Fleet Week

I always like to take advantage of my surroundings. Living in the City, I have no shortage of traffic, sirens, horns, walla, drum circles, or guys trying to sell me weed as I walk through the park. Unfortunately little of this comes in handy when trying to record effects. From time to time, living here offers great opportunities to gather sounds that are otherwise prohibitively expensive or just can’t be found elsewhere.

Every November, San Francisco holds an annual Fleet Week. For 4 days (2 practice, 2 shows), the city is treated to the tearing, ripping roars that are modern fighter jets. The Blue Angels fly low across the landscape, giving little warning of their impending approach. Shock and Awe is an apt description. If you don’t know they’ll be about, Terror’s not bad either.

I realized early on in my life in San Francisco that this was an opportunity which would otherwise cost me tens of thousands of dollars or require me to be working on the type of film which only comes around once every year or so. Therefore, I spend two days of most years gathering material.

Recording this type of material presents a few problems. First, spectators come out in force whether or not it’s an official show day. Finding a suitable location to record from is paramount. I started off on a pier with talkative oglers and a fisherman sporting a chorus of plastic bags blowing in he wind. Fortunately, after a little searching I found the perfect location almost dead center on the Fleet Week course. I ended up with a recordists dream--no people, no traffic. And no, I am not sharing.

The second is that, as far as I can tell, the sound of a jet comes from considerably behind the actual plane. After watching them go by at various distances and speeds for a few hours I found I was able to better localize the sound and point my mic with my headphones off. This isn’t much of a problem in itself (unless something in your chain goes bad, so it’s best to check from time to time) except when you get buzzed at 100 feet by what has to be the loudest man made sound on earth and your headphones, which double as ear protection, are around your neck.

FA18s by dsteinwedel

Even with 6 Navy fighters performing death defying stunts for my amusement, my favorite sound came from the prop planes flying in the stunt races. These puppies have a voice all their own, something that says, “I’m feisty and fun yet you don’t want to mess with me.”

StuntProp by dsteinwedel

As for practical uses, the jets have gone into numerous sounds and projects I’ve created. Their first and home was as the original ‘Sprint’ sound in Hellgate: London. I tacked a nice BOOM on the front and let the jet wash trail out as the character sprinted on screen. It was immediately loved by the entire studio--but the more we listened the more tired it became. The effect had too much punch and cut through too well for a skill that was used over and over and over. The final ‘Sprint’ sound was much more subdued, airy, and washy. The jets are also good for depicting movement during slow motion. The prop plane bys once became the base of sword whoosh set (along with some bees), that’s one I’m still pretty proud of.
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