Hey all.

I'm currently working on a short film adaptation of a children's book called 'There's a Hippopotamus on the Roof Eating Cake' (Here's a link to a teaser if you're interested: http://vimeo.com/9576401)

Very simply put it is about a girl and her relationship with an imaginary hippo that lives on her roof.

Anyway there is one scene where the hippo falls off the roof and he and the girl have an intimate moment, where she tends to his cut (from falling) and snuggles up to him.

I've been trying to create a huge, deep, warm breathing sound (and a general 'rumbling' presence) for the hippo during this scene, but I'm having trouble. I've tried playing with the pitch of my own breathing, placing the mic right next to my lungs and processing animal sounds (admit-ably I don't have access to very good recordings) but I can't get the depth and weight that I'm after.

I love Randy Thom's work on 'How to Train Your Dragon' (the sounds when Hiccup finds Night Fury in the woods are amazing!) and obviously Avatar, LOTR etc are an inspiration.

So if anyone had any insight on how to achieve those sounds I'd be very happy!


5 Answers 5


What I try to think about when doing non-human breaths is the volume of air being moved and the airway path that the air has to travel down. As a result I've huffed, snorted, wheezed and breathed into pottery, tea-kettles, paper tubes, buckets, clasped hands, hoses, pvc pipe, etc. in an attempt to get the right tone of breath. Also you might try worldizing your pre-pitched breaths with those types of objects.

After looking at the trailer, the first thing that pops into my mind is the trombone that the father (? I'm guessing that's the role) is holding while curiously watching the little girl. It could be a one-two punch, altering your airway path and tying her imaginary hippo friend into the reality of her surroundings. Don't know if you have access to it, but perhaps there's an element of the hippo's breath that comes from breathing through a trombone or other wind instrument.

  • Cool. I had experimented a little bit with this, (through a large water cooler bottle and metal lampshades, etc) but it sounded too harsh and airy. I obviously need to spend more time finding a suitable prop! Also great idea with the trombone. The concept of turning the everyday sounds she hears into the hippo (eg builders on the roof early in a scene = the hippo riding her bike on the roof later in the scene) has been a pretty big one to help sell the story. Your idea ties in nicely! Commented Sep 9, 2010 at 2:24

I had to do this for the film Black Sheep, which involved someone mutating into an 8ft tall sheep... We recorded breaths in ADR, with real time pitch shift so the actor could hear the pitch shift, then I took those and played them through my dbx subharmonic synth - I had to crank the gain going into the dbx but it totally nailed the scale & thickened up the breaths adding an octave lower and filling with subharmonics... If you cant access an out board subharmonic synth, get a 30 day trial of Waves Lo Air or consider the Low ender plugin. Print the sub processing so you have the original breath, pitched breath & sub-processed breath across 3 tracks & then balance between them. I could dig out an example if you need to hear what it sounded like?

  • soundcloud.com/timprebble/subbybreaths
    – user49
    Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 5:47
  • you worked on that?! lol. i've only seen the trailer, but i do want to see the whole thing. Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 12:14
  • I grew up on a farm so it was very funny to work on!!!
    – user49
    Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 20:06
  • Wow, thankyou! I've been ebaying the dbx 120 after reading the 'LFE tips' post, I think it would be a wise investment. I love my rumble. Do have a preferred real time pitch shifter? Also I saw 'Boy' a couple of weeks ago, really enjoyed it.The part where Boy falls off the bridge had one of my favorite 'sound moments' of this year. I'm gonna track down a copy of Black Sheep right away ;) Commented Sep 9, 2010 at 1:51
  • Thanks! I always find it funny how some people always focus on the loudest most overt parts of a film when discussing them, but I love the quiet moments & that is one I am very proud of - its a beautiful, gentle, poetic moment... thanks for noticing it ;)
    – user49
    Commented Sep 10, 2010 at 4:05

In Where the Wild Things Are, to give the monsters' voices more size, without pitch shifting, they routed all their audio to the sub as well as the mains. Try pitch shifting down, then EQing a bit more bass in it. Also, a little bit of reverb may help, to give the size of the hippos lungs some depth.


Walruses and elephant seals also have terrific wheezes and moans that can be pitched for added oomph.

(Though I missed the bit in your post about not having access to great animal recordings, so this is probably your least helpful reply...)


This is a long shot but, still, I believe it's worth sharing. I always remember I once visited a blacksmith and he had this huge blower that I can't quite remember how he worked it, but it was literally one or two cubed meters of air you had at hand every cycle.

And you know, when you blow air from your mouth on fire, it just rages and roars and it produces a really harsh sound. When the flow of air gets larger, the effect is that it smoothes out this sound. Because the sound is bigger, it has more dynamics, still roaring at the edges of the air flow but in the center it's rounder and smoother.

And according to me, it could be used as a large animal breathing.

  • Awesome. Definitely something to experiment with. Commented Sep 9, 2010 at 7:52
  • @Lachieh, yeah, all you need is a forge after all :D Commented Sep 9, 2010 at 8:14
  • @Justin Huss Haha! Yep, didn't really think that one through. Commented Sep 10, 2010 at 15:27

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