American Werewolf in London Redux: Sound Design

In my Sound Design class we had free-reign to choose whatever we wanted for our last project. I’d watched American Werewolf back around Halloween as part of working my way down the top 1000 films of all time. I was very impressed by the sound design in the werewolf transformation scene. So I chose to redo the sound design from that scene. What follows is the write up that I did for the assignment.

Kaleb Basey
Final Project

Assignment objective: Create a sound design project of our own choosing. I chose to add sound to a scene from John Landis’s American Werewolf in London.

Assignment wrap-up: I used the Thanksgiving Holiday to take advantage of having some solitude to record the vocal track for the werewolf transformation. I also gathered some weeds and twigs to provide cracking noises. When I got off break I recorded some foley stuff in protools for the character as he kicks and mucks about in his transformation into the werewolf. I then searched the IU sound library for other sounds that could be applicabIe to my project i.e. boards creaking.  After having the project critiqued in class I went back and made some revisions before I reached my final product.

Viers, Ric. The Sound Effects Bible.
Ric had a section of the book dedicated to werewolf transformation sounds. He recommended the use of celery and chicken bones for the snapping of bones and such. Not having access or not wanting to buy anything, I looked for another source for the snapping sounds. He also talks about adding some human screams in, but doesn’t go into enough detail to be of much help as far as methods of attaining a more werewolfy sound as far as what kinds of sounds to mix with, how much to pitch shift or eq it, etc. His idea for the hair sound, using a straw broom, seems sound, but it is rather difficult to find a non-synthetic door these days. I also had to find an alternative to this.


This was the source for the video and something that I referred to for my ideas on what sounds to make. I also followed some of the links in the sidebar to other werewolf transformations from other shows, many of them had terrible sound design. I liked American Werewolf the best because it had a pretty elaborate sound design with a cogent strategy of what sounds were being made through the transformation. The others would throw in a few crackles, a few human snarls, and some wolfy sounds…Lame.

This website spcifically mentioned corn and sunflower stalks for bone breakage which I hadn’t thought of until after reading this. But it makes sense as they are cellulose like celery. I wagered they’d give an even truer sound as they are longer than cellery and thicker and therefore closer to resembling a bone. And as I said earlier I ended up using this suggestion as I’m cheap enough to not go out and buy celery.

Assignment reflection:

I initially was going to edit this clip down to about a minute in length. But, the way things worked out was that I’d recorded all the ADR for the scene and once I was in Pro Tools I felt like I had a strong enough ADR that I’d really do myself a disfavor if I didn’t completely go all out on this project.

Anyways, I did the ADR session at home over Thanksgiving. I didn’t have my fancy schmancy mac pro with me, so I didn’t have the ability to go back and check the sync after doing a take. It was me, sitting at my parents crappy laptop in the kitchen with my mixer, mic, and recorder just sort of winging it as best I could. And it ended up turning out alright. The voice track that was used was from a single take I did where I didn’t stop. This was challenging because I was approximating the voice change by just sort of remembering what was going to happen.

After getting the ADR done I headed out to the back of my parents’ property where I knew I could procure some weeds that grew along their creek that were similar to corn stalks. I actually did try to use corn stalks, but it had rained a bunch that week and the insides of the corn stalks were wet and mushy which disabled them from giving any sort of snapping noise. The weeds, however, were as dry as kindling wood.

These are the weeds I used

I took these weeds inside of our outbuilding. I sat up my recording equipment in a canvas lawn chair and used the mixer bag to aim the mic downward as I’d forgotten to bring my mic stand from school. I basically went through and snapped the weeds as many times as possible doing them in different permutations of single stalks, multiple stalks, twisting snaps, straight snaps, slow snaps, and fast snaps. I then laid all of the broken up twigs and repositioned the mic so that I could crush the weeds with my feet to try and get even more usable sounds out of them. I then got some twigs from trees and broke them to add as sweeteners. All of these sounds would end up being pitch shifted down at least a couple semitones to give less of a brush fire noise feeling.

Back at school I did some foley for the book being jostled around, his clothing being taken off, the sounds of him on the ground, him hitting the couch, and the hair growing. I brought the hair growing sounds up in the mix during the shot where we see a shot of his back sprouting hair. For the hair noise, instead of using a broom as suggested by Viers, I grew about a weeks worth of stubble and then miked myself as I drug my fingertips alongside my cheek slowly. This produced a pretty alright noise.

For the wet and mushy sounds of his muscles popping up and his face and ears growing I found the sound of a pumpkin being mutilated worked to make these sounds. I also used library sounds for the tearing of the clothes, the sound of a balloon inflating and stretching mixed in with some creaking noises for the sound of the feet expanding. I most of these sounds through a reverb aux input to give them some depth. For the music I rolled off the lower frequencies with some eq and then put that through the reverb bus as well. This produced a tinny sounding radio effect.

I did also use a library sound to add a few growls over the ones I had already made as I needed more growling noises and I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors during finals week with weird noises. These kick in right at the shot of Mickey Mouse  to give a more grotesque feeling to the scene as per Professor Herbert’s suggestions.

All in all I feel that I did a pretty bangup job on this. I feel though that some of the sounds still don’t feel true to the scene probably due to things like not having the same mics, equipment, recording medium, etc. as was used in the film, but I feel that I did the best I could with the time and resources allotted to me. It should look pretty good on my reel.

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