Creating custom instruments for Fallout: Revelation

First off, congratulations to the entire Fallout: Revelation team for being nominated for the SXSW “Best Fan Creation” award in the gaming category. I’m trying to attend the South By Southwest festival, so let me know if you’re going. Please vote for us here: http://studios.ign.com/sxswgamingawards/

I knew that I wanted to create some custom instruments for the Fallout: Revelation score. Custom samples give the film its own sonic voice, and some of the sounds I wanted just didn’t exist. My idea was that the cast has been trapped in their metal fallout shelter for most of their lives, and I wanted to express that in the score.

I began by sampling a large shipping crate. These crates are used for freight shipping, and when empty sound like a giant metal drum. I found a nice-sounding reverberant hallway and miced the crate with three sets of mics. One mic up close (AKG 414XLS), a pair further down the hallway (Line CM3), and a “sub” microphone (Solomon LoFreq.) I created a Kontakt sample instrument that has each of these mics on a different fader, so I can mix it how I like for any given scene.

The other instrument I literally built, and that was an oilcan guitar. I fell in love with the sound of these instruments at the Musical Instrument Museum in Arizona. The guitars are built in South Africa using found pieces of lumber and metal, and they have a wonderful hollow metal sound. The commercial oilcan guitars I’ve played sound nothing like this – they add a bunch of bracing inside the instrument to make them sturdy, but it removes that unique resonance.

I started with a vintage gas can and attached an acoustic guitar neck through it. (I followed the tutorial here if you’re interested in making one for yourself.) The resulting guitar sounds great if you tune to open strings. But playing the frets don’t work – the 12th fret is supposed to be half way between the neck and bridge, and mine is no where close to that. So in order to play the instrument (besides open chord strums), I needed to sample every note and retune it.

In the process of building my sampled instrument, I recorded every note on the guitar many times. I started from scratch twice when I wasn’t happy with the tone of the sample. I used one mic in front of the instrument (the AKG 414XLS again), and a second pointed at the resonant hole on the side of the can (an AEA N22 ribbon.) The result is a “deep sampled” guitar, and I can change the balance between the two microphones. The tone is like a haunting empty dobro, which worked very well for this particular project. I used it extensively for Aldus searching around the vault, and you can hear a strum when he first finds Joseph’s hidden lab.

Composers, before you ask, no you can’t have these instruments. The whole point is to have unique instruments that sound like no one else. So make your own samples and learn how to build them – it’s not as difficult as you think.

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Published on: 16 February
Posted by: jlaity
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