Sound effects, as with all elements of the soundscape employed by filmmakers and producers, are one of the most crucial aspects of an overall production and an area that can greatly elevate a project when used correctly.
Often sound effects (SFX) are overlooked by amateurs or those who are not forward-thinking in their approach, and only when production is in the can do they realize they’ve made a terrible mistake.
Viewers, especially in 2021, are so astute when it comes to the immersion qualities that great sound effects, score, and soundtrack offer that they are more than capable of picking up on failures in this department, no matter how minor.
Sound effects come in a near-infinite number of types, genres, and styles, and they add an additional layer to a feature film, tv show, or video; this could be an additional dimension of realism or used in a way to increase the fantastical nature of the visuals on show.
The usage of sound effects can, in their own right, become iconic moments of cinematic history, and to prove this point, we’ve drawn up a list of the most memorable sound effects used in film.
T-Rex Roar – Jurassic Park
That piercing sound scared the living daylights out of audiences in the early 90s, with Steven Spielberg’s movie being groundbreaking on several levels. The noise of the T-Rex roaring was, in fact, a combination of animal noises (including whales, tigers, and elephants) all molded together to produce a noise that certainly played its part in the massive success of the film and the ongoing franchise.
Darth Vader’s Deep Breathing – Star Wars
George Lucas was looking for the right menacing sound to burst onto the scene long before Darth Vader walked into shot, it took a while, but the sound team opted for the use of a respirator. The sound was that of the moments before breaths, producing that burst of sound that acted as Vader’s signature breathing. Clearly very effective.
Tripod Scream – War of the Worlds
Though this Tom Cruise vehicle wasn’t his most successful, it was a masterpiece in filmmaking by Steven Spielberg, and a big part of that was the sound editing. The noise that really made audiences sit up and take notice was the horn burst emitted by the tripods, and that was apparently created by combining the noise of a didgeridoo and djembe. That mixture of Australian and West African instruments was mixed to create that unforgettable scream.
Uruk Hai – Lord of the Rings
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is rightly considered a benchmark in epic film production and usually in relation to the scale of the overall project. The sound also is spectacular, and the menacing chants of the Uruk Hai were very effective indeed. This was created by recording 25,000 cricket fans to shout the relevant words spoken by the orcs; this was then recorded and used to full effect.
Lightsabers – Star Wars
Another great moment in sound effects history from the original Star Wars movie comes in the form of the sounds emirates by the lightsabers. This was done by recording simplex project motors and mixed with the sound of an old school TV; this ‘hum’ was the basis of the noise of the sabers as they whirled into action.
Warp Drive – Star Trek
Another iconic sci-fi sound effect and one that conjures up decades-old memories. The noise of the warp drive in the 1960s was made by using an oscillator from a physics department, and so effective was it at creating the requisite sound that when the film series was rebooted, J.J. Abrams elected to use the exact same technique for his modern take on the space drama.
Stabbing Sounds – Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic film was, of course, famous for being a dark and violent movie, but a lot of what occurs is suggested, and indeed even the famous shower scene doesn’t actually involve all that much in the way of gore, especially when compared to today’s standards.
But what is undeniable is that the imagery is potent and even more so the sound. Yes, there’s the famous score that overlays the stabbing of Marion Crane by Mrs. Bates (we don’t want to give away any 60-year-old spoilers), but the actual sound of the stabbing can be audibly heard, and that noise was achieved by a prop supervisor stabbing a melon in time with each jab on screen. By all accounts, many fruits were tested before they found the right one for the job.
These seven examples are iconic in the field of sound effects and the work put in by the relevant sound teams, in any format, often goes unnoticed by most, and it’s one of those art forms and disciplines that are critical, and when it’s not done to the right standard, an informed audience is painfully aware of this.
In order to secure a great suite of sound effects, we’d strongly recommend considering signing up with a royalty-free music provider. The best brands in this field offer vast treasure troves of material that will make the scoring and sound aspect of your project so much easier, and you’ll do so without the potential headache of using audio that you might require copyright clearance to use.