February 20, 2018

Sound Design for a Music Video? Zombies!!

About two months ago I was asked to do the sound design for the intro and outro (story sections) to a music video. It was a zombie themed video, which I was excited about, but I had no experience with zombie movies or video games before, so I didn’t have much of a reference point to work from. I spoke to one of the Co-Directors (who was also the editor) about the feeling he was going for on the video. He mentioned “28 Days Later”, “28 Weeks Later”, “Zombieland” and the video game series “Resident Evil”. Before I watch anything, I put some preliminary sounds that I knew I wanted (some hits, footsteps, eerie tones, etc…) Then I spent half a day watching select scenes from “28 Weeks Later”, all of “Zombieland”, and playing around a bit on “Resident Evil”, to get some ideas flowing.

One thing I wanted to make sure that I did was to stick close enough to the established zombie theme, so that zombie movie fans would relate to it, while putting my own twist on it. I didn’t want it to sound like anything else out there. Also, because this is a music video, I wanted to keep more of a musical sound to my sound design so that it flowed very smoothly into and out of the song.

Here is the portion of the video that I worked on, the beginning and end of the video, edited together without the song part of the video: (the full video is at the end of this post if you’re interested in seeing it)

I was pretty happy with the way it came out. I might change a few things in hind sight, but overall I think it was a great project. I actually was able to present the project at one of David Sonnenschein’s online seminars about two weeks ago, and I was surprised at how well it was accepted. I was flattered!

One of my biggest goals in my sound design is to start transitioning from using solely commercial libraries into using a lot of my own personal library. That was key in this piece. I was able to use a lot of creativity in making unconventional sounds for this one. That’s the great thing about sci-fi. You are able to do anything, because almost anything goes, as long as it stays in the realm of believability.

So I basically started that project saying “I must find a way to make this specific sound work for this piece”. Basically an exercise in creativity. So here’s the sound I started out with. If you are a regular on my blog, you may recognize it from about a month or two ago:

Fire Cracker Original

I love the quality of the reverb in that sound, and the sound of the water falling onto the wooden porch. Full, rich, lots of great sonic content in there. Luckily for me, I had recorded it at 192k, so I had plenty of flexibility with it. So, I decided to play with it. I had a few failed attempts, trying to mix it with other hits, hide it under stuff, just to say I got it in there, etc… Then I thought, what if I slowed it down and made it the “in your face” sound. What if I feature it up front. That would be an even bigger feat to accomplish. So I slowed it down 4x (to 48k). It just sounded like a big gunshot. Wasn’t going to work. So I thought about it, then had an idea. What would it sound like if I slowed it down 20x?

Here’s what it sounded like: (Click here to see a screenshot of the session)

Fire Cracker Processed

Awesome! I have my main sound! A sound to dominate the spectrum. And it sounds musical enough to make me happy. I just had to beef it up with a few drums hits and such to make it acceptable, then moved on.

I was happy with that sound, but it was missing something. It had a ton of low end response, but I had no high frequencies. I was at a gig one night, recording a seminar, when I had an idea. Everything was recording on my 744T, so that was good on its own, so I whipped out my laptop and started playing around (don’t judge – it was a single lav into my 744T for 3 hours straight… not much attention needed) Anyways, so I grabbed my laptop, pulled open Logic Studio, and started playing around. I was in an elastic audio mood, I just needed a source sound. So, I armed a track, using my Macbook Pro’s built in mic as the input (I feel you judging again – STOP IT!!!), and just recorded a few seconds of the speaker’s audio in the room. It sounded terrible, but it was a sound to work with. Here’s the original sound:

John Hever Original

Pretty terrible sounding. Although you now know that the speaker’s son is named Caleb. You learn something new every day. So, I now had my sound, and I started playing with it. With the use of Logic’s “Flex Audio”, some crazy compression, and some band filtering, I was able to get this sound to accompany my fire cracker:
(Click here to see a screenshot of the session)

John Hever Processed

Sweet stuff! Now we’re cookin’ with gas. When I added this sound into my session, it was the first moment that I felt that the project was coming together in the way I intended it to. Now I just needed to fill out the rest of the backgrounds and then start on the Zombies. That was going to be an interesting one to tackle.

I started with animals. I’ve found the easiest way to make a creature sound organic is to use organic sounds that are just heavily manipulated. So, I started listening to animals. I found a few that I liked. I grabbed some pigs, lions, some goldfinches, I think there’s a few others in there too. I don’t have my own animal library, so I used my Hollywood Edge one for these. I wanted to combine animal and human though. I thought straight up animals would sound like just that – animals.

I remembered that I had a few screams recorded from a bit over a year ago. I was working this gig where we were pulling audience members for participation and placing them in a scene where they had to scream and act as if aliens were going to attack them. I had a whole location rig set up (for show) and I was only using the mixer, but I had a recorder there, it was just in “Vegas Mode”. Then this (gorgeous) girl got up there, and on “Action” she let out one of the most amazing screams I’ve ever heard in my life. Twice. And my recorder wasn’t hooked up because it was for “show”. CRAP! I hated myself for that. So I was on that gig a few more times after that, and each time I made sure to record every single scream. Most were lame, but I did get this one nice one. A little distorted, but it works for this application:

Scream Original

So I did some processing, added it to a reversed pig squeal, and ended up with this: (don’t have a screen shot :-( )

Scream Processed

So there you have it. A bit of a look into how I made that piece. I hope you found it as informative as I found it fun to do. I apologize for my long-windedness, but I love talking about my work! Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to talk about more projects in the near future! Please feel free to ask about any other assets that I used or processes I went through to get to my final product.

Thanks for reading!!!

Here’s the full video:

Co-Directors: Philip Walton and Caleb Mallery
Director of Photography: Zack Austin
Editor: Caleb Mallery


  1. Awesome read! Thanks Colin.

  2. Absolutely amazing!
    Thanks a lot.

  3. very cool, the audio examples and screen shots pull this post together nicely. i’m working on some sound design for music videos myself, thanks for the inspiration!


  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Colin Hart. Colin Hart said: New Blog post on my sound design for a Zombie video! http://bit.ly/a6ZQlt [...]

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