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Hi. I’m cutting SFX for a car chase scene. Very stoked-my first time. I’ve been doing some reading about techniques and such…

Chris Assells has some solid tips on the 5th page of this recent interview in Mix Magazine: http://mixonline.com/post/features/movie_sound_effects/index4.html What have you come across online (or in a part of a book perhaps) that you found helpful?

I always like to record some audio assets for a project. Unfortunately, I don’t have the opportunity to this time and will be using library SFX. In a perfect scenario, what sounds would like to record for use cutting a car chase scene? Do you have any particular libraries that you like to use for car chases?

I’ve intently watched the Bourne trilogy’s car chase scenes and admire the job that the sound department did. There are many others for inspiration, what car chase scenes do you think sound awesome?

[youtube]HPI5-TSdC9w[/youtube]

This experience is going to be great for growing in knowledge. I appreciate your input.

Thanks. Peace!

Edit Summary- Guess I can't embed video in comments(?). Anyway... As mentioned in the thread, I too really dig the opening chase in Quantum- [youtube]BsBd9tPK4uE[/youtube]

  • Ahh, I love Ronin. I just watched it again after a long absence the other day. Good chase scenes to reference. – Auddity Aug 31 '11 at 3:51
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    I've never done sound for a car chase, but I have read a lot on recording cars. The Need for Speed guide to Recording is full of great advice: designingsound.org/2010/02/… (I haven't found even a leaked copy of the book, unfortunately...) – Dave Matney Aug 31 '11 at 18:31
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To borrow from John Cage (thanks, @tim prebble):

  • RULE FOUR: CONSIDER EVERYTHING AN EXPERIMENT

There is no right way to cut a car chase. Every car chase is different and every editor has their own methods and tricks. Sometimes there needs to be more emphasis on the muscular sound of the engines vs. the squealing of the tires; other times you'll be focused on the dynamic parts of the chase, ie. the gear shifts, pedal stomps, object pass bys, etc. And don't forget about music and score - everything you create has to work with what the composer is bringing to the table (unless you have a sound effects-only car chase scene, which totally rocks!)

With that said, let me explain how I usually begin. My standard approach, if I'm not given any other direction, is to start with the engines first. Unless you are fortunate enough to have an entire car set custom recorded for the show or in your library, you'll probably piece each vehicle together from a variety of sources. For example, if you're working on a strong-sounding Camaro, you may end up using Mustangs, Corvettes, Plymouths, etc. Some pitch shifting here and EQing there, and viola, you have your muscle car! This takes practice, imagination and lots of experimenting, so don't give up.

Once I get the engines dialed in and feeling right, then I'll add in skids, suspension, tire roll, etc. These sounds function not only as emotional cues but also as the glue that holds all your engine parts together.

Also, as a rule of thumb, I've found that complex jobs such as this require you to constantly revisit and revise. Rarely do I "get it right" the first time! As with most of sound design, you should play your scene back for everyone, soliciting opinions and collaborating with your peers.

BTW, great chases to reference would include:

  • The French Connection
  • Bullitt
  • Mr. and Mrs. Smith
  • all the Bourne films (as you mentioned)
  • Bad Boys
  • The Terminator (original, 1984)
  • Hey Jay, I agree it totally rocks to do a SFX only car chase scene! Thanks for your perspective on each car chase being unique. There really is no right way to go about it. However, I moved forward with your approach to start with the engines first & I’m having a blast experimenting with piecing each vehicle together! – mdichirico Aug 31 '11 at 6:03
  • @mdichirico, cool! Remember, there's no "right" way to do this, no formulas or rules. Just find your style! – Jay Jennings Aug 31 '11 at 17:15
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Tire scrapes on respective surfaces, suspension hits, and engine states are all given (if you can record the engine states and transitions in the wild...not on a dynomometer...all the better), air conditioning/heater to help with interior ambiences...

I've found it's rare for an effects library to have truly useful car-bys, approaches or departures. They frequently only have one style of perspective or movement/engine state, and they're mostly useless whenever I need to edit for those kinds of shots.

Are there any impacts to consider in this sequence?

I'm very partial to the mix on the car chase that opens Quantum of Solace. It does a great job of grabbing, directing and holding your attention on the action beats.

  • +1 on opening Quantum scene. Definitely gets you hooked into the movie right of the bat! – Auddity Aug 31 '11 at 3:54
  • Funny, maybe it was the mood I was in but that opening sequence did nothing for me. Quite the opposite with Casino Royale, however. – Jay Jennings Aug 31 '11 at 3:57
  • Hey Shaun, Thanks for the feedback! Impacts in the sequence to consider: -The cars swerve and smash into each other several times during the chase. -There is an impact of a vehicle hitting the pavement after going off a jump and flying through the air. -A car hits the side of a building, scraping the side of the car up an alley way causing sparks-these sparks (somehow) cause a nearby vehicle to explode. -The finish of the chase has a car smash through a wall and flipping on its side. These definitely add to the energy while I’m attempting to focus the sound on the excitement of the chase. – mdichirico Aug 31 '11 at 6:05
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Well some of my favorite car chases were done before the era of high fidelity sound, but they're still worth studying imho:

Bullit

The Italian Job (the original)

The Blues Brothers

French Connection

As for modern stuff, plus one for Ronin and the Bourne movies. Great cutting. The Skywalker crew did a great job cutting cars on both of the Cars movies as well, and the Dark Knight had a pretty bad ass chase sequence as well. And who can't like the convoy chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

While great car chases are usually the result of tons of field recording, this library could be helpful.

I also agree with the comments in the mix article. Great tire sounds make a car chase to me, as they sell movement. Of course beefy engines and great perspective cutting also help.

Good luck.

  • man...blues brothers....i've got to pull that movie out and watch it again. maybe buy it on dvd finally. good call on that one. – Shaun Farley Aug 31 '11 at 0:17
  • Hey Justin, Man I need to re-watch The Blues Brothers as well! The mall chase and the Chicago finale are classic! I totally agree in the importance for cutting for perspective. As far as tire sounds- I’ve incorporated some field recordings I’ve previously done of car tires on gravel. It’s nicely adding another solid layer of detail to the scene. Thanks for the reply! – mdichirico Aug 31 '11 at 6:07
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Car chases hum... love them ;)

Death Proof has a really lovely V8 sounds ... or of course the classic - Mad Max ;) As for libraries have you looked at pole.se they have some pretty nice recordings available for downloads.

  • yes! How could I have forgotten about The Road Warrior?? – Jay Jennings Aug 31 '11 at 20:31
  • Love the work Pole Position does! – mdichirico Aug 31 '11 at 22:08
  • @mdichirico - Yes Pole are great, and Max the guy who runs pole is an top bloke ;) – RedSonic01 Sep 1 '11 at 5:35

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