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Hi guys

Something that has a always perplexed me about wildlife documentaries is the sound design.

Specifically David Attenborough ones such as Life and Frozen Planet - how do they record the sounds of the tiniest animals known to man? It literally amazes me when I watch them.

I'd love to find out about the audio process in terms of location recording and post - but I can never find any information about it.

Just wanted to share this and see what everyones thoughts are...

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There are a number of techniques and mics that can be used. Spaced omnis, reflectors, hydrophones, contact mics, soundfield mics to name a few are used to capture individual calls and ambiences.

The Natural History Unit used to have a sound department until 2001 for capturing location sound but alas these days most of it seems to be stock sound, Foley or drenched in music. They may send a sound recordist out for a couple of weeks throughout production to capture any special sounds for the program, or a producer will do it.

Bring back the NHU Sound Department that's what I say!

See the works of Chris Watson, he's one of the leading recordists for a lot of these docs. Won a few awards too!

  • I knew about the hydrophone and contact mic techniques but didn't know about the NHU Sound dept! I'll look into that. Obviously with it being a documentary we expect the sound to match each animal and shot, so its shame that this is sometimes not the case. I think being sent out for a month recording exotic wildlife would be a dream job for a lot of us! – Stuart Ankers Jul 28 '13 at 14:54
  • Chris Watson is the man. If he ever writes a book, I'll be all over that. – Chris Winter Jul 28 '13 at 18:29
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Scientists/engineers have developed better microphones than what the pro audio market sees (although those are totally usable for most types of recording).

Also, I believe some nature documentaries have fake animal sounds. I.e. it's the same gimmick as in films, believable sound, not realistic sound.

Also, this is a common piece of technology in nature recording: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parabolic_microphone

  • I've thought that myself sometimes. Some of the sounds like microscopic animals do seem to good to be to true. I guess they have no option but to use library sounds or edited library sounds. – Stuart Ankers Jul 28 '13 at 14:57
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A lot of what you hear on Life, in particular, is foley and library sounds. Specifically the small animals as you mentioned and things like slow-mo sequences and long-range close-ups. There is a great deal of effort that goes into getting great location sound (parabolic mics etc), but the gloss is really made in post. Like Internet Human says, a lot of the sound is for effect and impact, so can be pretty unrealistic sometimes, but I'd argue it makes the programmes better.

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