Featured Interviews

Creating Trailer Sound Design with Karél Psota (Interview)

karel psota trailer sound design evenant interview

As part of our review of Evenant’s Trailer Sound Design Course we had the chance of interviewing the course’s tutor, sound designer and composer Karél Psota. We had an enjoyable chat about inspiration, workflow, secret sound design tricks and…Pokémon.

Free Trailer Sound Design Pack

In addition to the interview, Karél was kind enough to provide us with FREE pack of some of his state-of-the-art Trailer Sound Design Effects! Get your copy of this exclusive audio sample pack at the end of this interview.

EPICOMPOSER: Karél, would you please introduce yourself to our readers?

KP: Hey Epicomposer! Thanks for having me. My name is Karél Psota, I’m a French composer, producer and sound designer based in LA. Some of my work has been featured in trailers like Spider-Man Homecoming, Justice League, and a bunch of other blockbusters. I’ve also released AVA – INSTINCT Trailer Sound Effects a few months back. Right now, I’m focusing on my new class with Evenant: Trailer Sound Design – From Source To Cinema.

EPICOMPOSER: How did you first get involved in sound design for cinema, TV and trailers?

KP: I was producing EDM in France and I loved the scene, but I felt that it wasn’t a healthy lifestyle. Also, most careers in that field are very short. Therefore, I packed my bags and flew to LA to find a job a bit more sustainable.

There, I landed an internship at a mixing studio where I got to see how orchestras were recorded and mixed for films like Life Of Pi and the LEGO Movie. Sadly, I also discovered that the film industry sucks. It feels very corporate. There’s only a handful of composers at the top and I didn’t want to be an assistant for 10 years… On the other hand, I felt that the trailer industry didn’t give a damn about your age or your resume. As long as the music and sounds are good, you have a chance to place in a trailer. It’s fair game, so that’s what I focused on.

I began studying the best trailer tracks and artists (Attila Ats, Generdyn, Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL). Started my own publishing company, released sounds for free, did a bunch of customs that never placed… But eventually, I started seeing some licenses come in.

EPICOMPOSER: You recently published an inspiring online course on contemporary trailer sound design in cooperation with Evenant. Could you tell us some more about what’s covered in the course and how the idea came to life in the first place?

KP: Nowadays, most composers all use the same sounds and libraries. It’s so tiring… I wanted to convince people that they can make their own epic sounds from scratch! The course covers everything from recording, synthesis and layering to mixing and mastering sound effects. I also give away some of my secret production tricks to get your recordings sounding “larger than life”. If you want to know how to design Braams, Downers, Sub Hits, Whoosh Hits, Risers and more – that class is for you.

Half of the videos are improvised, so you get to see my mistakes, and see how I solve these issues. A lot happy accidents occur in these videos! The other videos are breakdowns of sound effects that have been licensed in trailers or released with INSTINCT. You get to see all the layers, the processing and mastering chains. The last part of the class is focused on licensing. That’s where I explain how to market your sounds: industry vs. public release, publisher vs. self publishing. There’s a lot of distribution choices, so I help the students out by sharing my experience with each distribution method.

Overall, I recorded 20 hours of video that I carefully edited down to 4+ hours, so you only get the best! The class also comes with an exclusive Trailer Sample Pack and 1+ GB of stems, raw samples, and synth patches.

EPICOMPOSER: In the course, you’re unveiling quite a few of your creative audio processing and editing workflows. Did you come up with those by yourself or is it a culmination of tricks you learned over the years?

KP: I began by learning the processing tricks from Dubstep/Neuro Bass tutorials on YouTube. That’s where I discovered processors like OTT, clipping, multiband distortion, and acoustic theory like the Fletcher Munson Curve (Editor’s note: The Fletcher Munson Curve represents the sensitivity of our ears to equal loudness throughout the frequency range.)

Nowadays, my chains are fairly complex. I like to rack a ton of effects that do tiny amounts of modulation. For example, I’ll start a Braaam with a sine wave, add 5 distortions, then put it into a multiband compressor. All that, with a bunch of filter modulation between each distortion unit.

EPICOMPOSER: In ‘Trailer Sound Design – From Source To Cinema’, you familiarize your readers to the process of sound design by using a hilarious ‘Pokémon’ analogy. For those who didn’t take the course yet, please tell us how the world of those quirky anime monsters compares to modern sound design.

KP: (laughs) Indeed, I treat sounds like Pokémon. There’s so many parallels, it’s uncanny!

Pokémon World

Sound Design World

Pokémon Sounds
Poké Ball Microphone
Pokémon Type Object Type (metal, fire, tube, electrical)
Pokémon Trainng Processing
Squirtle (Low Level) Water in the sink sound
Blastoise (Final Evolution) Processed sink water that sounds like a nuclear storm
Rayquaza (Legendary) Gran Casa recorded at Air Studios
Professor Oak Ben Burtt
Pokémon League Hollywood Studios
Pokémon Trainer You

The whole idea is that you can capture low level sounds and train them to compete against legendary samples! In a way, you can have your processed toilet paper replace a taiko hit in a Hollywood trailer… if you processed your toilet roll like a boss.

EPICOMPOSER: In capturing sounds, which factor is the most important one to you: the equipment, the environment or the source itself?

KP: Without a doubt: Source > Environment > Equipment. Some of my sounds that found their way into blockbuster trailers were recorded on a conventional iPhone. For me, the art of Trailer Sound Design is 90% processing. Just make sure you have a clean source to begin with. Note that if you’re planning to pitch down samples drastically (and you should) – make sure you’re recording at a sample rate of 96KHz or higher. That will allow you to capture more high-end information above the audible range.

EPICOMPOSER: Which are the tools you would recommend to an aspiring sound designer who would like to start out capturing and processing his/her own sounds?

KP: For recording I’d recommend the Zoom H5 mobile recorder. Concerning plugins I’d say get the Waves Sound Design Suite. Among its 37 processors, it comes with two plugins I absolutely love: the Renaissance Bass and TransX Multi. My DAW of choice is Ableton Live. Just for its unique ability to create huge FX racks, run them in parallel, daisy chain them, save them… it’s a processing heaven.

EPICOMPOSER: Is there someone who inspired you the most to dive into the world of sound design?

KP: Sure there are! Skrillex, Justice and Madeon. When these artists came out, their sound was so unique. I later discovered that Skrillex would bounce and process synths up to 15 times. Madeon designed all his sounds before starting his album. Justice used a lot of guitar amping on non-guitars sounds. These artists really inspired me to work with audio, design my own sound, and not be afraid of aggressive processing.

EPICOMPOSER: Apart from other movie trailers, trailer music, or music in general, is there any thing or activity that inspires in your creativity?

KP: I’m really fascinated with “optimization” in a broad term. For example, I deeply enjoy watching how fast food chains are organized. I like how they arrange their kitchen. The potato cutting machine, next to the deep fryer. The little slides so they can stack incoming burgers. I’m always impressed by these careful decisions. I’ll challenge my optimization skills by programming basic video game mechanics. There’s something so elegant about keeping only what’s necessary… whether it’s games, sounds, music or life.

EPICOMPOSER: Are you still able to watch movies without analyzing the sound and do you sometimes find yourself picking a movie depending on its sound design?

KP: If the movie is good – I get immersed in the narrative. If it’s bad – I entertain myself by picking apart the sound design and music. Needless to say, I’m never bored!

EPICOMPOSER: What was the last tool you bought – both software- and hardware-wise – and which piece of ‘holy grail’ equipment are you looking for to get at any point in the future?

KP: I recently got Unfiltered Audio’s Indent 2. It’s the only distortion plugin that has an automatic gain reduction switch. That means, I can distort sounds without getting fooled by the increase in loudness. I find it extremely important to make objective decisions. For me, the holy grail would be the Empirical Labs Distressor hardware unit.

EPICOMPOSER: Some while ago, you released an awesome trailer sound effects pack called INSTINCT in cooperation with the AVA Music Group. Please let us know a bit more about its conception, production and the field recordings for which you went to quite some unusual, abandoned places.

KP: It was the most fun experience. I flew to Detroit for 3 days, barely slept, got into a car accident and bribed some constructions workers to get into a cathedral. I almost poisoned the whole team by breaking a neon light. It was quite an adventure! Looking back at it, we didn’t really know what we we’re doing. We just filmed and recorded everything. It was very spontaneous!

After the recordings, I flew back to LA and spent 2 months straight processing the sounds. I probably made 2,000+ sounds, and only released the 100 best. INSTINCT is 100% our own recordings.

 

EPICOMPOSER: Would you let us in on some of the sound sources that are behind impressive FX like ‘Charizard’, ‘Insomnia’ or ‘Dragon Roll’? Do you prefer to rather work with organic or synthesized sound sources?

KP: Sure! “Charizard” (Whoosh Hit) is made of a sliding truck door, a crash cymbal, a sub hit, a low tom and some white noise. “Insomnia” (Riser) is broken down in my Evenant class. It’s a mix of synth sounds and organic recordings. With “Dragon Roll” (Whoosh Hit), you’re in luck, I did a breakdown of “Whoosh Hit – Dragon Roll” on YouTube:

 

EPICOMPOSER: When designing sounds, do you work with established templates of yours or do you approach each set uniquely?

KP: I approach every set uniquely. I like to exercise my brain by starting from scratch. I probably waste some time, but I find that more discoveries are made that way. The sounds also end up sounding more unique.

Also, when I come across a good FX chain, I’ll save that chain into an “epic processing” folder. That’s very handy for uninspired days – I’ll just throw my saved racks on new sources and tweak from there.

EPICOMPOSER: What defines a modern or contemporary ‘trailer sound’ in your opinion?

KP: Sonically, I think that we’re getting cleaner and punchier, with an emphasis on evolving textures. I suspect that careful automation, side-chaining, and transient design are key techniques. Anything from BOOM Library, Output, Audio Imperia, Source Sound and Sweet Justice. They have the most modern sound out there.

EPICOMPOSER: Are there any exciting, upcoming projects you are allowed to tell us about?

KP: There seems to be a high demand for an INSTINCT Vol. 2. So I have that to think about…

In the meantime, I’m working on a Pop Drum Library with AVA Music Group. We want to create smaller and more affordable sample packs with excellent quality. Personally, I dislike big and expensive libraries with 1,000+ samples. Producers will just waste their time browsing to find out that only 20 sounds are useable.

Also, Prequell’s debut album just came out. We recorded the LSO and mixed it with electronic elements. I had the chance to produce some of the drums and bass sounds on the album.

 

EPICOMPOSER: The mandatory last question: If you had the opportunity to collaborate with one person – alive or deceased – who would it be and why?

KP: I’d love to write some Pop music with Joshua Crispin. Really admire his production and sound design. Every layer has a precise purpose. He really internalized that “less is more”.

On a personal note, his work ethics also convinced me to work smarter. A few years ago, when I was at a low point in my life, he recommended the book Deep Work by Cal Newport. That book transformed the way I think about work. I really owe Joshua a few beers!

EPICOMPOSER: Karél, thank you for your time and godspeed with your upcoming projects!

KARÉL PSOTA’S FREE TRAILER SOUND DESIGN PACK

To help you get started with movie trailer sound design, Karél put together a neat pack of 10 free trailer sound design samples including massive whoosh hits, face-melting braaams and thunderous booms – all mastered for maximum impact.

To get the package, all you have to do is enter your email address below, so we can send you the download link. Not only will you receive the link, but you’ll also be the first to know about future free stuff, tutorials and other exciting stories on EPICOMPOSER. If you’re a subscriber to our EPICOMPOSER newsletter, please check your inbox – you should have recieved your free copy of Karél Psota’s Trailer Sound Design Pack already.

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