How would one go about creating a parachute sound?
I've tried flapping clothes in front of a microphone and processing them.
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My job during high school and college was skydiving cameraman and coach, I've done over 1200 skydives, so I know that sound pretty well :-) I don't know what your desired perspective is like, or if you want it realistic, but I'll give you the real world stuff so you can get an idea.
From the skydiver's perspective:
During free fall, there is loud loud wind, but you're pretty focused on what you're doing that you don't register it too much. Then, you open your parachute and it goes from super noisy to what feels dead quiet in about 2 to 3 seconds. The deceleration happens like a logarithmic curve, where it stays fast and noisy longer than slow and quiet as it opens. The beginning is very present with wind, but then it transitions to heavy rustling/shaking/flapping material. That last moment, when you're parachute goes from half open to open, that's when you hear a big solid flap/bang mixed in with material sound. Once you're open, the relative silence is incredible.
Under your open canopy, you hear a little wind and if there is some turbulence you get single flapping sounds every now and then. Most the time, it's very smooth though. If you're flying a fast canopy, then you hear stronger wind and almost no material flapping but the main sound is the wind cutting the lines (strings between the canopy and your risers), it creates this awesome whistling. There are many lines of different lengths, so they combine into some pretty rich sounds. Love it! This is the perceptive you'd want if the camera is following the skydiver.
From a ground perspective:
If there is no wind and the skydivers open above you, it sounds a lot like thunder. A sheet-ish kind of thunder. Depending on the environment it can echo. Sometimes you hear a big "Whoohhoo" scream of happiness.
The others have given great tips on creating the sound, but I'll give a little more info. The parachute material is called zero porosity and is very plasticey, and so the rustling won't sound so much like comfy cotton sheets but rather like the waterproof coats or the covering material of a tent. This is for the material itself, but most of the big sounds are created by the wind getting trapped in the cells and the wing being solid and then releasing the air and going soft quickly and vice-versa, so I guess that sheets and umbrellas flapping will sound good for the more heavy moments (not normal flight).
It's difficult to advise without knowing what your visual requires (exaggerated drama vs realistic). Sail pops and furls are a great starting point because you'll get mass and depth. Bedsheets and smaller fabrics will provide the smaller, finer details, but I wouldn't rely on them alone. If you're working with a more dramatic visual I would look for an explosive element to sweeten the pop, like a gunshot, explosion or any sort of deep impact. Good luck and happy experimenting!
I was just about to suggest that tent idea but you beat me to it!
I've never parachuted, but you might want to also add in some rattling metal gear? maybe a few carbiners rattling together. The one thing that I would say is that depending on what your project is, chances are that a small percentage of your audience will have any experience skydiving. . .
This means that the most realistic effect might not be the most effective one. It might make sense to create an effect that meets peoples exceptions of what parachuting sounds like, rather than create an effect that stays very true to being realistic but might go against what people would assume it sounds like.
For impact I've used slowed-down grenade explosions. Can't add much more for the actual material sounds - think I used a combination of an umbrella and multiple layers of foley with poncho/wind stoppers. Other thing i did was stick some of the material out a window whilst driving - you need good noise reduction and eq to work out the car/amb noises but you get decent flaps/wind rustle from it. Alternatively a desktop fan might work?
I've never been skydiving, so my only experience to it's sound is what I've seen other sound designers do.
My initial thought was, for the pop of the chute opining, to use the pop of a plastic bag as you swing it downward, filling it with air (I honestly didn't know how to explain that), then pitch it down.