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Hi All,

First time cutting gunshots for linear sound design and I'm running into some issues.

Designing the single gunshots has been fine so far, but I've just hit about 15sec in a row of quick cuts with many different types of rapid fire gunshots going off, and making each shot perfectly deadly, multi-layered and variant is cluttering up my edit session fast. I can't help but feel like I could be doing it more efficiently..

I know that in the final mix there won't be enough time/aural bandwidth to hear all the subtleties (especially over the music), but repetition is death and I feel like I shouldn't cut corners here.

So, how do you cut shootouts?

Say you've got three guys firing three different guns at different rates within the same cut (which I do).

  • Do you stack your attack/high/medium/low layers on four tracks x 3 for each shooter? Bounce each guy together down to one layer to save track space?
  • Build a bunch of layers in Kontakt and just mash according to the rhythm that "feels" right, or cut super-precise for every bullet fired? (And if you do this, what kinds of LFOs etc. might you apply to add some dynamics to the shots as they continue - esp. with automatic weapons?)

Interested to hear everyone's takes..

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This has been my experience:

Usually, I'll start by working with a set of dedicated Weapons tracks so the guns don't gum up the other fx edits. This all depends on the film's context though.

If its a walk n talk with one or two gunshots through the whole film, I'll cut them up in the regular FX tracks and run with no weapons tracks. But if it's something crazy like Blackhawk Down style, I may want to go wider so that I have many more Weapons tracks dedicated in groupings to Close, Mid, and Distant fire. The key with gun fights in my experience is that organization and compartmentalization are your friends.

Hi Mid Lo could be a good way to think about the anatomy of a shot, or in terms of Boom, Crack, shell eject (depending on gun type), LFE. And, I like to keep the amount layered edits for a gun to about effects 3-4 per shot - any more than that I usually print down to "splits" based upon their frequency content so as not to marry a sound that has a deep boom with a high crack. Then these will get region group and named something like "Jake Pistol Shot", and that entire region group will be duplicated as-needed for each shot. What I learned from a colleague is that about 1 in 10 gun shots should sound slightly different, like a pitch change of one of the crack elements or shell eject elements by a few cents - that way there is some variation but its subtle. Most of the overall gunfight variation we hear is the whiz bys and ricos so the gunshots serve as more a constant in the vain of percussives that keep it grounded.

For your three seperate shooters, it would be advisable to keep them dedicated to the same tracks through the sequence so that its very easy to see who is who, especially for the mixer- "checkerboarded" would be a good term for it

Regarding the sync of the shots, I usually sync the transient to 1 frame before the visual bloom because of the perceived lag time between audio and visual (in the same vain that even the best Foley artists are about 1 frame off because of lag time). And sometimes you want to cheat the sounds of shot to follow a certain rhythm, or not the follow a certain rhythm. It all depends on context. If you see a closeup of a guy firing 3 single shots from an assault rifle, each three must be cut to sync. But, if its a barrage of guns going off, and you have offscreen moments where you don't see the gun, that's where you can get away with playing more to the rhythm than the hard and fast visual.

Good luck! Gun fights are fun, but they can be overwhelming on the first run at it.

  • Thanks for the tips Stavro - so you're saying you design an individual shot and then just duplicate her as necessary, only occasionally changing one of the elements and leaving the rest the same? I'll try it out, maybe it'll seem less repetitive once I've got the shell ejects and whizzes and music and everything going on. You are right about it being overwhelming. Much respect to the gun design specialists out there! – lucafusi Sep 6 '11 at 1:10
  • Also, your sync note was bang-on. – lucafusi Sep 6 '11 at 1:10
  • Sure thing! You are exactly correct. It may seem kind of odd the first time doing it, but when you get into complex situations its a great, fast way to work. Region groups are $$$ for this kind of work because not only does it keep everything together, but your session looks neater to a mixer and you while you're cutting. – Stavrosound Sep 6 '11 at 3:32
  • @Luca, since you said this is your first time doing linear sound, I assume you do mostly game stuff (I could be wrong), and @Stavro's suggestion is incredibly video-gamey. A small handful of gunshot sounds per gun, cycled through at random, with slight pitch and volume variation. – Dave Matney Sep 6 '11 at 13:13
  • Hey @Dave, not my first post edit, just that it's my first time cutting a shootout - it's a trailer re-design. The temptation to make every shot different in the early cutting, layer-stacking stage is great, but after a few playbacks with the music behind it I'm finding that the cuts are so quick that you don't really notice repetition as long as there is a layer to 'distract' you away - like the rising whine of a minigun or the occasional pneumatic hiss/shell accent. Throwing some subtle AM/FM in there with Mondo Mod has helped too. – lucafusi Sep 6 '11 at 16:11
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I cut a couple of fairly busy gun battles in The Warriors Way although they were usually from a 'hero vs the rest' point of view... so I split across stems:

  • Foreground guns
  • Distant guns
  • Moves (bullet whizzes)
  • Impacts (bullet impacts)

Each predub stem was being fed by eg 16c + 16LR tracks and I would group & colour code the elements/layers associated with each gunshot & keep them on the same tracks for consistency...

The scenes also had sword fights in them (with associated sword sounds, body slashes & falls) & I knew the score was going big, so differentiating between the close up gunshots (which need to rate) and the background/offscreen ones made life a lot easier in the final mix...

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    32 tracks x 4 predubs for one 'family' of sounds is way more than I'm used to. Amazing, but I guess that's how the detail cuts through even in the final mix when everything is getting crazy.. As as a quick design question, may I ask: did you find yourself building the off-screen shots using mostly distant stems from the gun libraries you were cutting from, or built them just as big and then rolled off some high-end/baked in reverb? I'm onto my off-screen shots and whizzes soon. – lucafusi Sep 6 '11 at 16:14

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