5 Tips for Designing Trailer Sound Effects

Designing movie trailer sounds is a challenging task. The goal is to grab the attention of the viewer so that they cannot wait to see the full release. At the same time, you need to be careful not to fall into various trailer sound cliches and make the trailer fade away into the sea of sameness.

Did I also mention that it’s all probably on a very limited time scale? Did it suddenly get hot in here?

Over the course of this post, I’ll be looking at general best practices, ideas and we’ll also take a look at how software and libraries from Krotos can help you get your creative gears going and let you work faster and more efficient, leaving more time for the fun parts of the job. More specifically, I’ll show some workflow capabilities of Weaponiser and focus on content of the Trailers Library.

Tip 1: Dynamics and Suspense in Trailer Sound Effects

One of the common pitfalls that sound designers need to watch out for is the ‘louder means better’ design approach. I love a powerful sound just like any other person but I’d like to propose that the power comes from INCREASING the dynamic range of your content, not decreasing it through overcompression. To show this, we’ll take a look at the first scene accompanying our blog post: the server room shutdown.

Creating Anticipation

All the machinery in the room gradually shuts down before the red light comes on. I’ll use some content from our User Interface Library to create sounds of the machines and then I’ll pitch it down as the lights go out. I have rendered some instances of the UI Glitched Machine preset in Weaponiser. I have spammed the Fire button and now we have loads of glitchy computer beeps that will serve as the main chunk of our sounds. We will keep this in a relatively soft/medium intensity and fade the volume as the lights gradually go down. This will create space for the blast. It is the big jump in amplitude that will help us sell the change of light. If everything was on a similar level, we just wouldn’t hear that much of a difference.

Adding Blast SFX

The lights go down completely and then… BOOM. I wanted to create an association of the red light representing something ominous and therefore created some shrieking synth blasts. I have remixed the preset Cinematic Transition 1 from the Trailers Library by adding the new impacts.

Image 1: Cinematic Transition 1 preset with added content.

Now I have the main component of the hit sound done with one click of the button in Weaponiser. I have also rendered all the other tabs of Weaponiser as separate outputs so that I can still control the mix of the individual pieces.

Image 2: Separate renders of two Weaponiser remixed presets.

The Aftershock

Right after the initial blast, I lowered the volume significantly, leaving only some ominous drone tones and corrupted UI bleeps. This part is meant to keep us on the edge and sell the idea that something evil has settled in this room.


And just like that, we’re done with the first part! We have created an impactful transition by letting the main sound breathe.

P.s. I’m getting some serious Control vibes from the red light.

Tip 2: Layers are absolutely vital

Layering sound effects is a fantastic way of creating unique sounds, especially if time constraints are not allowing for full fledged design. In this part, we’ll be combining three different presets from the Cinematic Trailers library to create the soundscape of a pirate ship scene.

As the camera pans, we start off close to the first ship, slowly moving away from it and focusing more and more on the second one. I wanted to create a sense of peril and adventure and give some character to both ships to distinguish them. Thus, I have chosen three sounds to represent what I have identified as 3 protagonists of the scene: the first ship, the sea and the second ship.

The first ship introduces the feeling of danger by using the dark horn blast of the Thriller Transition 1 preset, which fits really well with the design of the ship (that’s a lot of skeletons). Next, we’ll use the rattly textures of the Adventure Drone preset to symbolise the sea as the play-field for our dangerous adventure. This part adds to the mystery and suspense of the scene. The second ship represents power as we now see that this is an organised group (or maybe they will fight each other? Who knows!). A string theme taken from the String Stinger 1 preset will help us convey the sense of pirate might. Layered and crossfaded together, they give us a unique sound scene:

Insert some sea ambiences (why yes, by layering!) to ground the listening experience and our second scene is ready!

Tip 3: Contrast your sounds with Silence

Lack of sound can be as gripping as an explosion. Sometimes even more! If you’ve watched it, THAT hyperspace jump from The Last Jedi comes to mind. It is most likely an evolutionary trait that makes us as attentive to the quick snappy sounds (as we needed to watch out from snapping twigs, or something that is snapping the twig, more precisely) as to the sudden lack of sound (something suddenly stopped moving). This has been used in cinema for quite some time, i.e. in the outdoor dinner preparation scene in Once Upon The Time In The West. We’re going to take the rapid planet close-up clip and play around with our listening expectations.

Use Risers and Swells

First, we’re going to saturate our ears with a very rich riser that will follow the planetary approach. This will create a certain expectation for the follow-up sound that we will break (a bit). To create the sound of the swell, I’ve used two instances of the String Swell Short preset from the Cinematic Trailer library, along with some original content. The final riser sounds like this:

Cut Impact

Now we’re going to abruptly cut almost all of the sounds used in the swell and leave only a transient of the hit and a low-end drop. This will create a feeling of void which fits perfectly with the space theme of the clip and grabs our attention as we feel the sudden lack of sound.

Tip 4: Shaping your SFX through automation

Parameter automation is essential when dealing with repetitive content and the boxer scene is the perfect example of that. In this scene, we will be creating variation using some handy Weaponiser features and then we will shape our scene through various levels of automation.

Asset creation

There’s a lot of punching in this clip and we need to make it varied. Tracklaying would take quite some time so we will use some of the features of Weaponiser to get a wide range of non-repetitive assets by making a fresh preset. I have taken various assets of boxing pad work and added them to separate banks in Weaponiser. Then I have set those banks to randomise so that the plugin does not play them back in the same order. As we have four different banks, five assets each, we now have 5 x 5 x 5 x 5 = 625 possible asset combinations! To make it even better, we’ll slightly randomise the playback speed of the sample to get pitch variation. I think we are covered for this scene!

Image 3: new padwork patch

Now we need to sync the impacts. To make our life easier, we’ll setup a MIDI item that will send information to the padwork patch we have just created to cue the sound on the timeline, giving us perfect sync and loads of variation.

Image 4: MIDI item triggering Weaponiser playback

Afterwards, I used some designed impacts to make a second pass and various natural and abstract whooshes to make the core sounds of the scene.

P.s. I used the content of our Battle Bundle library for the natural hits and whooshes

Asset Automation

Now we will take a look at the micro-level of the automation in this scene. As we used Weaponiser to quickly sync our assets, now we should have time to fine tune the automation of whooshes and hits. I’m changing the pan and volume parameters of the whooshes and I’m setting the punches in the proper locations corresponding to the position on the screen. This gives us a sense of movement and breathes life into the scene.

Image 5: snippet of the automation curves in the scene

Shaping the Scene

With individual hits automated, we can now look at the bigger picture. The video speeds up, starting with slow motion and going to normal speed at the end. I have created two sets of assets – abstract hits and natural sounding boxing. Natural does not necessarily mean ‘realistic’; we can hear punches, even though the person is air boxing. The impacts did, however, fit the scene style more and I do feel that the task of a sound designer is to enhance the reality and not represent it (Sarah Connor’s footsteps in Terminator 2, anyone?). We’re using automation to crossfade between the abstract and natural soundscapes, shaping our scenes with volume parameters.

Tip 5: Your Choice of Sounds Sets Tone of the Trailer

In my opinion, the last clip is a great example of the enormous capabilities of sound for setting the tone. The video itself is quite neutral. If you watch it without any sound, your emotional associations can be quite varied. Therefore, it is up to the sonic layer to determine the emotional impact of this clip.

For the purposes of this blog post, I’ve chosen to focus on the feelings of danger, distance and isolation. Therefore, I used the Horror Transition 3 and 4 presets, combined with a distant Horror Hit 2 (this feels very Alien, doesn’t it?). This is also a great example of the fact that you sometimes do not need many sounds to wrap up a scene. Those three instances do the job really well and the sounds are only 3 clicks away!

To demonstrate how different our perception of the scene can be, compare how the scene would feel like with the soundscape of the pirate ship clip:

For me, the second clip is something much more akin to action/superhero trailer. All thanks to the sound!

Now its time to create your own movie trailer audio

Throughout this blog, we’ve looked at different ways in which we can bring the trailer to another level through audio and how to work effectively by using various ready-made presets in Weaponiser and by designing our own patches. We have also looked at some general approaches as well. Presented scenes cover a wide range of environments and content genres and therefore we can safely assume that the ideas presented here will be of use regardless of the type of content you are working on.

If you’d like to see for yourself how Weaponiser can speed up your workflow, head to the link below to grab a free demo.

And don’t forget your free sounds!

Get Weaponiser, plus Igniter, Dehumaniser 2 and Simple Monsters for less than $35/month with Krotos Kore

Get Access to Krotos Kore