How have thud sound effects been used in cinema?
Films tend to use thud sounds for diegetic purposes, meaning that they’re part of the sound environment heard by the characters. As background noise, they can contribute to the ambience of a scene. When a thud’s volume is cranked up and synced up to a dramatic moment, they have even more emotional weight. Let’s have a look at some examples.
Jurassic Park, Jumanji: Stomping thuds and stampeding monsters
Tension and anticipation build during the following scene from Jurassic Park (1993). A power outage has left everyone in the dark and exposed them to a dangerous T-Rex that’s broken free from its paddock.
As the dinosaur approaches, the ground begins to rumble with stomping thuds. As it arrives on camera, each impact sound is massive and conveys a deep sense of dread, tempered by Jeff Goldblum’s cool and collected attitude.
Stampedes are a common variation on the monster stomp. Instead of one-off thuds, stampedes are built from rolling impacts sounds that grow in volume as the creatures approach.
The clip above comes from the 1995 film Jumanji. A horde of animals approach with a rumbling sound resembling thunder. A small statue of Beethoven rattles on the library shelf, providing a mid-to-high frequency counterpoint adding to the character’s indoor presence. The scene reaches a climax when the animals burst through the wall and chase everyone through the house.
Harry Potter: Pounding thud sounds from a door
Stomping sounds imply a downward pressure into the ground. High end frequencies are rolled off to represent the thud as it’s absorbed into the earth.
In contrast, characters pounding against a vertical surface will encompass a more dynamic range acoustically.
In the scene below from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Hagrid arrives at the cabin and slams his fist against the door. Huge thud sound effects are coupled with a crunching sound, representing the wood breaking slightly. If you listen to the first pound closely, you’ll hear the subtle sound of glass breaking, implying that the vibration from the pound was intense enough to have knocked glass objects off a table.
These secondary sound effects help the audience understand what’s happening even though the breaking objects aren’t visible in the dimly lit room.
Inception: Non-diegetic thud sound design
A diegetic sound is one that occurs within the context of the film. Non-diegetic sounds, on the other hand, can’t be heard by characters in a scene. Cinematic trailers and high production value movies often use non-diegetic thud sounds as emotional triggers.
The scene below, taken from the sci-fi action film Inception (2010), opens with a thud and crash sound that don’t correlate to anything on camera. Slowly, as the city begins to fold in upon itself, the thuds evolve into rumbling sounds.
The Matrix: Punches, kicks and body slams in a fight scene
Punches and kicks are often paired with thud sounds. The importance of the strike is mirrored by the presence of low end in the mix. For example, a playful punch on the arm between friends only requires a light thud while a serious fight scene will incorporate more low end frequencies to give the strikes gravity and weight.
This iconic fight scene from the Matrix (1999) offers an example of deep, cinematic fighting sound effects. Each punch and kick is synced to a moderate impact, but when Morpheus spins Neo in the air and pounds him into the mat, we hear the largest thud sound. Increasing the volume and dynamic range of a thud can help to punctuate climactic moments.
Minecraft: Gentle thud sounds in games and apps
Thuds have a special place in video games. They can take on all the same characteristics of cinematic impacts, but players who take the same action repeatedly need protection from ear fatigue. Soft thuds and thumping sounds are a popular solution to this problem.
In Minecraft, players hear a soft thud whenever blocks are placed on the ground. If these thuds were too intense, gamers could become irritated and mute the game audio, detracting from their immersion and detracting from their overall enjoyment.
By scooping out most of the low end and softening high-end frequencies, Minecraft’s sound designers created a pleasant sound that can be heard hundreds of times in a short period. Mobile apps use similar gentle thud sound effects for notifications, to engage users without bothering them.
Creating your own thud sound effect
Thuds exhibit a range of acoustic characteristics influenced by factors like impacted materials, velocity, and object size. Generally, they fall in the lower-mid frequency range (80Hz to 1kHz). Here are some guidelines to consider if for recording your own foley.
Choosing your materials
Start by identifying your desired effect— do you need a dull thud, a hollow impact, or a long, resonating boom? Next, select some materials and objects that could produce this particular effect when collided or dropped. Use a high-quality microphone to record various versions, varying your force and angle to capture a wide sound palette.
Once you have a nice selection of recordings, you can import them into your DAW and refine them further. EQ can be used to tweak a sound’s frequency band. You might emphasize lower frequencies for a heavier thud to underscore a climactic moment. On the other hand, rolling off the low frequencies can help if you’re placing multiple impacts in a row, as in the Matrix and Minecraft examples above.
Layering additional sounds and effects
Compression can regulate dynamics, ensuring your thud isn’t lost in the mix. Adding too much reverb to a low end thud is not recommended. If you want to create room ambience, consider layering mid and high end frequencies like rattling or crashing sound onto the thud. Then add reverb tails to those instead. A thud in a small room should sound very to thuds in a cavernous hall.
The volume level of each sound layer should reflect an object’s weight, with heavier objects producing louder thuds. A book falling on a table might include an moderate impact thud, a secondary slide, and a slight page flutter effect. Timing these sounds precisely with the visuals is critical for believability.
For big sounds like a car crash, thuds could include low-frequency booms during the initial impact, a sharp high-frequency crunch for the metal deformation, and light whooshes to signify movement and debris. Detailed sound design contributes to the viewer’s immersion in the scene. Panning indicates the direction of an impact, while volume automation suggests its distance.
If you’re ready to try your hand at syncing thud sounds with a video project, download the royalty-free sound effects from this article. You can download these WAV files from us directly or pick up a free copy of Audio Design Desk to access an even greater library of sounds.