Sound Effects for "RoboCop" page 2
Hollywood Lost and Found

Sound Effects Design for "RoboCop," page 2

ED-209 changed from dangerous to comic every time he appeared. We made him sound like a time-lapse sound effect of the industrial revolution. Indeed, one of the primary components of his personality was a printing press. While he wheezed with ragged pneumatic air bursts, his legs squeaked courtesy linear screws from B-29 flaps. His footsteps were a Honda hatch door slam mixed with a footsteps in our library that we had created for a dinosaur. ED was leavened with comic and animal sounds. When he malfunctions in a demonstration, I cut a reversed inertia starter from a 1929 Travelair Biplane. This transformed the moment from ultra-violence to Grand Guignol. After Robo destroys ED, the leg assembly still works. It follows Robo for a few steps before it goes belly up. I cut some modern computer printer recycling sounds that had comic aspects for the jerky leg contractions.

We made voice processing tests for both Robo and ED. After choosing a new DigiTech Stereo Chorus/Flanger we processed Robo on the dubbing stage. It was the only way to balance the amount of processing needed on his voice and maintain a "seamless" sounding dialogue track. ED-209's voice was pre-processed and delivered to the dub stage. We used a Harmonizer and a 2020 pitch shifter, then the tape was manipulated to give the effect that he was not working correctly. We also cut leopard growls during the chase and pig squeals when he falls down the stairs.

Another tough task was the creation of the signature gunshots. Robo's production gun was a modified automatic Beretta and we went out to record this weapon twice. The first time the gun malfunctioned and in the recordings from the second trip it sounded like a normal punky 9mm. Even other larger-caliber automatic weapons didn't have the larger-than-life effect we were looking for.

Our job was made considerably tougher because we needed fully automatic fire. With single shot guns you can combine different shots to give you a single massive shot. Variations in speed and pitch preclude doing this with an automatic. The solution we arrived at was to combine single shots on an Emulator II synthesizer and we used a sequencer to provide the machine gun-like triggering. I feel the sound worked and had a density that "recorded in the field" shots never have. However the production Beretta has some terrific reverb. Every time the Robo gun was fired we cut the best production shots and placed them in the surround channel. ED-209's "twin-fifties" were made in the same manner and included for spice a bass drum hit.

The sound effects for "RoboCop" employed diverse techniques, ranging from traditional 35mm editing, 1/4-inch tape manipulation, old and new synthesizers employed to create sounds for new and unique characters. The scope required the efforts of both of us to stage, record and design the structure of the entire sound track.

For myself and those who worked with us, this recognition by the Sound Branch of the Academy is a great honor.


Stephen Flick
John Pospisil

Text © Stephen Flick & John Pospisil. Used with permission.

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