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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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).
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?
About 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).