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?
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.
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 designingsound.org. 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
- Miami Vice
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.
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.
"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?
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.
A deadly gun sound must bring be balanced between the bass, the mid, and the treble. The mid is the most important one.
Structure of a deadly gunshot: Punch - Lower and longer punch - body of the gunshot - body and tail transition - tail
Like this: (slowed down) Puh - Prrruuuuuh - Rrrraaaaahhh - Wwrrooowwwll - Vvvvrrrrrr
The punches is important when you want to make a deadly machine gun sound.
A deadly shotgun sound requires the gun sound to be more beefy and all the parts of the sound should sound like they are all blended together but still distinctive to hear.
Another way to make a deadly gun sound is to listen to gun sounds for reference. Example:
The best gunshot I've heard in recent films was in 'Bone tomahawk' (Kurt Russell) truly devastating. I haven't made one myself but it would be using techniques already suggested. To me though (others may disagree) the magic ingredient to any natural sound you want to really punch/thunder through is that your source material is recorded with high quality mics and preamps and not some low-fi third gen rip Mp3 from a free collection.