Good Old-Fashioned Sound Effects

My favorite movies as a kid were Bambi and Dumbo. I know, two of the most depressing Disney movies ever. But what my mom will finally be glad to hear is that it was not the plots that caught my attention. Nor was it the cute animals, though who can deny the adorableness that is Thumper? Oddly enough, it was a behind the scenes video that captured my imagination. From that day on, I was in love with a man known as “Jimmy” MacDonald.

At the time I did not actually know who the man was, but I knew the ingenuity that he used to craft tools for the sound team to recreate  a talking train, a forest fire, birds, frogs, train crashes, and rain, all inside a large studio while a cartoon played on a screen. For me it has always been the sounds and soundtracks of a movie that draw me in, that make me feel the emotion and the veracity of the special effects. It’s what makes me forget that I’m watching a movie.

The digital age has changed how many movie studios create sound effects, and there certainly are merits to using pre-recorded stock sounds and synthesizers to add in sound effects for a film. But for me, the challenge of creating the sound is part of what makes videography magical. That may or may not be why I used to run around with a rain stick as a kid, pretending I was in the rainforest.

In working on our zombie film, we had to create a variety of sound effects to add in during post-production. Some were easy, like the mug breaking (RIP Edie’s cat mug). Some were more difficult.

For the gunshot scene we used two different kinds of sound effects. First, we needed the cocking and firing of a semiautomatic firearm. Second we needed to create the sound of a bullet piercing flesh and the immediate gushing of blood. One we could do by actually doing the action that naturally creates the desired sound, and one we had to get creative with.

Our underage actor safely used a spray-painted toy gun, and we had to cover the toy sound of the cocking and firing of the gun. To do this, we went to a local range, placed our sound recorder in my pocket, and I stood at a safe distance while Josh cocked a Glock 9mm and fired at a zombie target down the range. Voilà. Authentic sounds of a gun cocking and firing created in a safe environment.

Compare for yourself:

Original sound recording


Sound effect Recording

Call me a hipster, but I’m a sucker for the old-fashioned method of repurposing everyday items to create the illusion of something different by manipulating the items in a new way. To get the, for lack of a better word, squishiness of a gunshot wound blood spurt, we repurposed the savory meal I created for the dinner party.

First I tried throwing small pieces of it against the back wall of our shower (nothing wrong with keeping things clean while you experiment), but it didn’t have the right sound for this particular action.


We played around with a few different things, but what we settled on was this: slowly squeezing small pieces of grapefruit and pineapple until they burst and all the juices and particles squished and bubbled out through the fingers of my clenched fist.

The finished product?

No sound library required. Just imagination, the dedication to keep trying, and a willingness to get messy.