How to make an Electric Cannon Fire Sound

Intro

Hello and welcome to my first blog! I will be posting blogs every Saturday on how I make sounds for a variety of things and the process behind it. I am fairly new to the world of Sound Design and by writing these blogs, we’ll see how I evolve and approach each sound from this point forward.

The Approach

The sound we will be creating today is an Electric Cannon Firing sound. Think of the “Tau Cannon” from the “Half-Life 2” video game (great video game btw). This cannon would be attached to a vehicle and can be fired rapidly, releasing a powerful beam of electricity.

There were elements that I had to be mindful of before coming up with the sound of the weapon. In this context, I wanted the cannon to be attached to a vehicle and because of this, I had to be mindful of the low frequencies that would come from the vehicle. This meant that my weapon’s boomy sound was going to be drowned out by the hum of the vehicle and that I would have to accentuate other frequencies to compensate for that.

I also didn’t want this Electric Cannon to sound weak. I wanted the initial firing to sound powerful and impactful, with electricity being the main component. This led me to reference a tesla coil sound, like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mtw-ToZd8P0.

Tesla Coil sound I referenced

Getting Down to it

Before I began the creation of the sound, I needed to record sounds that I thought would work best for this scenario. I used a portable handy Stereo X/Y recorder called the Zoom H1n to achieve this.

Sounds that I recorded for this weapon:

  1. Cardboard rip
  2. Dropping a metal sheet
  3. Hitting a box

For the electricty sound, I used a digital synthesizer called: Tal-NoiseMaker plugin, that you can get for free, to compose this sound.

Step 1

I began with organizing my DAW into “Transient”, “Body”, and “Tail”:

DAW organized by Transient, Body, and Tail.
Step 2

Next, bring your source sounds into the DAW and organize them accordingly to your preferences. You many need to play around with the timing and volume of each sound until it sounds good to you.

Mine looked something like this:

Experimenting with sound time placements.
Step 3

At this point, I’ve only brought in my raw sounds, organized them to get an idea of how I wanted the firing to sound, but it was still lacking that electricity sound. That’s where the synthesizer comes in. I used the Tal-NoiseMaker plugin. I played around with the settings until I got something that sounded similar to the Tesla Coil that I referenced.

My settings looked like this:

Step 4

The electricty sound at this point still sounded off. The nature of electricity is very volatile and unpredictable. I needed to recreate that randomization of varying pitches to simulate that electricty sound. I also duplicated the sound I recorded with the synth into three seperate tracks, one for a High, Mid, and Low and EQ’d each one until I found a sweet spot. Finally, I added a Pitch modifcation and automated it sporadically, then enabling parameter modulation with centered direction:

Pitch settings for each electricity sound.
Automated the pitch very sporadically, for each electricity track.
Enabled parameter modulation for each electricity track.
Step 6

The electricity sounded a lot better but it still needed that extra umpf. I decided to send all three electricity tracks into a reverb to give it a more profound effect. Adjust the reverb effect and the ‘receive’ of the electricity track until you find something that you like.

Sending the three electricity tracks to a Reverb track.
Step 7

The electricity sounded better but the rest of the sounds were lacking. Let’s take care of that. With box hit, I wanted to aim for a thumping kind of sound to make that impact sound bigger. I added an EQ to it and took out all the highs and most of the mids, and just left the lows slightly boosted, then I duplicated the track to give it an additional layer.

Layered my box hit and added boosted lows with cuts to highs and mids.

Next I went on to take care of the metal sheet sound. I wanted this sound to give it a sort of ‘slap’ to the impact of the weapon firing. I applied some EQ with a low-cut, Compression, and Saturation. With these three FX, that ‘slap’ sounded pretty good with the rest of the mix.

EQ, Compression, and Saturation applied to my metal sheet to get the ‘slap’ sound I wanted.

The last sound I needed to adjust was my Cardboard Rip, the Transient. This is just the very short initial attack of the sound. It’s not completely neccessary but I felt that it gave my sound a bit more ‘fullness to it’, in a mechanical sense. I applied an EQ to it and took out the lows. I also readjusted the volume of it until it sounded okay to me.

Step 8

With all the sounds accounted for, it was just a matter of re-mixing the volume faders, certain effects and parameters for fine tuning. You might want to increase the reverb for the initial firing, boost the lows a bit more, etc. Try messing around with where you place the sounds on the timeline as well.

Here is the final product:

At this point now, you should have your own version of an Electric Cannon Firing sound! Congrats!

What were my challenges?

The main challenge of this sound was trying to get that electricity sound. I couldn’t replicate something like that in real life without seriously damaging something. I tried thinking of ways that I could combine sounds to sound like electricity but resorted to using a synthesizer in the end. If I had my own tesla coil, that would also be very convenient.

Conclusion

I learned that replicating an electric sound meant that I had to analyze the characteristics of electricity. In analyzing, I learned that the sound of electricity is volatile, random, and requires a lot of fine tuning. I had to dig deeper and learn a bit about modulation and automating pitch, which I never knew how to do before this. However, I am quite satisfied with the outcome of my Electric Cannon sound.

I hope that you learned something from my process of creating this sound. If you have any other suggestions that you think would improve this process, by all means do share. I would also love to hear your take on this sound and the process that you went through!

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