Water sound effects in television and movies
The beauty of water is the versatility of sound it can produce. Most of its timbral variation comes from combining of volume and force. A water stream gets louder when its volume increases and when the water flow gets stronger. There are several other sound worlds that exist in parallel, including various sizes of water bubbles, gurgling, splashing and so on.
In these next sections we will provide concrete examples from several classic films and TV shows so you can hear how they’re implemented by big budget productions.
Tomb Raider, Anaconda: Waterfall Sound FX
Let’s start with a couple of action-packed waterfall scenes. The massive walls of sound make the scenes more dramatic and awe inspiring. Later, in post production, the volume of that water flow is based on the proximity of the camera to the waterfall.
As Lara Croft dangles from the edge of a cliff in this Tomb Raider scene, the film’s camera hangs suspended mid-air with her. The roaring waterfall is a constant reminder of her own vulnerability.
Notice the sounds that accompany the water. We hear a dramatic orchestral score, clarifying the danger that she’s in, punctuated by loud indications that her metal platform is breaking apart.
The main character in this Anaconda scene shows us a second angle. He goes behind the waterfall and hides from the snake. As a cavern, the space is resonant and relatively quiet despite the volume of water falling outside.
When the snake peeks its head in and parts the water stream, it yanks him out of the cave and throws him into a pool. An entire tree is knocked down and as it whooshes down, you can hear its massive crash into the water.
The Notebook, Truman Show: Dramatic rain SFX
You can use rain sounds in almost any context imaginable. One of our favorites is in The Truman Show clip above, where rain is used to highlight the artificial nature of Truman’s world.
A technical glitch causes rain to fall on him while he stands in one certain spot. If he moves, the water stops. In this way, the rain transforms from an ordinary weather phenomenon to proof of his unreal and fabricated reality. It marks a pivotal moment in Truman’s discovery about the truth of his life.
In The Notebook, rain serves as a narrative device during one of the film’s most memorable scenes. The lead characters reunite after years of separation and the rainstorm underscores the intensity and passion of their reunion.
Pouring rain acts as a metaphor for the release of pent-up emotions and unresolved love between the two. As they stand in the rain, drenched, their conversation and kiss offer a feeling of catharsis and rekindles their profound love.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Water splashing sounds
Water can splash at any size and volume level. Movies that center around water require audio collections to cover every small splish-splash sound to massive impact sounds on the ocean.
Take the film Pirates of the Caribbean for example. Splashing tends to happen during moments of heightened activity that mark a transition.
During the short video below, one character jumps from the row boat and we hear a human-sized splash. Within moments, a shark attacks the boat and it also can be heard splashing in and out of the water.
During a separate battle from the film involving ship-to-ship combat, cannonballs launch and hit the water and wood of the boats. As the ships are being destroyed, their large wooden parts fall into the ocean. Those splashes are barely audible, but they’re visible.
At the height of that destruction, the camera angle changes to a perspective underwater, facing up. A body falls down and hits a tarp on the surface, but the audience hears the thud and splash through a muted, underwater ambience.
Underwater, My Cousin Vinny – Water dripping
The sound of water dripping is basically neutral in its meaning, though many have adverse reactions when they hear it indoors. An icicle dripping onto the snow would not bother someone hiking along a trail. But indoors, a steady water drop means your faucet or pipes may have a leak. Unlike other problems in life, it’s hard to ignore the trickling of running water!
Above is a scene from My Cousin Vinny (1992), where a dripping water sound effect was used as a comedic element. It prods the character’s discomfort and sleeplessness. A seemingly trivial nuisance, it becomes a symbol of his struggle to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings, and comically highlights his growing frustration and sleep deprivation.
In the scifi film Underwater (2020), the sound of a single water drop takes on a vastly different meaning. The sound effect is drenched in reverb, creating tension so thick you could cut it with a knife. Sure enough, a massive burst of water breaches the ship from the deep ocean and the film descends into chaos.
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