Field Recording: Animals. Pigs

Pointing a Microphone at the Pigs

My trip back to Germany this year was packed with true recording excitement! Since I am a big fan of animal vocalization and could use a fresh set of sounds for an upcoming game project the timing seemed perfect to hit the field. Animal vocalization can be a great resource and foundation for creating emotional sound effects. They can be used for expressive textures/layers as they have good organic and tonal base. If being used wisely they can add a fair amount to the  overall quality for a specific design setting. Each animal sound represents a unique and different tonal quality, as well as the content of dynamic diversity that can be produced is wide! Processed or unprocessed. Simply to just make use of them as to establish a rhythm or inspiration for later removal (like a placeholder) can help speed up decision making in the design process.

The widely used foundation where animal sound sources melt into the sound design process are for instance creature effects. An overly used animal source are pigs, lions (wildcats) bears, dogs, everything with grunts, growls, snarls, barks sniffs, breaths etc. Some may disagree and find it boring as it has been overly used – which I partly agree with. But they are emotional and powerful and if they suit the context of whats needed within a current setting… so why not simply use them? One can always approach the process differently in terms of modern modulation dsp (pitch), audio resolution (196khz), kyma, microphone selection or positioning and so on. I think that there are many ways to still come up with interesting modification techniques that affect your sounds. However, I’ve seen/heard some very good human performances on creatures (including my self). It does greatly relay on motif and context of the sound subject and the direction of sound aesthetic required. It’s like composing a musical score, finding its core instrumentation to harmonically blend together a range of instruments. Ideally, each project should have a unique approach to the overall design decisions. Although, I agree that in some cases this can be time consuming and possibly require a financial backup.

In the movie “I am Legend”, sound supervisor Skip Leyvsy hired a Hollywood based voice artists, who apart from being a composer also performs creature vocalization. In this case, the movie’s enemies were once real human characters transforming into zombies. Hiring a specialist and keeping true human aesthetics alive  turned out to be a great way to go. However, there are many ways of accomplishing the right effect, such as to combine animal layers with that of a humans.

Here is a re-design I did after I’ve seen the trailer of the new novel Nocturnal by Scott Sigler on Vimeo. Lots of pigs and human recordings used in there to shape the idea of the various creatures in his world. Check it out!

Animal sessions ain’t easy! Would you agree? I think that every recordists would compliment on it (or fisherman). It can be really hard and even disappointing to get the very best results out of such a field trip. Not only does a good recording depend on the species itself, but also: climate, season, time of the day or environmental influences that may determine the outcome of your data.

Before hitting the field it’s advised to look up sound related references ahead  of time (i.e, to get a better idea of what to target and to expect! :) Low-fi audio is enough to get the picture! Also research on species can help to find out the animal’s most active day circles, eating habits or routines, combined with studying common body language and other unique behaviors. On the long run, a shotgun mic can get heavy, so be sure to save your muscle energy for the very right moment. You can chat up with institutions and ask for specifics on animals and their prime moments. Usually, they are comfortable to share! One time I was in need of wolf howls and a nice lady at Schorfheide Wild Park in Brandenburg shared some good insight with me when it’s best to visit.

I have tried to record at Zoos, parks and commercial wildlife territories, on boats (whale watching) and in the wild. Certainly, material can always be filtered or processed and make up for cool sounds, often times non-related to your initial expectation which get refereed as: Accidents! Although, you can’t relay on them all the time. Best is to stick with what you aimed for. Sounds that got stuck in your head.

However, I don’t recommend city zoos or anything that its located in a city polluted with a constant low-rumble, airplane pass-bys or loud screaming school classes. Although, the lows you can always cut depending on the animal source frequency range. You can also try to go early at the last hour of their opening times. A good timing is around mid-week in the winter, when local birds (the ones stealing the food of the exhibits) or insects become less audible overall. In general, bird houses or birds can be quite okay. However, I think by now, I could actually assemble a whole tourist-kids crowd library from collected content over the years ;)

My general experience with zoo visits around the world have been mixed. Wouldn’t it be funny to claim, that I found zoo crowds in Europe  to be much quieter compared to … the US?! Anyways… Lets blame it on the animals :)

This bison below, I recorded at a great Wildlife Park in Poing a small town close to Munich. They have extremely quiet terrains with an interesting and wide range of wild and native European animals. If park keeper tend to treat their animals respectfully (lots of open space with hygienic overall treatment) their animals will most likely perform great, simply by nature law. Especially the pairing seasons can be quite exciting. If you don’t find time to go out into the field to capture unique source material, sound libraries can do the job as well. I highly recommend the Creatures Library from the team over at BOOM with their vast collection of inspiring material based off all kinds of vocalization. The packages includes a fairly wide range of usable production asset.

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