So a little while back I packed up the mics and headed out west to record some gunfire with my friends. Not because I had a project that required it or anything, but just because they have lots of guns and I have lots of mics. Also, weapon recording is one of those techniques that requires experience and iteration, so any opportunity to do this type of recording is to be seized upon.
What I'd like to outline here is my prep process, experiences, and things that I would do differently.
I have done gun records before, but have not really come back with the results I thought I could. My previous experience came from carbon copying Charles Mayne's setup as described on Gamasutra. From that article:
Start with a stereo pair of dynamic mics basically arranged in an equilateral triangle from the weapon, with the two mics in front, and pointing to the weapons muzzle. Try to have about a 8- to 12-foot distance here, but it may vary further depending on the gun itself.
A second stereo pair condenser mics in an x/y pattern. Try putting about 10 to 12 feet behind the weapon. These are elevated also to about 7 feet. Do some test firing, sometimes you will shift the whole setup and sometimes change the directions the mics are pointing for a better sound.
Again a stereo pair, this time a Crown SASS stereo PZM mic. Place the mic setup about 30 feet behind the weapon. This mic captures a very nice low end from most weapons
Start with a shotgun mic set up on the right side of the weapon, just over the shoulder of the shooter. For the second channel, a Lavaliere can be attached to the weapon or the person shooting the weapon
While my results from that setup were very usable and interesting, they weren't amazing, and that's mainly due to a series of mistakes I made due to inexperience at the time. We do this in order to learn.
I learned how much I didn't use the SM57s that I had in XY, and how much I really did use the COS-11 lav mic. I learned that Sennheiser MKH series mics don't respond to really loud sounds very well.
But mostly I learned just how important location is.
Guns make lots of noise. The initial attack of a weapon firing is often only fractions of a second long. The vast majority of what you're listening to in any given gun recording in a film or game context is how that initial contained explosion sounds as it echoes out through the space it's in. This means that location is one of the most critical things you're dealing with on a gun shoot. Ideally you want a location that has lots of interesting reflections and is also free of traffic and insect noise. This is much easier to say than to find. Remote private canyon-like areas are really the best bets, at least in this part of the country.
The location for my first and uninteresting gun shoot was very flat and non-reflective. It looked like it would sound good, so we went with it, but in the end it really didn't. Out in the middle of the plains and facing one sand berm, it was difficult to really get any good reflections going. I had failed to understand the degree to which location would influence my sounds, and I paid for it.
For this gun shoot I was determined to not fall victim to that again. I had one of my friends scout a private gun range north of town that was a custom built range with 12 foot sand dunes that were making great reflections and verbs.
My philosophy here was to break the sound of a gunshot into three parts and then retro fit my gear choices around what I figured to be the best way to record those parts.
- Punch -
My punch mics were going to generally be a medium distance from the weapon and aimed at it from in front. I went with a Senn 421 and a Schoeps CMC6 MK41. Mono makes the most sense for punch IMO, so I didn't bother with a dynamic XY setup.
- Mech -
For mech I needed to isolate the mechanical movements of the weapons fired while excluding the explosions and verb to the best of my abilities. Mech also makes sense in mono, so there are no stereo elements here either. I learned on the first shoot how amazing the (wired) COS11 lav sounds for mech, so I went with that and with the Senn 416, which I would aim from behind and over the shoulder. In retrospect I think I should have used the 416 to come at the weapon from the shell eject side at about a 90 degree angle.
- Verb -
The key element, and I wanted to spend as many channels as needed to on this. I decided to bring a stereo pair of AT4050s in omni that I would place a hundred yards or so downrange. The 4050s are great workhorse large diaphragm mics that are quiet and clean sounding, so I figured they'd be prime candidates for verb recordings. I also would bring my rode NT5s set up in ORTF and place them behind the shooter. Additionally I'd bring my Sony PCM D50 and run the internal mics on that.
For recorders I ran with a sound devices 788t for all of the close up mics, a Tascam HDP2 for the distant 4050s, and the sony as a standalone unit.
I also shot video of everything on my iphone.
In part 2 I'll discuss what happend on the day of the shoot.