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The sonic characteristics of gun shots are directly related to the environment where they are recorded. A gun shot is merely a quick pop. If recorded in a mountainous range, the pop transforms into a thick report as it rips across the flat plains, bounces off the mountains and returns with an echo giving the sound a nice trail-off feature. If recorded in an indoor gun range, the pop will quickly grow into a monstrous and murky boom as it reverberates around the room with dozens, if not hundreds, of echoes. If recorded in a forest, the pop will become a thin weak crack as the sound bounces off of thousands of leaves and tree trunks.
Be selective in choosing the right location. Remember to listen with your ears and not with your eyes. A great looking location may not be a great sounding location. Do some tests before inviting your gun handler out to the location.
Because guns are difficult to record and gain access to, it is a good idea to record with multiple recorders and multiple mic placements. The use of pads or attenuators will be necessary as the initial attack of the gunfire will certainly overload your mic preamps. While recording, have the shooter pause their actions between shots to allow the trail-off to be recorded without the interruption of the gun being reloaded or cocked. Set up visual signals between you and the shooter to communicate when to reload and fire the next shot.
In set ups with close mic placements, the bullet casing may be heard ejecting from the gun. A sound blanket can be used to provide a silent landing surface for the shells. This also makes it very easy to clean up the shells after the session. Position the blanket on the ground and to the side of the weapon. After a while, the shells may be heard landing on each other, therefore, it may become necessary to remove the shells from the blanket in between takes. Save the spent shells to use as props in Foley.
Each gun is different in the volume that it produces. Always record and playback a test shot of each gun before continuing with the session. Failure to do so may result in a set of wasted recordings that can be costly and time consuming to re-record. In addition, always record safety takes of each weapon. You can never record enough source material.
It will be difficult to slate each take with your voice due to microphone levels and placement. For this reason, you should keep a written log of the weapon used in each take. If you have one, a bullhorn could be used to slate the takes. This will allow your voice to be heard by all of the microphones and recorders.
Exercise extreme caution with monitoring the sounds produced by the guns. Do not use headphones during the actual gun shots. Instead, wear earplugs and monitor the levels on the recorder's meters. Use headphones for playback and listen at low levels during the initial gun shot and at higher levels after the shot to check for background sounds and trail-off. If you do not take these precautions, you can permanently damage your ears.
Author: Ric Viers
Copyright © Ric Viers 2008
This is an excerpt from chapter 19 of "The Sound Effects Bible" a reference book on how to record Hollywood style sound effects written by Ric Viers. He is the world's largest independent provider of sound effects with over 150,000 sounds and more than 150 sound effects libraries to his name.
Checkout Ric's website and Facebook page.