When you find yourself engrossed in a movie, TV show, or video game, do you ever wonder how many vegetables were smashed in the making of a sound effect? Probably not, since a hallmark of good sound design is the ability to pull a viewer completely into a scene. It’s your job to enjoy whatever it is you’re watching. It’s 1996 Film grad Ric Viers’ job to make the sounds that draw you in.
As CEO of sound effects publishing company Blastwave FX and founder of The Detroit Chop Shop, a sound production facility in Detroit, Michigan, Ric has produced hundreds of thousands of sound effects for use in film, television, and video games. He’s also provided effects for companies like Apple and Sony, and has written two books (The Sound Effects Bible and The Location Sound Bible) that are considered essential reading for anyone interested in sound design. Early next year, Ric will be inducted into Full Sail’s Hall of Fame.
Ric’s sound effects libraries cover everything from huge noises like explosions and impacts to more ambient sounds like insects buzzing around a room. One of his most recent releases is The Zombie Apocalypse Sound Effects Library, a collection of 666 visceral effects designed to sound like the end of the world.
“I love horror sounds,” says Ric. “My favorite sounds are the ones that I get to create from scratch. You can’t go out and record a zombie; you’ve got to make it.”
So how does one go about putting together a sound library? According to Ric, it starts with simply taking stock of your surroundings and being open to ideas. Although the sound effects in the Zombie Apocalypse collection are intense, the inspiration for the library was actually pretty ordinary. While driving his son to a movie, Ric spotted a bumper sticker on the car in front of him. “It said something about zombies,” he recalls. “I did some research and found out there weren’t any zombie libraries out there. I thought, what a great opportunity.”
Ric brought the idea back to his team of interns. From there, they compiled a master list of ideas of sound effects to include in the collection. These brainstorming sessions are a crucial first step when it comes to developing new sound libraries, and it helps to have a diverse team to offer perspective on what to include. Ric’s been running internships out of his studio for years, and says it’s a key component to the success of both the Detroit Chop Shop and Blastwave FX.
“I want [the interns] to get real world experience. I don’t bring them on because I need somebody to make me coffee. I have a machine that does that for me,” jokes Ric. “Right from the beginning, I tell the interns that they’re part of the team, and everybody’s opinion or idea is of equal value. They’re allowed to work on whatever they want to work on, they’re part of the process and they have ownership in it.”
Once Ric and his team have compiled a list of potential sounds to include in a library, it’s time to get to work. Looking around Ric’s studio, it’s easy to see the draw of interning at the Detroit Chop Shop. The space is a veritable playground for anyone interested in making noise. Over 150 microphones line a back wall, each meticulously labeled and stored. A sledgehammer leans against a corner; the duct tape running down the handle bears the name “noise maker.” In addition to the Foley stage, the facility houses three sound design studios, three editing suites, and a voice over booth. It’s an impressive set up, but Ric insists that creating quality effects is less about gear and more about the person creating the sound.
While there’s definitely an art to making sound, it’s far from an exact science. Ric and his team spend a lot of time sampling noises in the field or recording isolated sounds on the Chop Shop’s Foley stage. It’s rare for a sound to work right out of the recording phase. Most of the effects that Ric produces are either fabricated or manipulated by layering and looping sounds together, changing the speed at which a sound is played, or distorting the pitch. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, and Ric relies on years of experience to guide his instincts. Often, this results in effects that sound nothing like the original instrument or prop used to create them.
“For The Zombie Apocalypse Sound Effects Library, we wanted to include the sound of flickering florescent lights,” says Ric. “[In order to make] that florescent humming, buzzing, zapping light sound, we took a millisecond recording of a vegetable being smashed. I looped it, and was able to make the sound we were going for—a high pitched, whining buzz—out of that little tiny sound sample. It’s a matter of shaping a noise to make it sound the way you want it to sound.”
Finally, after months of planning, recording, and editing, Ric chooses only the best sounds to be included in a library. For The Zombie Apocalypse Sound Effects Library, he estimates that of 20 hours of useable sounds, about 25% ended up in the final collection. Each of the interns who worked on the library receives credit for their contribution, which they can then include on a resume or in a portfolio. For Ric, each library is a labor of love. When he thinks back on them, each one stands out a unique experience.
“There’s no right way to make a sound,” he says. “I’m fully aware of that, and I always try to keep that in the forefront of my mind. I’m fortunate to get to do this. I just want to make noise.”
Check out some samples from The Zombie Apocalypse Sound Library below.