Designing Scary Halloween Sound Effects – Interview with Sound Designer Grant Elder

Grant Elder designed a soundscape of Halloween sound effects for Netflix’s The Curse of Bridge Hollow. Dehumaniser 2 was used in Grant’s workflow as part of the Halloween decorations that come to life throughout the film, as well as for the film’s main antagonist, Stingy Jack. We spoke with Grant about his beginnings in sound, and his work on the film in the exclusive interview below.

The Curse of Bridge Hollow Still

Actor Marlon Wayans fighting an evil clown decoration, which Grant Elder designed sound effects for 

Hi Grant – tell us how you started designing sound effects

I moved to NYC straight out of college. I had a background in music and a lot of experience working in Ableton Live. My first gig was at a small sound studio that worked mostly in commercials and music mastering.

At the same time, I started an apprenticeship at Harbor Picture Company, where I worked diligently to learn as much as I could from the designers, mixers, and engineers on staff, as well as other talented individuals who came through the doors.

My background in music proved invaluable. Thanks to my knowledge of basic editing in Ableton’s arrangement view, which I found to be more challenging than Pro Tools, I was able to quickly adapt to the latter software.

I leaned on my experience with software synthesizers and samplers to refine my techniques. As I began to book more jobs, I gravitated towards sound design roles. Rather than relying solely on pre-existing sound effects libraries, I tried to create unique designs using the tools and techniques I had learned from my previous experience.

How did you start working on the sound effects for The Curse of Bridge Hollow?

I had collaborated with Matt Waters, the film’s sound supervisor/re-recording mixer, on previous projects. I was scheduled to be on another show when he asked me to join this film, so I jumped onto it a little later. There were a few temp mixes and some editorial done before I came on. I didn’t know much about the film at the time, but after watching it, I was really excited to dive in.

Picture of Matt Waters and Grant Elder

Sound Supervisor Matt Waters (left) & Sound Designer Grant Elder (right)

The sound design was great on the film – these Halloween decorations were coming to life, and as much as they were scary/creepy, you can hear materially plasticky sounds in there as well

I’m glad you noticed! One of Netflix’s biggest notes from the first temp was that it was just too scary, so we had to dial that stuff back. That was the general idea. We wanted to keep it fun and entertaining for everybody!
Yeah, that definitely does come through, they sound like actual Halloween decorations
It was great that I didn’t have to make it sound too real, I could just have fun with it. When I was auditioning things I remember thinking “Oh, that sounds like a yard decoration. Great!” It didn’t have to be too Hi-fi and large, it could just be playful. That made the entire project super interesting.
Grant Designed Halloween Sound Effects tingy Jack The Antagonist In Bridge Hollow

Stingy Jack, is the villain in The Curse of Bridge Hollow. Sounds Designed by Grant Elder using Dehumaniser 2

You Used Dehumaniser 2 on The Curse of Bridge Hollow – Would you be able to talk a little bit about that?

Yeah, of course, Let’s dive in!

I used Dehumaniser 2 on a lot of different characters and groups of monsters in the film. Perhaps most importantly, I used it on the main antagonist, Stingy Jack. I also used it on some other yard decorations that come to life and the three clowns that come to life as they’re walking through the high school hallway.

One technique that I found to be very useful was setting up a separate design session for each character. Within each session, I included source tracks and four or five different effects chains that could be applied to the character. Each effects chain started with Dehumaniser 2 and then I inserted other helpful design plugins after that, to create several unique flavors of processing.

For example, our source material for the clowns and the horde was performed by our group loopers. I took those recordings and cut them into mono source tracks that I would then send to these effects chains to be able to compare versions seamlessly. That was a really helpful workflow because I could tweak the processing before printing anything. If I needed to go back and change something or use a different chain altogether, then I could do that.

Dehumaniser 2 was so flexible because all the parameters can be modulated. That gave me a lot of comfort knowing that I had the flexibility to continue to build on the sounds we liked within the plugin.

Halloween Sound Effects

That all sounds amazing, there are some really fantastic approaches using Dehumaniser 2 there.

Dehumaniser 2 was so great because right out of the box it started giving me really good results. That really helped propel me in the right direction quickly. This was a huge help because starting with a great palette gave us time and flexibility to play around with our sounds and refine before our mix.

Dehumaniser 2 lets you shape the sound around your vocal performance, then from there you can then add layers and get really creative!

Yeah, exactly. For Stingy Jack, I had Dehumaniser 2 running through the effects chain, and then on top of that I had a bunch of the fire layers because he’s breathing fire the whole time. So that was also added on top – that was a lot of fun!

You came onto the project with the temp mixes in place. Did that present other issues to overcome, or is it purely a benefit? 
Jeff, (Director, Bridge Hollow) and Sean (Editor, Bridge Hollow), really trust Matt, which made this an incredible collaboration to be a part of. There was a lot of material that stuck from the temps. For instance the massive spider in the retirement home had a great sound to it already once I got on.
That was a huge help because that was such a massive set piece. Matt had done a great job at getting a lot of good material in with limited time before the temps. A lot of the process was making things sound similar to the AAF material, but not necessarily the same. Matt wanted the clowns to sound more like the temp material. We achieved that, but they were much more full and cinematic, thanks in part to Dehumaniser 2!
And for Stingy Jack, they had a bunch of really cool ideas already, but it wasn’t hitting the mark for us. They did have some interesting seal samples in there though… that was cool! But the fidelity of the samples was poor and we needed more control over the performance. We were constantly getting VFX changes with new mouth movements for all the characters so having the ability to re-perform the vocals with the same processing to get us in sync was massive.
Another great benefit though is that the temp sounds give you an idea of narratively where they want to hear certain monsters. It’s almost like a template for you to start working in, which is nice.
The Curse Of Bridge Hollow Still

When you’re making sound effects, do you have any references in mind from other films or other particular sounds?

I find that I try to jump in as fresh as possible on most things. Of course if I’m getting bogged down a little bit, I’ll go watch some stuff that I think is really cool and inspiring, but I like to have a base layer of my own creative fresh ideas down, then work from that.

Although if the director mentions a film or show they have in mind during our process I’ll always go watch it. I sometimes default to more musical production techniques I’ve used in the past when thinking out how I can achieve creating the right sounds. For example, old synth patches, samplers, or effects racks I used to play around with are sometimes good creative jumping blocks.

For big set pieces on this project in particular, I don’t remember thinking of another film as a reference point, but I do remember thinking, “Oh, Krotos has that Dehumaniser plugin. I’m going to go for that right away!” (So good job on the marketing front).

Thank you very much! (Laughs)
Again, if I get into a place where I need some creative inspiration, of course, I’ll go watch some of the films that I think would be helpful. Not necessarily to try to replicate their sound, but just to become excited again about what we do as sound designers and propel me with new energy towards creating something cool.

You referred again to how you have these musical ideas that you implement into your sound design. Do you have any examples that you can share with us?

The show’s director and editor wanted Stingy Jack to sound like an old tree moving. You can hear the monster creaking around as it moves toward the wife when she’s hiding and scared. I loaded a bunch of earth, tree creaks, dirt, and gravel into a sampler and performed its movements on my keyboard. The attack was very slow and then the release was also pulled down so when I hit the keys it had this natural movement, rather than just a sting.
I was triggering multiple samples playing forward, some reverse, while I had other parameters MIDI-mapped to create additional randomizations and character. The other element I created in a similar fashion was Stingy Jack’s vortex. That was a bunch of tonal winds, tornados, and some liquid elements. Again, having experience with samplers always comes in handy with stuff like this.
I’m really excited about Krotos Studio because it looks like it’s going to be a great new tool that will continue to propel this type of performative sound design.
Sound design can be so performative, It’s on a spectrum of performative to super-technical, but it can just be as performative as music performance. It’s nice to draw from both of those sides, isn’t it?
For me, there’s something extra special about hitting keys or pads and hearing something new and original pour into the picture. That for me is one of the most gratifying parts of my job. I find the most satisfaction in being able to perform something that helps tell the story, and knowing that it’s my own creation. If I’m able to nail that during a project that checks all the boxes for me.

About Grant Elder

Sound Designer Grant Elder

Grant Elder is a New York City-based Sound Designer and Supervising Editor, who has worked on Ad Astra (2019), Knock at the Cabin (2023) and To Leslie (2022).