Ok so I am doing sound design for fun and practice on a random video I found.

I am putting in foley first - intimate and very detailed.

The first scene is someone in a living room receiving a phone call warning him of a sniper and getting nearly sniped through a window (I know what you're thinking, it's not the Bourne Identity, but very similar and that's actually what I'm using as a reference).

I feel like I don't have anything good for the interior of the living room. You see trees blowing in the wind outside a closed window... I tried putting a forest ambience with a low-pass filter on it but it just sounded like hiss to me in the mix. I don't want to put birds because I want the audience to feel tension. Maybe an eerie drone of a A/C vent?

Maybe I started off on the wrong foot, because I feel like there are large gaps missing between each foley sequence... How do you connect up foley sounds and the gaps between them into a melded whole? That's really tough and I envy those who can do that easily!

Should I have started with the Ambiences/Backgrounds so I have a space for the foley to sit in? A long time ago I think I asked a question on how you build a scene and I think that was the most popular answer... Maybe I am just not applying good advice. Good going, Ryan....

Also, I don't have a clue what the music will sound like. I guess that's up to me later, but most of you don't hear the score of what you're working on until later, yes?

I feel like something is missing. I'll upload what I have so far soon so you can critique it but that shouldn't be for a while.

What do you guys do when you feel like something is missing or it isn't "full" enough yet. Do you go and grab a well-known similar movie and watch for what they did in that film? Do you walk away and come back with a fresh viewpoint?

Thanks! Your guys' experience is always very appreciated.

7 Answers 7


Maybe the ticking of a clock like, time is running out or a dripping faucet, or maybe a radio broadcast of some kind or TV. Since it is windy you could use creaking house sounds that is eerie. A rattle could be added on the AC vent maybe a pitched down motor revving mixed in a swell to symbolize the waiting. Probably a good idea to lowpass events outside the window. Good luck.

  • @Chris, great ideas! Commented Sep 16, 2010 at 22:05

Just today I was recording a window rattling as large trucks rumbled by. Dunno what your setting is, but a truck rumble with either glasses rattling (too close together in the cabinets) or the windows rattling in their casements is something I'd not considered as a tension element until 8am this morning...especially if the sniper's bullet is incoming through a window, might be a neat subconcious foreshadowing..?

  • That is an excellent thought, @noisejockey. I'm going to tuck that in my cap for later. Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 2:20

If you're trying to build tension, try the following offstage sounds:

  1. baby crying down the hall / next room
  2. distant approaching sirens
  3. moody birds, ie. crows, ravens, etc.
  4. distant thunder
  5. car alarms (if in the city)
  6. absolute silence

These are not magic bullets, but have certain cliché value and have worked in past scenarios.

  • Its always important to hear what the vet's have to say. Moody birds, distant thunder, car alarms, they sound great.
    – Chris
    Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 1:57
  • How about tea kettle in the kitchen? Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 2:21
  • Well, naturally. In that case, percolator? Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 2:47

This is something of a side note, but you had mentioned your wind through trees sound being too hissy. To get something with more definition, try bringing a few branches into the studio and shaking those. Or better yet, point your mic at a window and shake the branches from outside. Are the branches touching the house? What about scraping sounds?


You mentioned not having added ambience yet -- do you have some quiet room tone in? I sometimes have trouble accepting a scene I'm adding effects to without that. Also, you've probably considered this, but maybe the foley is mixed a tad hot given the sparse (lack of) background, making the gaps feel more pronounced.

Refrigerator hum, HVAC, maybe a television or radio in the next room, etc. are all things you could play with to fill out the track and add/adjust tension as the moment of the phone call approaches. There's always the house itself, too -- creaks and snaps, settling/groans (done subtly).

I'm a little hesitant to turn to an existing, similar scene as reference because that makes it harder to put a new spin on what I'm doing. That said, sometimes it's probably best to imitate what's come before. Looking forward to seeing the veterans here weigh in on this one.


Hey Ryan,

I can't think of any actual suggestions that don't differ from above. However, you might want to watch Hamlet for some inspiration. I really liked the atmos tracks they created for it. It's almost like white noise but it's incessant use really adds to the building sense of doom (plus it's a great adaptation of the play).



I like the road you're going down in terms of your process. For me, I go with #1. Dialogue, #2. Music, #3. SFX. When your dialogue is sweetened, it helps in how you make your musical score cuts. Depending on your dialogue, that could decide how much, if any, roomtone you will need to help blend your DX tracks. And SFX last just makes the picture sound more slick with each nuance you add.

As for your question on the outside ambiance.......I would try to find a storm ambiance and work on EQing it to give it a "muffled" feel like it normally would watching a storm in your own house.

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