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My next task is creating a robotic voice that gives information to the main character.

One idea I had was to create an effect much like when a cell phone is breaking up and the voice gets all choppy and digitally distorted. It's kind of hard to explain, but it is what happens when a cell phone is about to disconnect or is out of range and it's almost mono-tone. Does anyone know of a plug-in that can achieve this effect?

Any advice would be much appreciated. Even general tips on how to make a good robotic voice would be great.

12 Answers 12

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Speakerphone has some cell phone settings that will achieve that effect for you.

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This is probably a little different to what you have in mind, but you could try worldising it through Skype (with a direct in/out of the computers being used). That does some weird stuff when it starts struggling and dropping packets. You could use a torrent client or similar to hog the bandwidth and force Skype to struggle.

  • That's an awesome idea. I'm trying that next if any plug-ins don't work. – Utopia Mar 18 '11 at 23:03
  • @Roger, excellent idea! – Jay Jennings Mar 18 '11 at 23:17
  • Utopia, I'd just try it anyway. Unpredictable results are always the best. :D – Dave Matney Mar 20 '11 at 23:12
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For a traditional Robot voice you should likely go with a vocoder.

For the telephone effect you are speaking of, think of what a telephone does to a voice.

First matter to deal with is bandwidth. You're typically not going to get a full range of frequencies out of a cellphone, so use an EQ to limit the bandwidth to say somewhere around, 300-3000Hz. That will chop all your lows and highs and make it sound as if it's coming through a telephone.

Once the signal starts getting choppy from a low signal (meaning less connection bandwidth), that you're going to want to add clicks and pops (maybe try iZotope vinyl for this as a cheap solution) or you could vocode the EQ'd voice with some actual vinyl pops using a vocoder.

Then as it gets even worse you're going to want to use some type of Decimation/Bit-Reduction plug in to add that digital chirp and chops/drop outs until it turns into random chunks of low-bitrate static mumbling.

As cool as it may sound, using something like dBlue's Glitch plug-in won't necessarily get you what you want since a "glitching" effect is a "repeat" and that hardly ever happens on a phone. One thing that does happen is sometimes you get a echo or delay. It might be cool on something that takes place in the future or an alternate reality though. As much as I love and endorse dBlue's GLitch, it should be used in the proper context, otherwise you'll be over-designing your sound.

There are other techniques, but I tried to keep it on the cheap using only EQ, Vinyl or a Vocoder, some decimation and maybe some delay. Most of these FX except Vinyl come free with most DAW's. And I believe iZotope Vinyl is a free plug-in. Speakerphone is awesome and effective, but also a bit expensive. So if you understand the core of what you need to do, you can do it with a handful of small and cheap fx.

Cheers!

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If you have Waves, try the "reflective room" preset on MetaFlanger - my go to when I don't want TOO much effect to distort the actual words (I'm using it on a Kid's show where the dialog needs to be clear). You can also try the Morphoder for the classic "Cylon" effect (The "Robbie" preset is a good start). Finally, if you're in ProTools, try the Sci-Fi plug-in, and D-Verb with the "Ambience" setting -good metallic sounds.

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If you're into a more DIY way of doing it...

Try blowing up a balloon and speaking into the point furthest from the mic. Your voice will modulate the natural resonance of the balloon and add a really cool character to it. Use different size/shape balloons and pitch/time shift to taste.

  • Nice! Very inventive, wonder what that would sound like? – Jay Jennings Mar 19 '11 at 18:40
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Ring Modulation is pretty classic for robot voices. With a 30k sine wave for the carrier and the effect at about 50% wet, you've got yourself a Dalek.

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My suggestion is to play with using 1 millisecond or less (more if thats the only way for the plug-in to work) sounds as filters, then lower the dry/wet ratio and rev. time. Use it to filter your rev, delay, voice, etc…I found that a soft sound from a cardboard box when cut to .01ms softened the timbre of dialogue. You could try dBlue Glitch/ Buffer override, some reaktor ensemble with graining.

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This might be a little generic, but you could always try using a vocoder and vocalizing it yourself.

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We had a fun one by using Digi's Pitch plugin on the dialog, but having it set to monophonic rather than the default polyphonic. Good luck.

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A very simple but effective way of making sounds more electronic/digital is using the Time Compression/Expansion Trim tool in ProTools to expand and compress the sound several times in a row and finally back to the original length, resulting in a file that definitely sounds digitally processed.

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Not exactly along the telephone idea, but definitely a robot-voice go-to, Sonic Charge's BitSpeek is an awesome tool and very affordable!

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Another suggestion that was mentioned in another thread was to use the sound of a scraped cymbal as an impulse response, to add a metallic texture. You could also run the final sounds through smaller, plastic-y speakers and then mix it with a hollow impulse response the size of a beer keg to get the sound that it is, in fact, coming out of a robot. (Assuming the robot is hollow sounding, that is.)

For the dialogue itself, go through the lines and find any repeated phrases or words. Only cut those a single time, and ALWAYS reuse them. If you say "I don't like that" three times, all three will be different, but a robot will say it 100% the same 100% of the time (unless he's programmed otherwise). Then use the same words to make up other phrases. "Not| like | that". Finally, when you're cutting the dialogue together, add a tiny amount of radio static between them as the computer searches for the right sound. (Adding the sound of a hard-drive searching or writing subtly under the vocal tones could help sell this idea.)

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