Sound Design Microtorial #1: Making a ringing cell phone sound realistic

Yesterday, I listened to the stuff I did for a scene of the movie I’m currently working on. In that scene, the main character pulls out her cell phone which was ringing. I made up a cute musical ringtone with Garage Band especially for her (I can’t recommend GB highly enough for those ‘I need a shred of music’ situations!).

But it still sounded crappy, dull and not believable. First I thought it was the ringtone itself, but then I realized what it was: it sounded static, not moved thru the air when she wielded it towards her ear! Back in film school, I had a similar problem once before and I remembered that I had found an easy solution:

Just apply a little flanger or delay to simulate the movement of the sound source. In reality, nearby surfaces produce echos with very short delay times. These times vary with the movement of the source, especially when it’s rotated. This of course applies to all moving sound sources.

So a Flanger or a time-modulated delay simulates exactly that. In fact, the perfect simulation is achieved by automating the ‘delay’ and ‘mix’ parameters of a mono delay. Delay time should be short (< 10ms). Feedback should be minimal, of course.

If you can’t bother to automate (I can’t) just make a flanged version and insert it into the clean clip during the heaviest movements, crossfading in and out.

Further reading suggestion: The famous concept of “Worldizing” is explained here.


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