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How to create sounds to a tumbleweed rolling across the screen?

Tim Larkin

I have a project coming up that needs the should of a tumbleweed blowing/rolling across the screen. Any suggestions similar to the previous examples would be great. I can go get some dry branches and start playing around with those, but I'd be really interested to see what ideas come to mind here. Thanks.

Randy Thom

I think it's good to remember that you should use sounds for a given shot or scene in a way that will serve THAT scene. In some cases you might not want to call attention to the tumbleweed, so exaggerating the sound by giving it too much character or making it too loud wouldn't be appropriate. On the other hand, if you and the director, or whoever is in charge, want the tumbleweed moment to make a statement....

Then it seems like the opportunity with a tumbleweed would be to make it sound way more multi-faceted than you might imagine. If I were you I would only use scraping or impacting branches as a last resort. You could certainly sell it with that sound, but it'll be hard to get any character in the sound by using branches alone.

I would try to imagine the elements of the action that could conceivably make sounds: tumbleweed/ground interaction, internal tumbleweed stresses (creaks, snaps), and wind/tumbleweed interaction. As the tumbleweed goes by, you could bring in a high whistly wind element, as if that were the sound of the wind going through the branches of the tumbleweed.

Then I'd try to generate or record those kinds of elements in various exotic ways, many of which would have nothing to do with a tumbleweed. Things come to mind like: twisting big pieces of Styrofoam (for internal tumbleweed stresses), plucking a bamboo rake's prongs (for tumbleweed/ground interaction), and whistling.....right, with your high and breathy as you can, multi-tracked to be complex and dissonant (for the tumbleweed wind).

The challenge of mixing those elements would be to make sure they don't mask each other. You probably want to feature one or two elements at a time, maybe some for only a few frames. Otherwise your character-filled elements will lose their character and turn into noise.

The point of using exotic sources isn't just to be cool, of course. It allows you to create a level of character for the sound that is difficult or impossible to get by using the objects that are literally in the shot.

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March 2002 "Non-literal sounds in Film!" at discussion list sound_design an open forum about Sound design tips, techniques, theories and solutions for both Film and Interactive Media

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