I've come upon my second project for which I need a somewhat hyper-real popcorn popping sound and I would like to improve on my previous attempt. The closest I could get was pitched up balloons but the end result of that was a bit sterile. Would appreciate any suggestions!
I expect recording real popcorn is going to be the base of your sound. It's also such a great sound, so why not use it?
I often find that recording something at a close proximity captures a totally different sound - more layers of detail, and may give you the sound you're after. Carefully recording individual pops is also a must. If you then need more of a full range sound you could edit out small sections, pitch them down and layer them in with those at the normal speed.
Bubblewrap. You can finally pop those suckers for something besides fun. You might have to slightly pitch a pass or two because like snowflakes no two kernels pop exactly the same. You'll need to sweeten it with metal pings for the popped corn hitting the lid (depending how you are popping it).
This is getting way too complicated. Proper miking and recording the real thing is the obvious answer.
When I first started I was told the KISS rule. Keep It Simple Stupid. Sometimes we think too much.
I made some popcorn sounds for a video last year. http://vimeo.com/49029348# I recorded a bunch of variations of 'popping' and snapping small pieces of paper. Basically folding them in half, holding each end and snapping it back open. Then I loaded those variations into Kontakt and had them cycle randomly and played them at in lower register. So pitched down. I think I also messed with some transient shaping. It worked pretty well for my purposes.
Have you ever cooked popcorn in a frying pan? As long as you use an electric burner and don't add anything like oil or cooking spray, it should be pretty quiet and allow you to isolate the pops themselves. At the very least, it will allow you to get a sample recording to see if the actual sound is interesting enough for your purposes.