Hey Sound Designers! It's been a while since I've been on the forums, but I'm back, and I have a question for you: How would you stop an elevator?

A 1930's era elevator is careening down it's shaft when something goes wrong (a crack! the snap of cable, or an explosion?) and the car comes to a stop. Is it slow an ominous (with the creak and screech of metal on metal) or is it violent? What do you hear? What elements are involved? Give me ideas. Stop this elevator.

I will be forever indebted to you! --Phil

5 Answers 5


(fade up on scene already in motion)

The old rickety elevator, which should have been taken out of service a decade ago ago, shimmies up to the 38th floor as it has for years. But, unbeknownst to the lone passenger, this trip will be different...

(cue A MENACING GROAN FROM ABOVE as the cable strains against an unknown force, and suddenly...)

CRACK!!! The cast iron pulley breaks free from the ceiling 30 floors up, causing the METAL FLYWHEEL to spin violently out of control and the FRAYED CABLES to flail about wildly, razor-sharp tentacles smacking against the sheet metal walls of the shaft. Debris rains downs round us as...

The elevator car lurches and drops into a FREE FALL, gravity pulling us down as the AIR PRESSURE increases and starts its ascending wail, now building into a howling shriek...only moments remain before we disintegrate with crushing force into the concrete foundation below when suddenly...

The GRIND of wood against metal, the CRUNCHING and SPLINTERING of thick redwood timbers against the cast iron supports of the shaft, the SHUDDERING car seems it might explode ---

A gut-wrenching JOLT and a deep GROAN brings the entire event comes to an abrupt standstill only seconds from when it had begun...and mere inches from the bottom of the shaft.


  • 1
    this is great, i've never read something so exciting for such a simple scene. you should be a script writer (or at least be hired when writing the script so that everyone knows what things will sound like!) Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 10:28
  • 2
    Now if only every screenplay was written like this...sound might be more of a consideration early in the shooting process. Nice work.
    – Justin P
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 17:59

I think the picture can give you a lot more information about which sounds to use depending on the various surfaces of the elevator itself. But, IMO I think you can use a bit of both.You can layer the metal creaks and screeches along with some low vibrations. I recently edited some elevator sounds (not Crashing) and used a lot of low pitched metal sounds as well as some whale moans. Considering that your scene is set in the 30's, I'm guessing most of the elevators were made of wood. So you might wanna use some wood cracking as an additional layer. Again, there's a lot more you can do. Try different sounds. They don't have to be the exact same as you see on screen. Hope that helps.

  • Great thoughts! One thing that is of note: no picture! This is for a audio drama. I have full edit freedom. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 4:29

Fellow Sound-Designers, I have a sound to share...via, ahem, the cloud.

Now, despite Jay's delicously audible description above and the rest of your input and ideas about an elevator accident, the featured elevator sounds in this production turned out to be a less climactic. Groaning, screeching, creaking (throughout), with a few start-up/slow-down effects were the theme of the day.

To create the sound, we went on-site to a few locations in St. Paul to record the exact, living version of what we were trying to create - a 1920's, 30's elevator. Throw in some freight elevator sounds, a rail cart crashing into a stack of wood, a stock train recording; apply EQ, pitch-shift, fancy fades, and a few Varispeed edits (for the startup/slow down effect) and you can hear the result. On-site gear was nothing more than the versatile Zoom H4n (internal stereo pair) mounted on a tripod (the only way that H4 likes to ride) and a standard shotgun.

Here is the piece itself: https://soundcloud.com/highcue-production/the-lost-elevator-web-cut The best sounds are at the 1:28 and 19:22 mark.

On-site recording behind-the-scenes: http://youtu.be/lHCe_8s6w6o

Full description of the project: http://thelostelevator.com/news-and-happenings/




to add to jays suggestion of flailing cables, hitting a support wire for telephone polls.always makes a quirky sound...

if i'm not mistaken, ben burtt has used this sound a lot in sci fis like star wars and wall-e


I'm thinking you could do a lot with an opening garage door, manual of course, and slowing down the sound of the tracks or pitching it for that matter. Slowing might not be the right way of going about it. A contact Mic on the track combined with room mic can give you huge sound for that.

For snapping belts, I would try the industrial bungees, or rubber bands. You'd be surprise what kind of snaps you can get with some reverb out of those. For the bungees, I would try slapping against the wall. The body of the band that is.

Definitely some wood rattling sound. I'm thinking an old child's wagon. This sounds like a boatload of fun!

Please do post sound and process when finished.

  • "Rattling", yes now! Thanks for the input...and post I shall. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 21:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.