Can you make it sound like…

Pacific Rim, we want it to sound like Pacific Rim. Can do. I was approached by a group of animators at SAE QANTM recently and asked if I could produce some music for their upcoming trailer for green energy. In the trailer a Godzilla-style behemoth battles with a huge smoke-billowing Mech, both stand as tall the urban city where they are fighting. The Godzilla creature is mother-earth herself whilst the Mech embodies everything unnatural and is the analogy for fossil fuels (and other dirty means of producing energy).

To be inline with the animators desires for the music I checked out the title track for Pacific Rim and was glad that I did. In my mind I had imagined a bombastic orchestral piece that was more like King-Kong, where in actual fact the title track for Pacific Rim, composed by Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones) has a blend of electric guitars, drums and some orchestral elements, giving the track a rock-band style that makes you want to put on a pair of sunglasses and walk away in slow motion whilst an explosion happens behind you!

So how does Djawadi achieve his sound for Pacific Rim? Let’s take a look.

Tempo

  • Djawadi chose to use a relatively slow tempo for the title track of Pacific Rim
  • 87.5 BPM

Using a slower tempo makes sense when you think of the scale of the combatants, they are so large that their movements would seem slow if watching from afar, this reduced tempo gives the sense of something really big moving a lot of weight.

Key

  • D minor
  • Minor Pentatonic Guitar Riffs

Using a pentatonic riff with the guitars is definitely the “cool” factor in this piece of music. The target audience of this film being teenagers, they can relate to the guitar riffs and the tune has an almost garage-band (not the program, the form of band) style. This garage-rock is accessible to play on guitar and speaks to the audience, for it is similar to the style of music that many people can play, without the need for vast amounts of equipment.

Instrumentation

  • “Dropped D” Electric Guitars
  • Drum Kit
  • Brass
  • Orchestral Strings

The dropped-d guitars give a gritty feel because of their pitch and the use of a grungy distortion enhance the grime. No rock band would be complete without a drum kit and this gives the track a real groove. Low, ominous brass suggest the scale of the Mech and Godzilla and the orchestral stings bring dramatic tension and release.

So we have our essential ingredients to make the cake, now we just have to stir them together and bake it!

Putting it together

  • Pro Tools
  • Komplete 9 Ultimate
  • Mbox pro
  • Mac MINI
  • Electric Guitar using Guitar Rig 5

Guitars

The first thing to do was to work out a nice guitar riff that uses a D minor pentatonic arpeggio. Ramin chose a detuned 6-string guitar but because I have an 8-string, no detuning was needed! After a short while I had the riff and this became the body of the song. Guitar Rig 5 is included with K9U and is amazing, all I have to do is plug-in my guitar into the mbox pro, create a mono audio track in pro tools and insert GR5 as a plug-in. I now have all the effects I could wish for, as well as the ability to create my own from scratch. For this project, I have chosen to use the setting “Corn Now”, which is an emulation of the guitar sound from Nu-Metal band, Korn. I chose this guitar setting because of the target audience that was mentioned earlier.

Heavy and Gritty
Heavy and Gritty

As you can see from the picture above, all parameters are adjustable, all the way down to the mic-placement on the cabs!

Drums

For the drums the “Abbey Road Modern Drummer” software instrument was used. There are a number of grooves that come preloaded and there was a particular Nu-Metal groove that really made sense to use in this piece.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 10.09.44 AM

 Brass

The low ominous brass was something that I knew we needed from the start, for this I recorded two takes of the brass using the Brass Ensemble sampler, one was set with the reverb drenched and panned hard left and right, the other had less reverb, the “sound” setting was adjusted and the panning was sitting closer to the centre of the mix. This combination gave a huge brass sound and made the ensemble seem more impressive than if just one setting was used.

The first ensemble
The first ensemble
The second ensemble
The second ensemble

I should point out that I have been using the routing method explained in my previous blogs.

Strings

The strings are what gives the track the super hero feeling and I will share a secret with you. To achieve this sound simply use an arpeggiated Major-Seventh chord, in this case B-Flat major seventh. Voila!

Major Seventh Arpeggio
Major Seventh Arpeggio

So if you are in the key of D, as we are with this song, then drop down four semitones from your root note and start your major seventh arpeggio from there. The result is a heroic, larger than life and even supernatural feeling.

Put it all together!

Pro Tools Edit Window
Pro Tools Edit Window
Pro Tools Mix Window
Pro Tools Mix Window

Master It!

The next stage was to do a quick master of the track, for this printed off the instruments and sent them into another PT session.

Master it!
Master it!

I routed all of the tracks into a stereo aux track with Maxim as a plugin (ceiling at -0.3 with the threshold at -3db to give the track some juice), then outputed them to a stereo audio track, which became the Mastered version of the track. I exported the 96K-24Bit .wav and also bounced out the quicktime movie. Job done! Well almost.

I am revising the version that you have heard today to adhere to the animators wishes and also because of the advice of my facilitator Akshay Kalawar. The revisions are as follows,

  • Have drums start at full volume, instead of fading in
  • Have a rhythm at the end of the track to really signal the end
  • Add more bass (bass guitar) to the main riff
  • Have some massive percussion at the start (animators)
  • bring in the guitar riff a little bit later (animators)

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for updates! 🙂

 

 

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