Recording roller coaster sound effects – PART 1 – Preparation
This is the first part of the article series “Recording Roller Coasters”. In this article, I write about the preparation process that happened before anything was recorded. This includes scouting, choosing the gear, making a recording plan etc.
Recording roller coasters and amusement rides had been my goal for a long time. Since there was an amusement park (Särkänniemi Amusement Park) in my hometown Tampere, that was the obvious place to go first.
I was lucky to have friends working in the park staff so I already knew some details about how the things worked in the park. I introduced them my idea to record roller coaster sounds in high quality and they were fascinated about it.
The sfx recordings had to be made without interrupting the normal life in the park. We decided to capture the clean roller coaster pass by sounds in the early morning, when the park was closed and mechanics were maintaining and test-driving every ride for safety. Luckily, they were really relaxed about it and even drove the rides a few extra rounds just for us!
Before the recording days, I visited the park for scouting the targets. It was a regular summer day in the park. I rode every roller coaster and listened to them carefully.
I took photos of the trains and seats, and searched for good positions for setting microphones to record pass bys. I also checked all the other rides in the park. I wrote all my observations to the notes on my smartphone.
I had my handheld Sony PCM-D100 recorder with me during the scouting. At this point, I used it to record some useful reference tracks.
Using a sound recorder during scouting forces you to think about the actual recording situation. This helps you to see the problems that might arise. It also enables you to test different microphone positions beforehand without wasting the valuable recording session time. And in the end of the day, you will have something recorded already.
If you desire to capture valuable sound effects, it is important to always carry an audio recorder with you.
I also had some GoPro accessories to attach the D100 recorder safely to my chest or wrist for recording reference material from onboard perspective. It took a lot of planning and thinking to find out a way to record onboard material safely.
I will write more about onboard recording in a later part of this series. If you are interested in reading more about it, please join our email newsletter or follow us on Twitter or Facebook to be notified about the new articles.
Choosing what to record
I did a lot of decisions what should be recorded during the scouting session already. Some rides had great sounds. Others had mostly static humming.
The park had five different roller coasters at the time of the recording. I wanted to record passbys from all of them. Onboard recordings were also a must, but not for all of the roller coasters. Riding the coasters helped to hear their differences. After riding them all I decided which sounded the best and put those in the priority list for further planning.
Many of the amusement rides were surprisingly silent. There was no point in recording them. Some had loud music playing all the time. That was a problem, as I wanted to capture only the clean ride movement, motors, and mechanics.
Sound designers crave SFX recordings without any background music or noise. Fortunately, the music could usually be turned off by the ride operator staff.
Choosing the recording gear
Picking the right microphones is the first step to capturing outstanding audio (after having an outstanding sound source first, of course). When it comes to recording a sound source that you have never recorded before, preparation is even more crucial. In this case, I had a good amount of time to make a recording plan.
I thought the most challenging part would be the onboard recording. I had recorded vehicles onboard before. But not roller coasters. There were several challenges to tackle when choosing the gear:
- The sound recorder had to be small enough to fit tight spaces but still feature multiple XLR inputs.
- Multiple different microphones were needed for capturing the whole range of the roller coaster sound.
- The sound recorder, microphones, and their cables had to be tied extremely safely to the train.
The Tonebender’s podcast episode about recording roller coasters by Rene Coronado was a highly useful source of information to me in the preparation. I listened to it a few times and made notes. If anyone is interested in the subject of recording roller coasters, I warmly recommend listening to it, too.
There were some differences between our approach, though. I wasn’t going to record onboard screaming at all which was in the focus of Rene’s recording. I picked onboard microphones focusing solely on capturing the rail and movement noise of the train.
Recording pass bys with LCR + tracking handheld shotgun setup was a great idea that I got from the podcast. Recording in LCR gives you huge-sounding pass bys that sound great in multichannel listening envinronment.
Handheld shotgun microphone pointing at the sound source is always useful to have. It gives you valuable audio material to work with even when the sound source isn’t directly in front of the LCR microphones.
When you are going to rig microphones and recorders to vehicles, you need some extra accessories in addition to your recording gear. I went to shop to buy more zip ties, plastic bags, and paper towels.
Zip ties were for attaching the microphones and recorder to the roller coaster train. Plastic bags were for covering the microphones in case of a rain. Paper towels are always handy, especially with vehicles that may have oil or grease on their surface. It’s good to clean a surface before putting any tapes or microphones on it.
I also packed a Leathermann, different tapes, scissors, a lot of foam, and marker pens to my bag. Foam was used to create windscreens for onboard microphones. It also functions as a cover for the microphone. Scissors were used to cut the foam into handy pieces, and to remove zip ties. Marker pens are useful for marking different cables.
I use a honk horn to create sync peaks in audio when recording with multiple separate audio recorders. It also works as a attention signal to the sound assistant / other crew.
Testing the gear
The day before the first recording day in the park, I tested all the recording setups to make sure everything worked. I assembled the LCR microphone setup and made the proper input routings to the Sound Devices 744t recorder.
I added little pieces of tape to the microphone cables and wrote the names of inputs and microphones to them. This way you can easily see what cable goes where, if you need to re-assemble your microphone setup on the set.
I also wrote the names of the rides into the 744t’s scene name memory, so that I could easily switch to another name during the day. This makes the post production phase a lot smoother when the audio files have some useful information in their filenames right away from the field.
Finally, I checked that all the microphone setups were working as planned, changed/recharged the batteries for the sound recorders, tested all the spare cables, and we were good to go!
Checking the weather forecast
Because we were going to record outside, I checked the weather forecast the day before the first recording day in case of a rain or high wind.
Ready to Rec
When everything was ready, I went to sleep. Getting a good rest before important recording sessions like this is highly recommended.
Thank you for reading! In the next part I’ll share my experiences from the recording sessions.
Five roller coasters, multichannel passby & onboard recordings, with & without screaming. 520+ files.
Roller coasters, amusement rides, and amusement park ambiences sound effects. High-quality, multichannel. 750+ files, 15.8 GB.