Ric Viers’s profession is his hobby. If his wife didn’t insist he be home by 5, he’d work all day and all night. Aside from loving what he does, what makes Ric special in the sound effects industry is his willingness to share his knowledge. Not only is he constantly updating and enlarging his bank of sounds, he is also ensuring that his skills and knowledge are passed on to the current and next generation of sound designers.
If you have anything to do with sound effects you’ll instantly recognize the names of his companies: the Detroit Chop Shop supplies made to order sound effects for companies with names like Disney. Blastwave FX is an off-the-shelf sound effects supplier providing one of the largest selections of sound effects in the world.
In addition to building an enviable presence in the industry, Ric is also the author of “The Sound Effects Bible”. Searching several years ago for books and articles on recording and sound editing, he discovered that there was very little out there. So he wrote the go-to manual for recording and creating top of the line sounds effects.
No small feat for a guy who hasn’t hit 40 yet.
I caught up with Ric by phone in his studio in Detroit where I asked him what makes a great sound effect great. “It’s mojo actually. It either works or it doesn’t, it either feels like it belongs on the track or it doesn’t.” But having said that he went on to describe the variety of styles of sound effects and how his sounds are designed so that they are more likely to fit a track.
Back twenty years ago when Ric was in film school, he was trained on both analog and digital gear. DAT was just beginning to replace reel-to-reel Nagra recorders. The nature of analog recorded sound is such that because it’s recorded to a machine with moving parts, it’s full of noise and there’s no getting around that. Digitally recorded sound on the other hand is recorded directly to flash memory and the sound can be as clean as you can make the recording environment.
I never imagined that sound effects could actually have a style but Ric draws a parallel with photography. “You know how in photographs you can include the background or you can edit it out? Well in sound I use blue-screen recording.“
In fact Ric is the first sound designer to use blue-screen recording techniques whereby the sound is as pure as possible and limited to one element at a time; all extraneous noise is either damped out on recording or edited out after the fact. Not an easy feat considering how ubiquitous and unpredictable background noise can be – think fans humming, fluorescent lights buzzing, airplanes and cars rumbling in the distance. No sooner do you think you’ve hit on a perfectly silent moment and you start recording, then suddenly someone runs by outside shouting or a car horn honks. Or a phone rings next to an open window three houses down the street.
“This isn’t clip art”, he explains, “Blue-screen sounds give you paint to work with.” Take, for example, the sound of someone cocking a gun. A slow paced sound would suggest that the person is hiding, perhaps they sense danger, they’re thinking through their motions. Rapid cocking of a gun suggests bravado, urgency, an automatic reaction.
While most sound effect libraries supply a collection of generic sounds, Ric’s libraries supply sounds in a variety of modes – fast/slow, intense/soft, etc. so the sound editor can choose the one that best suits the meaning and intention behind the action.
Ric explained how sounds are categorized. Hard effects are those sounds associated with an absolute action. Foley - named for Jack Foley who perfected the art of creating sound effects in sync with the picture - is the synchronized sound of a body physically interacting with an object, for example the sound of clothing as one moves, footsteps on dirt or pavement, the handling of objects. Background sounds are ambience sounds like room tones, drones, crickets on a warm night. Electronic effects are sounds created from scratch like the woosh of a spaceship blasting off, vocalizing of aliens, roar of a tornado.
And speaking of tornadoes, Ric went on to describe one of his scariest recording stories. He was an hour north of Detroit at two in the morning in the deep woods recording forest sounds. A hot August night, it was pitch black because the 50 to 100 foot trees blocked out all the moonlight. Suddenly there was background noise interrupting the clear, clean blue-screen sounds he was recording. Through the headphones he suddenly heard a low growling that quickly became louder and more menacing. Ric ripped off the phones, threw his gear into its sack, and fled for the car – luckily parked nearby on a dirt road. When he replayed the recorded sounds later that day, they included the frantic sounds of him scrambling for safety.
Background sounds we can all live without.
To find out more about Ric Viers and companies follow any of the following links:
Ric also occasionally co-presents sound design webinars with David Sonnenschein. For more info follow www.sounddesignforpros.com