Ever wondered how Godzilla’s roar was made? Or how the aliens in District 9 got their voices? The worlds of film and gaming are crammed to the brim with of all kinds of otherworldly characters needing other worldly voices.
In this article I’m going to show you the process of making creature vocals, whether it be a ghost, an alien or a giant slug, giving step by step examples for creating a classic demon vocal.
The demon is a typical example to start with as it mixes humanoid and animalistic sounds and gives the opportunity to use some crazy effects to give it that ‘summoned from hell’ kind of vibe. The method I employ here can be used to design vocals for any creature.
The design of creature vocals has 4 distinct parts to it,
• Planning • Recording • Editing • Processing
In this article I’m going to focus on the first two of these, planning and recording:
If you’re working for a client you might get a brief otherwise you’re totally free to use your imagination. A reference to an existing creature is always useful but not necessary at all, It’s a good idea to do some research into similar creatures and use these as references, work out what techniques the sound designers have used to create them.
Picture the physical elements of how your beast will look (unless you have been given a visual). Imagination is key here so get a solid idea in your mind of how you want the creature to sound. This will help save a lot of time in recording and processing. The voice will be the main factor for characterization and bringing your creature to life.
Factors that you will need to take into account are;
• Physical Characteristics What physical characteristics does the creature have that will affect the voice? (Height, Weight, Gender, Humanoid or Animalistic or a mixture) • Language If the creature is a humanoid and speaks a language, what language does it speak? If not English then it’s a good idea to use another language as the basis and modify it to suit your monster, the language can be real or fictional. • Dramatic intention What kind of effect does the creature have on the audience? And how can you create that? (Disgust, fear, awe, sordid arousal, to name a few classics)
Here’s my own example using these factors;
Long horns, Fangs, long talons, sunken red eyes, surrounded by fire, very tall humanoid 10ft, muscular. Low booming voice, aggressive tone, course and harsh vocals.
Very harsh and aggressive voice, Very throaty, similar to Klingon or Middle Eastern languages. During speech the language is humanoid but descends into animalistic when roaring, fighting, in pain etc.
Terror and awe!!! This demon is a total badass, the audience needs to be cowering in abject fear of this demon ripping off their heads and feasting on their innards! For this to happen it needs to be loud and ferocious so a mixture of animal sounds with recorded voice will be perfect.
Back to the general process, within the characterization of any creature they will have specific actions/behaviors, which will need their own tailored sounds. Is your alien fuming because they’ve run out of his favourite cocktail? Is your succubus on a rampage of destruction? Is your slug monster crying because somebody put salt on his chips?
Here are a few pointers for the demons actions:
Evil laugh! - The classic MWHAHAHA will work well here, this needs to be deep, long and drawn out to convey the size of the demon, the more maniacal the better, you want the audience to think that this demon is not only going to disembowel them he’s going to love doing it!
Roar – This needs to be fierce and terrifying! This is the demon’s animalistic side so eventually this will need some animal sounds edited into it but for the recording stage just use human voice to set the timing and the tone. I find thinking of a roar as an ADSR envelope works well, you might need a long attack for a build up to a climax, followed by a short release or maybe come straight in with a very short attack with a longer sustain and release, for 2 examples.
Mocking/Challenging – Everyone knows how much demons love mouthing off. As this demon is a humanoid you can use language to convey emotions/intent, although the language is not real keep the tone the same and it will get the point across. This method works well with any language based sounds.
Here are some raw recordings of my demon. Yes, it’s just a guy shouting at this point in the game, but this is just to demonstrate the process.
The first and most important thing you need to take into account when recording is the voice artist. It’s good fun trying it yourself and if you can get decent results then by all means use your own recordings but if you want them to be top notch it may be worth asking a voice actor or singer (especially death metal singers if you want some good roars).
Microphone wise, as always, it depends on what you are recording but an SM58 is good for the loud stuff. If you need a bit more detail in the high end then any decent vocal mic will be fine. Using a contact mic on your throat (see picture below) in addition to your normal vocal mic can pick up some interesting and unhuman results, it’s quite tricky to get anything decent as the mic usually moves during recording but its worth a try to get some low end dirt!
And now…it’s time to…
UNLEASH THE BEAST!!!!!!
Remembering all of this planning before and during the performance recording you get badass sounds in much a shorter time!
Once you’re started I would recommend a bit of trial and error and see what you like. On average you probably want about 5 takes of each individual sound that are really top notch, for instance if you need 5 variations of a roar you’ll need 25 decent takes of the roar. This will give you more options in editing.
Once you’ve got all the takes you need, it’s time to move onto the editing. I’ll explain the process of getting from the raw recordings to the final piece in part 2 but if you can’t wait to read that just start experimenting and see what comes out!
Howard Sinden: “I found my whole time at SSR massively enjoyable, I learnt a huge amount on the 18 month audio engineering course but it was really topped off by the extra 6 month post production course, this was an absolutely awesome group to work with and we still work together regularly on projects, not to mention the top notch lecturing of all round champion geezer Mark Apicella! I feel that having done the full 2 years has really provided me with all the skills I need to start out my career in sound.”
Find out more about the courses Howard completed at SSR: