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10 of the Coolest Sound Effects from Film

10 of the Coolest Sound Effects from Film, And How They Were Made

We looked at the ten coolest sound effects from movies over the past 50 years, and researched how those sounds were made. Some of the sounds we have are ones that you may not even known were created for the scene. Others, are iconic and will forever be memorialized in film making history.

BY MUSIC STAFF WRITER

 

Sound effects in movies have been around for almost 100 years. As studios were moving away from silent films in the 1920’s, sound capturing technology was limited to only dialogue. Instead, a separate audio track had to be made post production by sound engineers. Every scene was replicated, only this time recording the movements and props…and doing it all in one long take.

Times have since changed….sort of.

Capturing the dialogue and the action while it’s being filmed is now done in real time. That doesn’t mean that the usage or need for sound effects has dropped. With productions getting more extravagant, and CGI becoming more of a norm for any film with a budget, sound editing departments are working more than ever.

We looked at the ten coolest sound effects from movies over the past 50 years, and researched how those sounds were made. Some of the sounds we have are ones that you may not even known were created for the scene. Others, are iconic and will forever be memorialized in film making history.

Let’s get started.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

Sound Effect: Rolling Boulder

How Was It Made? A rolling car with the motor running, combined with a heavy lawn roller.

Steven Spielberg's hit from 1981 introduced us to Indiana Jones. We joined him in his adventures as he outran giant boulders, dug up ancient relics, and battled Nazi's for the Ark of the Covenant. Raiders of the Lost Ark won four Academy Awards including Best Sound. This is the sort of film that we would love to break down every sound effect used. It's that good. Along with it's sequels, these films are iconic for their sound effects and score. 

Raging Bull (1980)

Sound Effect: Punching Sounds

How Was It Made? Slabs of beef being hit, overlaid with distorted music, roaring animals, engine noises, and flashbulbs.

Martin Scorcese's Raging Bull has been showed in every film class for its masterful use of music and imagery. It shows the range of the director's talent and solidified Robert De Niro as one of the greatest actors of our time. Like Raiders of the Last Ark, we could write an entire essay on it's use of sound in storytelling.  Instead we chose the sound effect that didn't necessarily need to be manufactured, but it was, and the result added a new layer of beauty to the fight scenes with Sugar Ray Robinson.  

Terminator 2 (1991)

Sound Effect: Liquid Metal

How Was It Made? Putting a condom over a microphone and dipping it into an even solution of water, flour, and Dust-Off furniture cleaner.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a follow up to James Cameron's 1985 sci-fi acton thriller starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  This movie broke new ground right out the gate. It's special effects technology used to create the T-1000, a liquid metal machine played by Robert Patrick, left audiences speechless and raised the industry bar for CGI. In order to further convince audiences they were seeing liquid metal,  Cameron and Co. made sure the sound of the material was realistic and unique. This extra effort earned Terminator 2: Judgement day four Academy Awards including Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Sound. 

SpiderMan (2002)

Sound Effect: Spiderman’s Web Slinger

How Was it Made? Fishing line strung between two posts, magnetic film cinched tightly on a spindle, compressed air, shaving cream spurts for wetness, and the swish of old woven fly fishing line.

The Spiderman movie franchise has gone through plenty of changes since 2002 – 6 films, 3 different Spidermans, and an ongoing effort at rebooting characters and storylines. The one thing that remained constant over the past 15 years has been the use of top notch sound editing to capture the mystique of the Marvel universe. 

Back to the Future (1985)

Sound Effect: Car Doors of the Delorean Time Machine

How Was It Made?car window regulator motor was used because the original doors made little to no sound.

The Back to the Future franchise won the world over with its storytelling and visual effects. Audiences joined Marty McFly and Doc Brown as they raced across time in a 1982 Delorean. Other than the Batmobile, the Delorean is maybe the most recognized movie car from film in the past 50 years. Although some cosmetic work was added to turn the hunk of aluminum into a time traveling hot rod, what really convinced us was the sounds that it made. From the engine revving up to 88 miles per hour to the sound of the flux capacitor humming in the background, sound effects are what really brought that vehicle to life, and made it what it is today.

This is actually the same sound that is used for Einstein’s automatic dog feeder during the opening credits.

Men in Black (1997)

Sound Effect: Dragonfly Buzzing through the opening credit scene

How Was it Made? A simple handheld battery powered fan

It doesn’t get any simpler than taking out a $4.99 battery powered fan and hitting record. Men In Black was another visual spectacle that did a great job of using sound effects to balance out complex computer generated imagery. There are many instances where the sounds alone allow us to believe the alien fighting action happening on screen. Barry Sonnenfeld’s reputation for pulling viewers into his world in the opening credits of his films is repeated again here, as we follow what looks like a buzzing alien insect ( which we later learn is a dragonfly). The buzzing effect laid over Danny Elfman’s iconic music creates the perfect environment that we will believe anything can happen in.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring //  The Two Towers(2001-2002)

Sound Effect: The Balrog

How Was It Made? Dragging a cinder block across the ground at various speeds to create it’s voice, combined with layers of donkeys and horses to create its bellowing yells.

There was so much going on in this trilogy worth discussing, we could write 10 articles that dissect the use of sound in it’s finished product. Whenever you decide to balance live visuals effects with heavy computer generated images, sound often becomes the bridge that brings the product to life. Looking at the infamous scene between Gandalf the Grey fighting the Balrog is a perfect example of this.  Sound effects will play a much larger role in your film when you decide to dump live actors into complete computer generated environments.

The Exorcist (1973)

Sound Effect: 180 Degree Head Turning

How Was It Made? Twisting of a leather wallet filled with credit cards

You may not think Excellence in Sound Editing when you think of The Exorcist, but many people forget that the film brought home the Academy Award for Best Sound in 1973. We urge you to go back again, listen to the scenes, and you will see why. The sounds were perfectly placed, creating an atmosphere throughout the film that left audiences uncomfortable and on edge. By the time the scary stuff kicks in, even the simplest sound effect made audiences jump from their seat. Gonzalo Gavira, a Mexican wizard with sound effects, played a big part of creating that. Having worked on films like “The Towering Inferno” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” ( also both masterpieces in sound editing), he was an industry veteran, known for his inventiveness in creating sound effects.

Predator (1987)

Sound Effect: The Predator Heartbeat in Predator View Mode

How Was It Made? Flower Vase filled with water and sponges to create the alien heartbeat.

The Predator could have been a one time antagonist with a film career that started and ended with the first movie. What really made fans want more of the alien were the unanswered questions and limited information surrounding it.  The predator produced a variety of sounds that informed the viewer on its weight, senses, and biology. One of the most interesting aspects of this is when we were provided a glimpse of the world through the eyes of the creature. Picking up only heat signatures, combined with the sound of his beating heart, lets us know he was closer to human than we initially thought.

Read more about achieving this sound effect and the importance of sound in telling the Predator's story at designingsound.org.

 

Star Wars (1977)

Sound Effect: Light Saber

How Was It Made? The hum from a microphone passing a television set, and the motor of a projector.

Last but not least is of course, Star Wars. With the Star Wars universe expanding every year, we chose Episode IV: The New Hope to make it easy. There are hundreds of sounds worth discussing from Star Wars and the Star Wars franchise, but the most iconic and most interesting one is the light saber. The electricity-powered swords were introduced in 1977 and have since been a part of every film since. 

Star Wars Sound Design Ben Burtt Told filmsound.org “I was carrying a microphone across the room,” Ben Burtt explained, “and I passed a television set which was on the floor which was on at the time without the sound turned up, but the microphone passed right behind the picture tube and as it did, it produced an unusual hum. It picked up a transmission from the television set and a signal was induced into its sound reproducing mechanism, and that was a great buzz. So I took that buzz and recorded it and combined it with the projector motor sound and that 50/50 kind of combination of those two sounds became the basic lightsaber tone.”

Now that you see how the pros have done it, start incorporating sound effects in your production. The last thing you want is a Looney Tunes soundtrack so be considerate to the reaction and the expectations of the audience when choosing and placing sounds effects.

Stockmusic.net has partnered with top production houses, and industry professionals to deliver over 25 categories of 70,000+ effects. Browse our categories, save the ones you like, and start putting together your project playlists.

Check out our catalog of production-grade sound effects

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