Designing and Recording Magic Sound Effects
I've long been an avid fan of basically every game Blizzard has put out. Especially World of Warcraft.. I'm honestly too embarrassed to disclose my /played time. A lot of the sounds are ingrained forever in my mind yet I've rarely had projects that allowed me to scratch this particular inspirational itch. I did a bit of searching around and noticed that there were fewer libraries covering the subject than I expected.. With that, I began conceptualizing my approach to creating a library.
My main focus was to create a library that had a very organic feel so I used minimal amounts of synthesis or processing. I started a new trello board and began breaking apart spell ideas into different categories and aesthetic layers. I also began creating a list of props I would potentially want to record. Much of the library depended heavily on getting creative with props, for example I'm not comfortable lighting stuff on fire in my home studio so I came up with alternatives.
I'm choosing to focus on the design of my Fire and Ice sounds to try and keep this post concise. Some of the props and assets recorded ended up in other spell categories as well anyway.
One of the most important layers for a vast amount of my final assets would be whooshes or airy sounds. Whooshes can be created in many different ways, but I find they sound best when the doppler effect is employed. My approach for creating some general whooshes was to play different sources of noise through a speaker and re-recording it by moving my Tascam DR-40 across the speaker at different speeds and movement variations. This was I feel an essential step in allowing all derivative material to feel natural.
With the various whooshes recorded, I loaded them up into a Pro Tools session and did some light processing to excite them a bit. Below are several examples.
The Human Element
In addition to the whooshes, I also recorded some human vocalizations in attempt to emulate various spells/aspects of spells. I recorded some un-intelligible whispering, more whoosh-like sounds, explosion sounds and more. Again, this was something I chose to do to make my end results sound natural. I also didn't want to overdo it to the point that the human layers were distracting. For the most part, they ended up blending in nicely. Examples follow below.
As mentioned this category was a challenge in that I wasn't going to use any actual fire. I focused on texture and came up with some great alternatives. I chose some of the whooshes previously created that had deeper sounds with more of a body, much like what you'd imagine moving a torch around would sound like. I recorded the sound of an Air Duster held upside down, close to a mic (proximity effect) in order to get something that would be perceived like a flamethrower. I did variations of bursts where I held the can still and others where I moved it past the mic to again take advantage of the doppler effect
To get some more crackly material, I took some plastic packaging I had leftover from a recent sweetwater purchase and went to town crinkling it in different ways. Again, another opportunity to incorporate the doppler effect - I did takes with and without movement to create this pool of assets.
Much of my design for this category relied on whooshes I had created with more high frequency content and doing some light processing with with filter modulation, phasers and delays. This is also one category where I thought using some synthesis was warranted. I used synthesis to create bell and crystal like tones that I could blend in as layers.
Ice cracking sounds were also needed and most of it isn't actually ice at all. I did record smashing large quantities of ice (cubes melted together mostly).
I have a lot of pine trees on my property, subsequently that means lots of pine cones. I always meant to record them anyway and this struck me as the perfect opportunity to employ them.. so I tried it out and found that with some close micing they were a perfect layer addition - especially when pitching them differently. I didn't do much processing at all with these but did find some special results when running them through a granular synth engine.
Below are a few examples + preview track for the final results as well as a link to the library should you be interested.
It was a blast to work on this library and I'm already brainstorming a follow up to include some other ideas I wasn't able to cover for this one. Many of my sales are anonymous but I want to openly thank everyone who has purchased a license of some form. I'm so happy to be able to make something like this that so many are able to find useful in a wide range of productions.