Anatomy of a Sound - the Drill Machine!

Every sound has a story. Sometimes the story is "needed sound, took from stock library". But tales of how elephants and tires on wet pavement became the iconic howl of the TIE fighter, or chains and cement blocks were used to beef up the Balrog's howl in Lord of the Rings, are both fascinating, and really speak to the creative use of sound that audio professionals come up with.

For Marvin, I've gone out of my way to record lots of original sound. I've used lots of stock sounds too, but to give it the home made, never-before-heard touch, lots of things were made basement, at my cottage or around Marvin HQ at Jason's.

Here's the breakdown for a sound the whole team got involved in.

We've added big drill machine to one area of the game, and without spoiling what exactly it is or does, it's kind of a big deal. We wanted it to be loud and exciting, so I rounded up everyone in the kitchen, and we started recording.

(click the little orange play button to play the sound clip - the text will link to another page)


We used some cutlery, oven doors and Jason was hitting his former toaster oven (at least I hope it was already broken, because it ain't toastin' much anymore), and everyone helped generate the machine ambience by humming together. Here's take two...


Now everyone thought that was going to sound just about as goofy as it did, but here's where the magic of digital audio production kicks in! First, I took a loop from that first sample and pitched it up, and put on a few other FX (chorus featured heavily).


I took "take two "and lowered the pitch, then combined it another copy pitched down even lower. I flanged it a little bit too, and messed with EQ to get some parts to stand out more.


Sounding better! But not quite there. I did get some other stock sounds to punch up the mechanical angle. Here's a rumble, a pitched down roller coaster sound, and an actual drill sound that I borrowed from my stock library.


With all those sonic ingredients mixed together, here are the final two sounds playing more or less how you hear them in game. I say there are two sounds because they're split into a couple of layers. At the end of this clip you can hear the first layer, the drill hum, pitching up. It's hooked up to a special parameter in the game so we can control the pitch and volume of each part individually.


Combined with some other effects, the whole sequence with this machine is cool, because it really provides some punctuation from our otherwise soft and subtle natural soundscape.

And that's how it was made!

For the tale of one of the most legendary sounds of all time, check out this site about the Wilhelm Scream.