Cutting Sound Effects for Cartoons and Animation

Creating sound effects for cartoons is a Sound Designer’s playground – we get to create entire sound worlds from scratch with no real-world reference, and because of this, the rule book goes out of the window…YAY!

Cartoon and animation sound design is full of crazy, over the top noises. These sounds enhance the zaniness and fun of the whole show, because animation and cartoons don’t need to be grounded in reality.

Speaking of fun, we had a little re-design fun ourselves, designing sound effects for cartoons in a scene from the animation B.O.T & The Beasties.

Take a look at the video below, then see how we approached the sounds used within the re-design using the Ultimate Bundle. Krotos bundles are full toolkits for creating exciting sound designs that are both fun and performative.

Get Started by Watching our Re-Design Below

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Top Tips for Creating Sound Effects for Cartoons

Read the tips below on how to design sound effects for animation and try them in your own work!

1. Take the time to properly absorb the animation

This may seem obvious, but we can often be so excited to get stuck into the creation process, that very little observation and planning is done, leading to issues later on.

Take the time to properly absorb the animation you are designing to, and thank yourself later.

Cartoon absorb knowledge

2. While watching, make lots of notes

Be sure to make physical or mental notes of what you see:

  • Gestures
  • Speed
  • Direction
  • Movement
  • Unique elements of a character/scene
  • Emotional reactions

…you’ll need these later!

3. Focus on emotion wherever you can

Sound Design legend Walter Murch suggests that emotion is 51% of the entire story, so make sure you consider that in your sound designs.

Walter Murch, Rule of Six
(image source)

Animations and cartoons exaggerate emotions and expressions in order for us to perceive them, as we do not read emotions as easily on non-human faces.

Make sure you reflect this in your sounds, to make the audience’s experience more engaging.

(See our exclusive video interview with Walter Murch here!)

4. Start thinking creatively, before you even open your DAW

Will you be designing sounds just for footsteps and arm movements?

Is there more subtle movements happening? Nose twitches, eyebrow raises…

…shifty eyes?

Considering these elements will really help you to establish the narrative you are portraying through sound, so do this as early as you can! Often before you even open your DAW to start creating.

5. Re-create the gestures in the animation

Like emotion, gesture is incredibly important in animation, and the great thing about using Reformer Pro for something like this is that it is performable.

Try mimicking any gestures you see on screen with props, your mouth or with Reformer Pro, and record them into your DAW as a ‘scratch take’. You can then design to these gestures more accurately.

Sure, you may sound a little silly, but you would not believe the difference it makes to how your design takes shape… Just ask Ben Jacquier:

By vocalising sounds in this way, you are referencing each sound you intend to design internally, basing your creative decisions on how to bring this sound to life.

This works similarly to how we sing to ourselves to remember certain things. Plus, the human voice is a powerful and expressive instrument, and you may come up with some great sounds that you could not otherwise!

But if your still too microphone-shy, Reformer Pro also works with MIDI or with continuous mode, both of which can achieve awesome sound gestures.

6. Consider your sound choices

Once you have plotted our the shape of the design and have decided which elements you will cut sound to, now it is time to think about sound choices (all that planning you did earlier on is about to pay off!)

Sound choice is subjective, and you can be as wild or as realistic as you like, so it’s time to have fun!

Want some inspiration?

Watch this awesome video, where Star Wars Sound Designer Ben Burtt and others discuss the iconic sound effects magic of Treg Brown, who added real-world sounds to animations for Warner Brothers for the first time.

Whether you go full Loony Tunes, or something entirely less whacky is your call, but these choices will be shaped entirely by your interpretation of the animation. You are a sound designer after all, so remember to have fun and consider the narrative!

Applying these tips to our cartoon re-design

In our B.O.T & The Beasties video, we went for a middle ground, with both playful and realistic assets used within the design.

Our reasons were based around our considerations of the animation, which we have detailed below:

  • Neutral, softer colours
  • Soft-textured animation style looks almost material and fabric/papery
  • Limited and un-exaggerated motion
  • Softer, slower pace
  • Funny narrative with some clumsiness and humour
Cartoon Robot Sound Design

Given the aesthetic of this animation, we didn’t want to throw too many Treg Brown-style sounds into the mix, as we didn’t feel that it would match the style of the animation.

We opted for a more minimalist approach, with muted, softened impacts and motions that brought enough character to the animations without over saturating the design with sounds – after all, with only a couple of characters and a limited number of scenes, we could easily over-do it!

The resulting design was carefully considered to match the style of the animation, with enough sounds to propel the narrative forwards and to match the style that the creators of B.O.T & the Beasties intended.

Credit due to Tim Vine, who is the original Sound Designer on B.O.T & The Beasties.

We Hope you Enjoyed this Tutorial! Until Next Time…

Thats all folks looney tunes

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Krotos Plugins Used in this Tutorial