Chuck Russom Interview – Recording Guns

This month we interviewed Chuck Russom about his recently released sound library Guns: Volume 1, with Volume 2 due out in November.  Chuck is a Game Audio veteran with more than 15 years experience working as Sound Designer, Sound Effects Recordist and Audio Director.  Some of the franchises he has been involved are Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, God of War and James Bond.  We had the chance to talk about the recording and editing process Chuck uses to create his libraries, as well as some advice for recording your own gun sounds.


RS: You recently released the first volume of your Guns library, with the second second coming out in November. Whats the main difference between the two volumes of Gun libraries?

Chuck Russom: This summer I went out and did a massive gun shoot where we recorded 27 different guns to be used as a sound library. I decided rather than having one massive/expensive sound library, I’d split it into 2 volumes so that I could get sound from half the guns done and released while I work on editing the remaining half. That would also allow me to offer lower cost purchase options. Guns Volume 1 is the first half, Guns Volume 2 will be the second half. Both volumes are very similar, they just each feature a different set of guns.

RS: Do you add any processing to the sounds in your libraries. I understand you try to keep it as close as possible to the raw sound?

CR: I have two types of libraries that I create. The first type are raw sound effect recordings. I try to keep processing to a minimum with these libraries. I will use corrective EQ and Noise Reduction if needed. I will also adjust volume levels. My gun library, dog library, and rocks library are a few examples of this type. The second type of libraries I create are more sound design oriented. For those libraries, anything goes as far as processing. My whoosh libraries are an example of this type of library.

RS: I was wondering how you handle the editing process for these tracks? You mention you record on average 14-16 tracks per shot. After a day of recording I imagine there’s a huge collection of material. Do you have a set work flow to get through it all? How do you choose which tracks end up in the final library?

CR: On the gun shoot, we had two recordists covering three main perspectives (close, medium, and distant). Each perspective had multiple mics/tracks. We had 5 recorders running for a total of 22 tracks. We tried to keep each weapon to a single take (we hit record on all machines and tried to capture all of the different shots for that weapon in one take). Sometimes we’d have to stop recording a start a new take (like if a plane flew overhead). I knew that having as few takes as possible would help when I got around to editing. We kept extensive notes of what weapon/action was recorded on each take (on each recorder). At the end of the day, we had 55GB of raw recordings.

I create an editing session for each weapon and import all of the tracks and takes for that gun. I generally edit every take and track. If I find there are takes/tracks that have noise issues that will require too much work to fix, I’ll usually skip them. If certain tracks sound too similar to others, I’ll pass on those too. In the end, each gun ends up with about 12-16 tracks that make it into the library.

RS: There’s a really insightful article you did for designing sound in 2010 – – that goes into details about the recording process. Has anything changed about the process since then, do you still come across surprises?

CR: A lot of my basic process has remained the same. I try to experiment a little each time I go out. Maybe it is a new type of mic I’ve never tried, or altering some positions on mics I’ve used previously. I only experiment once I have my basic (I know this will work) setup laid out. Sometimes those experiments get added into my basic process for next time. Sometimes they fail and never get tried again.

The biggest change to my process came about from working with Charles Maynes. I’ve known Charles for years, but we had never gone out and recorded guns together. A couple years ago, we were both hired by Bungie to record guns for Destiny. What amazes me about Charles is how fast he works. I had never worked that fast before. It was actually kind of stressful keeping up with him! He can get through a surprising number of guns in a single day and his recordings come out great. It comes from experience, knowing what will work, and having the confidence not to second guess yourself.

A while after that Destiny shoot, I got hired to record guns for Splinter Cell Blacklist. On that shoot, we had a huge amount of weapons to get through in a short time. I was able to carry on from what I learned watching Charles work and really move quick on that session. That was the shoot that I really learned the importance of managing the shoot and pushing the session along. How to really work with the weapon handler and everyone else on site to ensure a smooth and quick moving process.

I found that knowing the weapons, knowing what you want, and trusting your own abilities are essential to moving fast. When we went out to record my weapon library we recorded 27 guns in one day which is a crazy amount. We had to work fast, but we had to get great results. I really owe that all to Charles. I used to be pretty slow and meticulous in the field, which is great if you have the time. But you don’t always have the luxury of time. It’s gotten easier for me now! Even though this time it was my money on the line, I didn’t even feel stressed!

RS: For someone who’s never recorded any gun sounds before do you have any advice for doing a first recording? Is it possible to do a low scale recording?

CR: It really comes down to your needs. If you only need a single perspective, or maybe a couple perspectives, and you have access to some decent gear and the weapons you need, then you can probably pull something off. It all comes down to budget; if you don’t have a budget, you do what you can. But if you have the money then you should just do it right.

When I do my shoots, I have specific weapon needs. I have specific perspectives that need coverage. I need reliable weapons that will function when needed and I need people who understand the weapons and how to get me the takes I require. I also need quiet and safe locations, I can’t just go out on a public shooting range. For what I do, I can’t do a small scale session.

The thing that I find most interesting is that I will talk with sound designers who do have a budget to spend on gun shoots, but they don’t hire a professional recordist to help them. Instead they go out with their friends and whatever equipment they can gather and try what they can. I’m all for people looking to get experience, we’ve all been there. The message that I try to give people is that hiring a professional recordist is such a small part of the budget on a shoot. It is almost crazy not to hire someone to come help you run the shoot. Just the gear they bring is worth the expense, and their experience is invaluable. You can still set up your own gear and get experience, but have peace of mind knowing that someone with experience is with you and will get you usable results.