How to Record Door Sound FX: A Cheat Sheet

2017/02/15

Last week I shared an unusual idea: recording door sound effects is the best way to increase your field recording skill.

How can you learn these skills? What’s the best way to record door sound fx?

Today’s post is a quick-start guide to help you capture excellent door field recordings.

Mastering door sound fx can be considered in three categories:

  1. Field recording.
  2. Mastering.
  3. Curation.

Let's get started.

Field Recording

As we saw last week, field recording door sound effects can be broken down into three approaches:

  • Articulation.
  • Performance.
  • Perspective.

Let's learn more.

Articulation

Think about what the door is made of, and every part of the door. Break down each individual element into its smallest parts.

The following charts have ideas to get you started.

Substance:

Door Type Substance Substance Modifier Modifiers
Door Wood Solid Frame substance
Double door Metal Hollow Opening mechanism (hinge, pneumatic, slide)
Sliding door Glass Bars/slats
Roll up (garage, security) Stone Hybrid (e.g., Wood with glass window)
Hermetic
Nautical (with spin wheel)
Locker
Gate
Hatch
Cupboard
Drawer
Window

Elements:

Element Performance
Knob Rattle
Turn
Release
Attempt, twist and shake
Pivot type Hinge
Pneumantic
Gear
Pulley
Sliding
Tongue of door
Push Bar
Kick Plate
Mail slot
Lock Bolt
Sliding
Chain and bolt
Latch
Pass card
Electronic
Key Into lock
Out of lock
Turn in lock
Modifiers (recorded from same side or opposite of key action)
Sliding door Mic on track
Creak Small creaks
Long slow creak
Horror/halloween movie creak
Knock Knuckles
Palm
Fist
Door knocker

Performance

How can each element above be performed? What voices can be evoked from them?

Speed Energy Specialty
Slow Slam Jail door slam
Medium/standard Weak Household door slam
Fast Cautious Excessively slow open
Erratic Reckless Shake (attempt to open locked door)
Very slow Frantic Kick door in (police raid)
Stop and go Furious Battering ram
Gentle Door burst (a swell of noise from the other side of the door as it is opened)
Thoughtful

Notes:

  • Energy: These are examples. I mention these since these performances are typical film scene maneuvers. There are many others.
  • Excessively slow door closes or opens (such as seen in horror films) are hard to cut if you don't have the material. Ensure you capture these valuable takes.

There are countless other performances. A tip: imagine yourself in a film scene and create performances to match.

Perspective

Performance
Close mono microphone or hypercardiod
Close, narrow stereo
Contact (pivot mechanism: pulley, hinge, pneumatics)
Medium distant
Medium distant, mid-side microphone
Both sides

An exhaustive door field recording would include a mono microphone close to the door or a narrow stereo pair to give the option of a take with slightly more room. A contact microphone placed on the door or the pivot type (hinge, gears, pulleys) may reveal interesting bonus sounds.

The rooms surrounding a door have a significant impact on its sound. A door will sound differently depending on where the microphone is placed. The room size, its flooring, walls, windows, and more will all affect its sound. For instance, the door to a school gymnasium will sound hugely reverberant when recorded from the inside, while its sound from a hallway approaching it will sound tighter.

When captured properly, these sounds will help the door fit more easily in visual scenes. Place a microphone at medium distance on each side of the door. Reader Paul suggested recording this perspective using a mid-side microphone configuration. While M/S tracks take more effort to decode, they offer editors flexibility since the side channel can be adjusted to change the shape of the room to match picture. That gives one door recording endless mileage.

Tips

  • Adjust your levels as you record. A one-size-fits-all gain setting won’t work here. The careful closes will be much quieter than the door slams. Adapt your gain settings for each performance.
  • Wind protection. You may be recording doors inside but moving air is still a threat. Closing a door quickly may cause a rush of air to surge out of a room and buffet across the microphone capsule. Position the microphone to avoid this and use wind protection.

Mastering

There are two camps to mastering door sound effects.

Many prefer to include all performances in one file. That creates one file with many takes within it. That helps editors locate an entire family of doors in one place.

Others cut each door individually: tightly at the beginning of each door performance, and then a fade out after every performance ends. That creates individual clips that help editors audition each performance quickly, and add it to their projects speedily. Some have the opinion that this makes the doors harder to find. However, if they are named properly, this won’t be a problem. Let’s learn how.

Curation – Naming

There are two popular approaches to naming sound effects:

  • Friendly name. This is a casual, user-friendly, readable name:

    Opening a wood door slowly and cautiously.

  • Scientific name. Also known as “film style” as created by the Sounddogs team, this “technical” version lists only the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. This creates strict names that are less vulnerable to interpretation, sort well, but are less readable:

    Door,Wood,Open,Slow,Cautious

I’ll describe the scientific name, since it’s generally the easiest to curate. Here is the formula:

Door + Substance + Material (optional) + Unique Name (location name) + Perspective + Noun/Verb + Bonus Description

Examples:

Door,Wood,Plywood,Attic,Hinge,Sway,Spooky

Door,Wood,Plywood,Attic,Knob,Turn,Cautious

Door,Wood,Plywood,Attic,Open,Slow

Door,Wood,Plywood,Attic,Open,Swift

Door,Metal,Jail,Close,Slam

In this way, the doors are named that way so they sort in a Pro Tools bin. That way, users can scan down the list to the wood doors, then the Attic family, then the hinge, or knob, etc.

If you used additional microphones, you can work in the perspective like this:

Door,Wood,Rickety,Hall POV,Close,Soft

Door,Wood,Rickety,Hall POV,Close,Thud

Door,Wood,Rickety,Mudroom POV,Hinge,Creak

Door,Wood,Rickety,Mudroom POV,Hinge,Sway,Spooky

That way all the perspectives sort together.

If that style is not your preference, you could still use the "friendly name" style so that it sorts similarly:

A rickety wooden door from the hall perspective closing softly

A rickety wooden door from the hall perspective closing with a thud

You can see how it sorts that way, too.

Tips:

  • “Shut” vs “close.” Consider using “shut” instead of “close,” since the latter can be mistakenly interpreted as a description of distance.
  • Avoid using "close" to describe a sound effect. It’s redundant because the vast majority of sound effects are recorded closely. Instead, specify farther distances (medium distant, distant, etc.). Also avoid "CU" (i.e., “close up”) since it's not keyword-search friendly – not everyone (i.e., laymen) will know that term.
  • Mixed substance doors. Some doors are metal with glass, or wood with an iron frame. List the dominant substance first.
  • Avoid naming using INT/EXT to differentiate between two rooms since the distinction is relative. It can be useful if the two perspectives vary between the interior and exterior of a building, however.




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