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DB Cooper's "The Big Grunt: finding, trapping and taming exertion sounds"

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

October 21, 2009

Comments (6)

DB-at-AGDC.jpgHave you been wondering how to make convincing exertion sounds for video games and character voice acting?

How do you make yourself sound like you're injured, in peril, or decidedly indisposed?

Find out in this neat article submitted by DB Cooper about her experience presenting at the Game Developers Conference Austin 2009.

The Big Grunt

By DB Cooper

The Austin Game Developers Conference happens in September -- a mighty fine time to be in Austin. I was a speaker at this year's conference, with a little program called "The Big Grunt: finding, trapping and taming exertion sounds."

I had initially proposed as a presentation an hour-long voice lesson for audio directors, the kind of thing I teach people when starting a new class for voice acting. The idea with this was to demonstrate to the guys on the other side of the glass the process we use when we wrap our voices around words on paper. Instead of taking my whole program, they suggested that I be part of a new program called "Audio Shorts": 4 people with 15 minutes each to present a single idea and take questions.

With the 15-minute constraint, I narrowed the focus considerably and decided to focus on exertion sounds.

This is how I described it:

You've got the lines, now you need the ooffs, the augghs, the hi-yahs. The barks and character sets can be the most trying parts of a voice session. You need a big variety of sounds, but there isn't always an easy way to get your actor to give you 5 distinctly different grunts.

When you know how these sounds are made, it's easier to get what you need from your actor.

And Here is What's Called the "Takeaway":

In this interactive program, attendees will learn and practice the bio-mechanics of producing typically necessary exertion sounds as well as the diaphragmatic support needed to prevent vocal burn-out from shouting and screaming.

* * * * *

One thing I did as I prepared for this program was take a poll among Video Game dialog and audio directors. The one consistent item on the directors' wish lists was a way to overcome the challenge of getting great exertion sounds. The punch and hit sounds, the screaming and dying are always recorded at the end of a VO session. This is so the actor's voice is stressed to its max only after all the other lines have been recorded. However, a session can be 4 hours long, and the director runs the risk of encountering an actor's creative exhaustion. There are only so many ways of saying "ugh!" or "auggh" and as anyone who has played games knows there are a LOT of violent sounds in a game. My hope with this program was to give the directors a "bag of tricks" to get what they need -- when they need it.

When it was time for my part of the Audio Shorts program, I got everyone in the hall onto their feet. We did some vocal work to identify the diaphragm, and we ran through a short list of tricks that can help an actor discover parts of their grunt-and-scream palette, including:

Violent Vowels

We experimented with all the short and some long sounds to express anger or surprise.

The Blood-curdling Barf

Some folks know this is my favorite "awareness" trick. When you really scream, you use the same muscles that are used when you throw up. I had my pal Kara Edwards demonstrate.

Pinch-ended Punches

Closing off a yell at the beginning or end gives a different effect from a plain open-vowel shout.

Heimlich Hitting

This is one of Pat Fraley's tricks. Do the Heimlich Maneuver on yourself-- you can get a great expulsion of sound along with a distinct jerk that really sounds like a solid hit.

This was an energetic program to present, and getting the audio guys involved in vocalizing was fun for everyone! The Power Point slides I used can be found at my website here. Here's a link to also view the handout from The Big Grunt.

I'm hoping to present the full hour's lesson in San Francisco in the spring of 2010.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you!

DB Cooper

About DB Cooper

DB Cooper creates character voices and sound effects for animation, video games and other electronic entertainment, and she provides the voice for corporate video, web presentations, and television & commercials worldwide via ISDN and the internet. DB is a staff announcer for CBS Radio Boston, and is a games voice casting and dialog consultant.

Recent work includes:

BIOSHOCK 2: Big Kate, additional voices. 2K Marin

TREASURE WORLD, Nintendo DS: vocalizations for The Wish Finder. Aspyr.

BUMBLE TALES, PC game: voices for Adriana Hitballova, Ella Mae, Shelly the Telly, Flauna Freud, and the cats and dogs. Tandem Games.

Inspired By What You Read?

Add a comment sharing your thoughts with DB to join the conversation!

Best wishes,

Stephanie

Related Topics: acting, animation, Austin Game Developer Conference, DB Cooper, how to, ISDN, radio, San Francisco, video games, videogames, Voice Actor, voice over


Comments


    Sounds like a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to doing a game with a lot of Arggh... Ugh... Akk.... A video on this would be cool, Stephanie, if we could find one... :)

    Posted by:

      This is extremely important information, given the rapid rise of the genre. Kudos to my friend, the ever-feisty and creative DB, and to Stephanie for posting.

      Posted by:

        Good article, I have issues sometimes with yells and small sounds like that.

        Posted by:
        • Richard Bartok
        • October 22, 2009 2:17 PM

          Uhhhh, while the rest of you are grunting, screaming, yelling and punching I'll....I'll.... just be over here in the corner...maybe quietly doing a nice David McCullough style narration. Okay?

          MLF

          Posted by:
          • Mike Forrester
          • October 22, 2009 2:17 PM

            This is great, timely and practical information for character characters like myself. My good friend Joe Thomas always has his characters singing, burping and, yes, grunting when punched. I also love your warmup approach...
            Thanks again Stephanie and DB!

            Posted by:

              Wow - Great article and great advice Db - I wish you would do a workshop for that at Voice 2010!

              Posted by:

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