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[Behind The Scenes] TRAINS


BOOM Creative Director Axel Rohrbach and the involved sound designers Tristan Horton, David Philipp and David Osternacher give you a little bit of insight on the recordings of our latest release TRAINS. Learn more about our trip to the abandoned train stations and how this extensive library came to life. Enjoy!


(axr) The Trains library had a funny start. We had always planned to expand our collection of vehicles beyond the CARS library, but there were no definite plans for 2012 or 2013 to do so. Then, out of the blue, one of our customers, a big post pro studio, wrote us an email saying that they were working on a movie that’s entirely set in a train and that they needed more material and some specific things like surround recordings to get the audio right for the movie and they wanted a quality similar to our "Everyday Cars" library and other Boom libraries they own.
We had a script and the time locked movie to give us an idea, what would be needed. That covers pretty much everything you can imagine concerning trains, especially a lot of inside ambiences - of course without any passengers. We thought about how that could best be achieved. After figuring out the best ways to do that on commercial train tracks and on normal commercial train rides we spiced things up by renting a train including a 16km railroad track just for us.
It was a bit weird to walk on railroad tracks without checking our backs, it had a little bit of suicidal feeling to it. But it was perfect for our work.


The train track we had booked was a few hours drive away, so in order to make the most of the day we got up extremely early and met at 4:30am at BOOM headquarters to pack our stuff and start our little drive to the rented train up north. October, when this ride took place, isn’t normally snow season over here. But exactly on that weekend we had quite a bit of a snow chaos on the Autobahn (and I still had summer tires on my car). I thought we would never reach the spot - some heavy accidents and traffic jams even this early on a Saturday encouraged my thoughts. Luckily, we actually made it in time and our destination was actually snow-free. We were rewarded with a clear blue sky, no wind and very few birds because of the cold.

To rent the train and the track brought us a bunch of benefits. After a safety instruction we were pretty much free to go everywhere we wanted in and around the trains. We were 4 recordists, Felix Diekhake, Michael Prechtl, Julius Selbach and I. We brought that many to get as many recordings as possible in as little time as possible.

To get the most important things done first, we started with onboard driving recordings. During the drive in absolutely empty compartments we captured very cool surround driving ambience. Leaning out of the window holding a stereo mic on a boom pole, to get all the way down under the train to the wheels, brought us some cool close up driving sounds. Luckily none of the oncoming tree branches hit the mics or Julius, who was leaning out the window.


Felix spent some time in the locomotive cabin and in the train's restroom (for recording purposes). Michael was at the very end of the train, in front of opened doors and coupler parts to capture different external point of views while the train was driving etc. I recorded inside a container part and mostly in the front of the train. We were even able to mount an omni mic directly in front of a wheel on the axis - as close as it can get. Those are some really nice sweetener sounds for particular scenes and situations.


After that we recorded drive bys. We did some normal microphone settings but also attached one omni mic to the rails for extreme close ups of wheels rolling by. We again tried a contact mic with no luck, it just sounded so much worse compared to the omni duct-taped onto the rail and had no useful special character to it either. We used another stereo set to follow the train extremely close for some nice clacks. Using a prepared list of to-dos the driver did some arrivals and departures, drive bys at different speeds, horn drive bys and so forth. A very cool spot was near a curve. The train was squeaking pretty aggressively there and we did a whole bunch of "squeaked drive bys". We were also able to record some coupling and decoupling action.


After all that was recorded we were able to walk around the area, a train workshop. There were tons of old and rusty trains, containers, passenger train parts and so on - the perfect playground. We split up in teams of two to record interior and exterior handling things as single shot sounds for the movie. That included various doors, metal rattle stuff, metal impacts etc. Awesome material to refresh specific scenes and to have them in the right acoustical environment but still clean and without any driving sounds.


We used double M/S setups for the surround recordings and encoded them using the free DMS Tool from Schoeps.

After this day was done we were able to get a small steam train in England to take us on a trip in the locomotive and a large steam train in South Africa as well as modern electrical trains in Austria. We recorded a whole bunch of arrivals, departures and drive bys at commercial train tracks including all kinds of trains, reaching from large diesel freight trains to the London Overground, Austria's Trams, Fast Trains and so forth to get a wide variety of train sounds. Some of the fast trains have an awesome SciFi character to them, sounding more like space ship fly bys than trains which in my opinion gives a superior extra benefit to this library.

David Philipp: On the one hand recording a steam train in Wales was an outstanding experience. The staff of the "Talyllyn Railway" were both friendly and really helpful at the same time, showing great interest in my mission to record every aspect of their beautiful trains. On the other hand recording trains in London was not that easy. Constant traffic and plane noises, people talking to me whilst recording and finally the police asking me if I was fishing on a bridge (no, there wasn't any water) just to name a few of the difficulties which appeared. But hey, if it was easy everyone could do it.


Tristan Horton: One of my train recording sessions started at a private station in Pretoria, South Africa traveling out to a remote old mining town. The track gradually degraded from a well maintained modern rail to a fairly old, poorly maintained track with irregular joins and flat spots. The older tracks have more character than the modern tracks in the urban areas, the clacking of the wheels on the old un-welded tracks is much closer to the movie train sounds we are used to. I got a good variety of different track timbres, all on one trip!


David Osternacher: Interior recordings of modern locomotives aren't that easy to get, but I was able to find a train conductor who would let me ride along. Apart from some cool cockpit and engine room takes, the large openable windows of the locomotive enabled me to get a few nice exterior driving sounds, which would have been tough to record from a passenger car.
I also learned that the so-called "dead man's switch" fail-safe, which triggers the emergency brakes of the train, needs to be tested once a day. Good for us!

The exterior recordings from the locomotive provided an unexpected challenge, because I had underestimated the ice-cold november airstream outside the train, that was mercilessly hitting my arm between stations. But that was nothing compared to a couple of nights I spent on a freight yard in december. For screeching brakes, freight trains are the place to go for that. I had found a pedestrian overpass on a freight depot not too far from my office, which got me and my microphones pretty close to approaching trains, without putting anybody in physical or legal danger. A session like this can of course involve a lot of waiting (re: december nights), depending on how busy the section of the train yard is. But after some consultation with the personnel there, I managed to record several cool brake screeches. The overpass also made for an interesting frontal perspective for drive bys, a nice little addition to the collection.


Click here to get to the TRAINS product page to watch our great making-of video and listen to some audio samples.

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