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I need to record footsteps in sand, but I can't take sand into the studio. Is there any not-so-messy materials that would make a convincing substitute?

  • What are you recording it for? the context is important to offering relevant advice.... – user49 Aug 7 '11 at 22:03
  • @tim I am re-doing the sound for a scene in Pirates of the Caribbean for a uni project. – Jinksi Aug 8 '11 at 11:58
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I once had to add 'sandy foot-steps' to a silent piece (no location sound at all) at 3am the other night - so understand that you can't always just run out to stock a foley pit!

Besides, walking in sand makes very little sound in reality. - but we are rarely dealing with "reality" in audio post...

I ended up recording pouring rice into a wooden bowl - varying the velocities, amounts, steady vs. scattered, ect.

I then:

  • applied a global pitch up (a couple steps) and a sharper eq.

  • cut up the resulting files into small varied chunks. They can be taken from the middle of the 'pouring' and don't require and an 'attack.'

  • applied varying envelopes (fades:in/out) there really isn't much, if any 'impact' sound on pure sand

  • applied slightly varying micro pitches & EQ to each I did this in realtime with slow random modulations of various plug-ins

  • randomly choose files to spot to picture. Though I soon learned where/how to pick appropriate sections for changing scenarios.

I then tweaked and honed the results if needed.

Some of the steps required more impact (running) with more attack on the fades. Stumbling/sliding required a bit longer tail fades in areas. etc...

Obviously: results will vary and need to be customized to your particular situation(s).

This worked out for me in this situation and the client was happy (which is what really matters!) Just hoping this might inspire a creative approach for yours.

Good Luck!

r

  • thanks for your response ron! creativity is the key here, and I guess "necessity is the mother of invention" applies here as well. – Jinksi Aug 10 '11 at 9:20
  • Great suggestion! Was puzzling how to get the sound of a vehicle driving on sand, without any engine noise. Worked perfect. – mark.ed Feb 1 '16 at 16:47
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In case you haven't already, you should read this post - very similar topic, and some of the answers may actually work well for simulating sand (or at least dry sand).

I agree with @Christian van Caine on this one; a recording of someone actually walking/running in real sand in a real location will most likely yield the most convincing - and thus most useful - performance. Think of it as foley, just not recorded on a foley stage.

I once had great results with a similar situation, the difference being that it was snow and not sand: Just me, walking around after a record-breaking snowfall in the middle of the night, with my Zoom H2 on the end of a tripod facing down at my shoes. IMO, they are some of the best "footsteps in snow" that I have in my library, simply because that is EXACTLY what they are! No corn starch or other product of simulation, just the real deal and a decent, versatile performance.

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salt? sugar? bath salts? just take the sand in! and hoover it up after.

  • @edmatthews82 salt totally worked, in a small amount moved around with fingers and hands. thanks! – Jinksi Aug 12 '11 at 9:10
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If you're gonna go with the foley way my best recommendation would be to build a big though not necessarily higher than a few decimeters sandbox in wood (you don't want reflections from the sides), and rob the nearest beach of lots of buckets of sand. I can't really see any other ways in i studio. An easier way in preparations, and in my highly personal opinion better sounding (I like more worldized and acoustically living sounds!) though more time-consuming when editing, is to bring your recorder, a nice mic, and a good friend, and take a trip to the nearest sand-beach you could find with the least people possible to have at least as much as you think you'll need and then some just in case :-) /CvanC

  • I have a Zoom H4 and access to a NTG-2 so I will give this a go but I am a bit worried about pre-amp noise of the H4, but I will see what happens. Thanks! – Jinksi Aug 8 '11 at 11:55
  • Hope you find it useful :-) At first I started to record these kind of foley-esque sounds because there was no way I could do these kind'a sounds in the studio I had then (at the time based in my apartment), but now I often choose this solution because I like the liveliness you get in the sound from, for example, ambiance, variations even i a quite short street, and reflections :-) As for the noise, I too had some problem with that in my first recorder, a M-Audio Microtrack, but if you do a very light noise-reduction and gate/trim the steps it shouldn't be any problem :-) – Christian van Caine Aug 12 '11 at 17:25
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It looks like some covert recording may be in your future. You could pretend to record a vaccuum cleaner.

  • I did that for real the other day. You can make those things make some weird noises. – g.a.harry Aug 8 '11 at 2:04
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I would turn on the Randy Thom commentary he did for the Castaway DVD when Tom Hanks lands on the beach. He goes into detail about how he made the waves crashing from scratch but I forget if he talks about the sand movements and what he did. I think it would be worth referencing if not just to hear how it sounds in the mix and try to duplicate it.

  • So many great idea's thankyou! – Jinksi Aug 9 '11 at 7:54
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A brand new chunk of astroturf works well for getting real footsteps with bare feet, flip flops etc. That would be my first choice. There will probably be more high-end than necessary, but it's easy to EQ/muffle later. If you put it on top of something dense, like a thick piece of rubber it will be closer out of the gate.

A closely mic'd tub of brown sugar might work in a pinch too.

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Crush Maria crackers til they're almost dust, then squish them in between your hands !

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Crushed cereal or a chewing sound of crunchy items could prove useful

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