyborg Assembly

Activation

Lesson Learned

  • Sometimes, frustration and procrastination are a sign that I’m pressing against the edge of my abilities. While it’s uncomfortable at the time, these are growing pains. That, or maybe it’s time to take a break.
  • When designing whooshes, think about it in terms of the object arriving and the displaced air arriving after it. They can be quite tricky to get right, so be patient and keep at it.
  • Sound design does not need to sound realistic, it just needs to fit the world it’s in. Leave space for creativity and happy accidents — who knows what’ll happen.
  • Using the right sound in the right place is more important than throwing on a bunch of effects to force something to fit.

Putting It All Together: The Final Result

Thanks for taking one for the team, Sub-Zero.

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Aaron Bowers

Aaron Bowers

I’m a video game sound designer who draws inspiration from science fiction and horror.