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I have been experimenting with different layers to create a perfect gunshot but they all fail and sound like toy guns. What do I have to layer in order to create a deadly sounding gunshot?

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why dont you simply use a deadly sample ? – Pretaeperon May 28 '10 at 20:41
Do you mean recording or layering sounds from a library? – Andrew Spitz May 28 '10 at 20:50
Where's Chuck? . . . – Matt Cavanaugh May 28 '10 at 21:12
@ Matt-Cavanaugh haha, yes... this is Chuck's specialty. Let's hope he comes with some good pointers. – Andrew Spitz May 28 '10 at 21:51
I gotta start charging by the hour for this stuff :) – Chuck Russom May 29 '10 at 0:36

10 Answers 10

  • Compression/multiband compression: to make the sound really punch through the mix.

  • Decay: this helps with the size of the shot and space it lives in (obviously).

  • A high pitch click/trigger/something: as MikeQuell says, add it a few milliseconds prior to the main sound. This does wonders, I use this technique so often.

  • A low frequency thump or layer: just to give it more oomph. Often, recordings sound as you described and it needs that extra little cinematic kick. I often put this milliseconds after the attack of the main sound.

  • After-shot: The human vocal response, the bullet's ricochet (if there is), body fall, blood.

  • Extra goodies: The ambience might die out a little while the ears adjust. Or just prior to give emphasis to the "deadliness" of the moment. If from the character's POV, he/she may deafen and get the rigging. For examples on this check this thread and maybe this thread.

Hope this helps.

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Thanks! Thats a great point, adding an ear adjustment. – Chris Jul 23 '10 at 16:29

To me, the most important part of a gunshot sound is the decay. That's what makes them sound interesting, massive, and I suppose deadly. In what environment are your guns being shot? Do they ring off of walls, a building, or a hillside? Do you have distant recordings of guns in these environments? The best gun design in my opinion, starts with these type of field recordings.

To make a music analogy, guns are like drums. The best drum sounds result from recording the drums interacting with the acoustic space. Part of the key to Jon Bonham's massive drum sound was the use of distant room mics in the studio and even a mic placed outside the studio door in a stairwell.

That being said, you might want to layer your gun sounds with various sweeteners. In film, it's not uncommon to layer recordings of say a cannon, mortar shell firing, or even thunder under the sound of even a tiny handgun. A little reverb, slap delay, compression, or sub can help thicken them up as well. If you're feeling avant garde...try layering them with the reversed sound of a pig squeal.

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It looks like everyone has already given some great advice. The biggest problem may be with the sources you are using. Gun recordings don't always sound that interesting. Especially handguns and shotguns, neither sound like what you expect. Try adding a lot of compression or Waves L2 or even clipping and see if that gets you any closer. Also, like Justin said, the decay is very important to the sound. Do not neglect this aspect of the sound.

Check out the articles I wrote for I'm not sure that I have many tips to offer that are not already in these articles:

There are some films that I often turn to for gun inspiration:

  • Saving Private Ryan
  • True Lies
  • Bad Boys 2
  • T2
  • Miami Vice
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Collateral's Vincent gunshots were probably the best I have ever heard. – Utopia Jun 5 '10 at 21:39
Also. Micheal Manns "Heat". Great gunshots. – oinkaudio Jun 6 '11 at 5:06
Old thread, I know, but just wanted to shed some knowledge on the downtown shootout in "Heat". So many people comment on the brilliant sound design in that scene and how real it felt. Well, there's a reason for that: Michael Mann went almost exclusively (if not 100%) with the production track recorded on set for those gunshots. – Jay Jennings Apr 5 '14 at 6:00

I personally like to add a nice mic element pop from an explosion a couple milliseconds before the actual shot and decay. I work in video games and designing them can vary depending on how it feels during game play. The decay also holds a great deal in making a gunshot sound huge. Once you get those elements sounding good start mixing in mechanical/gun Foley.

Funnily enough, I've used balloon pops in gun designs before.

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"a perfect gunshot"

maybe your problem is based on considering 'a gun' generically?

what type of gun? (a pistol is not a rifle is not a shotgun is not an AK47 etc)

what environment is it being shot in? (interior? exterior? close? wide? open field? canyon? inner city streets?)

what is the point of view or perspective of the gun? and after its fired? (what does the gun shoot at? is the action real time? is there time for bullet whizzes/impacts?)

what is the context of its use? (is the situation dangerous? kids firing air rifles at a park wont be dangerous, dirty harry/sniper fire in a battle zone is....)

"what sound can be layered to create a gunshot that gives that element of danger"

have you considered all the elements that make up a gun shot? - the trigger mechanism - the initial attack - the envelope of the explosion - the rapid evolution of the dense frequency impulse on its environment - the bullet exiting the barrell - the bullet travelling - the bullet impacting or ricocheting

there is no magic answer eg "just add an X and it will sound dangerous" while being "not fake"

"normal gunshots really just sound like a balloon popping"

really? you've actually been to a firing range & heard them like this?

When in Beijing I visited a firing range where you could fire anything you liked, if you were happy to pay the $ - that place scared the living hell out of me - guys were firing automatic machine guns in the booth next to me and the low frequencies permeated my entire body..... a balloon popping they were not!

Maybe some research for you to do (apart from visiting a firing range) is to assemble some scenes from movies with a variety of gunshots, and appreciate the range & breadth of approach... Are Sergio Leones guns realistic? Saving Private Ryan? Inglourius Bastaerds?

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I'm not 100% sure but I think he meant the recordings of gun shots tend to sound like balloons popping. Real guns are so incredibly powerful and petrifying, for sure, but they are really hard to capture. – Andrew Spitz May 28 '10 at 21:54

ka-pow. Two attacks, first one heavy, fat, and a little saturated + silence + actual gunshot (add reverb and such).

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i'll be the teddy bear. describe a deadly gunshot to me?

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Well I mean normal gunshots really just sound like a balloon popping. A gunshot really needs that element of danger but still have a realistic feel to it. I have heard many hollywood gunshots and some of them are very well done but some just failed to impress. I really just want to know what sound can be layered to create a gunshot that gives that element of danger but does not sound fake as the many I have heard.

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Layer a detuned timpani sample underneath.

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The best gunshot scene, hands-down, is the shoot-out in the Raven in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I believe they actually used a Winchester for Indy's revolver. That scene is aided by the fact that there's no music, and there's clarity in the gunshots. So much of the power of a gunshot comes from what's around it... ducking everything else out of the mix, etc. In that scene you can tell they thought about what/where every gunshot was coming from. It's not just a wall of gunshot stupidity.

Definitely the more 1-2-3 punch you can give to a gunshot the better... click, BANG, whooooosh/trail.

A high CRACK mixed in can help, a la the attack from a 21 gun salute, give a lower frequency gun more punch in a mix.

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