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    The undersea sound effects of   

   The Hunt for Red October

Director John McTierman wanted the sounds of the Hunt of Red October to be credible.  

The sound effects produced had to walk the tightrope between autencity and drama. 

In the films underwater arena of nuclear hide-and-seek, where a ship "sees with its ears" sonar was clearly a priority.  

Supervising sound editor Cecelia Hall and George Watters II made attempt at some sonar pings with sine waves and reverb unit which McTierman responded "No that's not it!" (They had created over 500 different pings)  

 Pings for the little DSRV
 Deep Submerge Rescue Vehicle 

Various versions of sonar pings played through a underwater speaker in a swimming pool and re-recorded at the other end. 


 Pings for the big Russians and Americans subs
A synclavier proved useful for recalling old EQ settings digitally. 

Finally one of the sonar pings was run through an harmonizer along with many closed spaced delays. Having sampled that into the synclavier and played it back with an interval under just a 5th we found the Russian (and later the American) pings.  

When they had the exact sonar sounds we needed, the pings were sequenced to the picture so rate would increase as torpedoes and other objects got closer.  

 Torpedo sound 
The torpedo sound was a combination of .. 
  • speedboat coming and going
  • a Ferrai
  • animal screeches and growls
  • bubbles
  • a motor scooter
  • a screeching screen-door spring
  • sound of water rushing through a garden hose into a pool. 
This sound was processed and used to as an explosive element for the initial compressed-air release, where it's launched from the shaft.  


 Russian submarine's silent drive
A combination of.. 
  • pile driver effect from the sound library
  • discordant tuning fork,
  • the dragging sound of 25-foot steel pipes which were being used for road construction in front of the sound studio
 Silent drive failure
To create an alarming and realistic malfunction these elements were combined in the final mix... 
  • an oil pump
  • weird skids
  • a boat banging and groaning against a dock
McTierman requested that an anvil sound be inserted in order to create the rhythmic pounding of metal that audiences would associate with a damaged engine.  


 "Squeals" and "groans" for ship-stress sounds 
Recorded sounds from Disneyland's rides such as "Space mountain"  

The metal experience thousands of pounds of stress from centrifugal force of the cars as they pass sharp turns 


 Background submarine presence
A tanker about five miles in distance recorded under water (at 150 feet) 


 Propeller sounds
A key propeller element in all ships came from an empty tanker that was recorded on its way to the harbor with the prop one-quarter of the water. It had the higher pitch sound of screws and also a hammering effect.  

The low end throb-sound, with lots of water movement heard in the first bottom view of the Dallas and in other sub exterior shots was created in a swimming pool.  
Cannonballs of the diving board was captured from various acoustic perspective 

Sound designer Frank Serafine:  
"I built one mike by taping a pressure zone mike to the inside of a 35 mm film can. I filled it with 40-weight oil, the sealed it with epoxy and suspended it in water. The oil-can picked up the low-end sounds which helped evoke the mass and size of an nuclear submarine".  

I slowed the cannonballs and trigged them rhythmically so that one became a "rev" of the propeller blades. This "whooshing" sound was combined from recorded tankers."

Edited excerpts from 
Frank Serafine: Creating the Undersea Sounds of Red October 
American Cinematographer September 1990   
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