Jet Turbines Case Study

The following post comes to Fieldsepulchra from sound editor Kelly Pieklo. Kelly reached out to me when he starting working on a rather fun design project while using some of the jet turbine sounds from the most recent Rabbit Ears Audio sfx library.

Working as a sound editor in film and broadcast, I find I am more often called on by my creative partners to create a soundtrack and/or elements for an already fully-realized visual concept. Once locked picture is received, my process of flipping the creative ideas into physical sounds begins.

These kinds of projects are valuable for, amongst other things, learning time and budget management, data wrangling and scheduling. But from a purely creative standpoint, these kinds of projects are not quite as challenging as I would like.

In response to feeling less-than-inspired creatively, I often create “Sound Only Cinematics”, purely conceptual scenes/settings with action, but no picture. My challenge is to communicate the setting accurately and clearly using only sound. Certainly easier said than done, SOCs have become a vital part of my creative process during down time.

If anyone else is working on similar projects, I am certainly interested in linking up and sharing.


Genre: Sci Fi
Location: Vessel Launch Bay, Vickers Centaur Class Carrier USCS Emulous, in orbit around Epsilon Eridani
Vehicle: Berendy 12T-U1 Scimitar Class Scouting Vessel USSS Pathfinder
Scene: USSS Pathfinder propulsion system pre-flight dual-engine spool and test; flight launch procedure.

The RC Jet recordings in REA’s most current library are phenomenally flexible – in general I found the RC Jets’ lighter turbine whines extremely useful in this SOC. When I think of propulsion technology that doesn’t yet exist, I usually picture the engine room in the USS Enterprise – a coagulation of plasma fields and dilithium crystals, UIs on screens that I cannot read, and technology that, quite honestly, doesn’t really exist. I find that an audience tends to disassociate themselves with those kinds of technologies in storytelling – the audience doesn’t understand the technology, so the audience doesn’t anticipate what could happen as a result of using this technology, good or bad. My goal with using REA’s Jet library was to introduce an obvious vulnerability to this kind of concept art – moving parts. Some of my motivations:

The turbine whines in the following engine spools:

Hopefully they communicate the subconscious message to the listener that (1) this is a technology that you are at least slightly familiar with, and (2) knowing this technology suggests that you understand the basics of the technology, i.e., moving parts. To create the scale of the engines, and to help sell the perspective, huge thruster sounds were necessary. After some combing through the library, I found the following Jet Bike recordings:

They were are well suited. They already sound pretty thick by themselves, but I ended up transposing the files between –4 and –6 semitones and cutting in some misfires, again for vulnerability. I added a bit of Nuendo’s stock Distortion plug, followed by Waves MaxxBass. At this point, the thrusters were feeling a bit more like simple fuel propulsion technology creating air distortion, so dipping back into Nuendo’s plugs I found PitchDriver which I haven’t really messed with often. Adding and tweaking this plug gave the blade chop effect you hear during the thruster launches – again, an opportunity to draw the listener back to familiar technology.

Much like the way technology is portrayed in the film “Children of Men”, I’m always fascinated, and ultimately more drawn to future technology that has elements that are not clean, not running smoothly, not lubricated and not without problem. Future technology that is simply modified past technology as an attempt to modernize. It makes for more interesting storytelling in my opinion.

Kelly has also posted up a downloadable version of his 5.1 mix stems:

Technical Note:

DAW – Nuendo 5.5

Plugs – Nuendo Pitch Driver, Nuendo Distortion, Waves MaxxBass, AudioEase Altiverb 7, AudioEase Speakerphone 2.

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Michael Raphael September 12, 2012