ToyTalk: How to Create Space Sounds from Everyday Life

ToyTalk / ToyTalk

Two years ago, two Pixar alumni came together and founded ToyTalk—an app designed to combine conversation with entertainment. ToyTalk’s first project, The Winston Show, is a talk show starring characters—Winston and Ellington—that can listen and talk back to the app’s user.

And while designing an app comes with its own unique challenges, ToyTalk’s biggest challenge is recreating sounds of fantasy from everyday events and objects.

In the newest sketch from The Winston Show, "In the Movies," ToyTalk created a special episode where kids can play alien invaders who attack Winston’s ship. So how do you create sounds of interstellar warfare? And how do you make these sounds realistic for the kids who play the game?

Enter Frank Clary.

Clary, who worked on movies like Toy Story 3 and Avatar, is the sound designer of ToyTalk. He works to recreate sounds for the app by sourcing urban and metal sounds from everyday life. Clary first picked up sound design when he was a musician and worked with turntables. “I really loved shaping sounds and twisting them,” he said.

Clary’s love of sound continued into his professional career. “I’ve had the privilege of working on some amazing tracks before that offered me the opportunity to ride dragons on Avatar and buckling up in the drivers seat to reenact car chases for MI4: Ghost Protocol, but I’ve never had the chance to board a starship and engage in interstellar warfare,” Clary wrote on the ToyTalk blog.

According to Clary, the sound team needed to create the following sounds for the latest episode:

1. photon torpedo fire
2. impact and explosion
3. reverberant low frequency rumbles for the shaking ship
4. moaning metal
5. hissing air released by valves
6. heavy metal and plastic rattling on the ship’s bridge
7. a distress alarm

After compiling the list of necessary sounds, Clary then set out to find them.

“I believe that sound is responsible for bringing images to life,” Clary tells mental_floss. “Sound is an invisible medium that we’re always being exposed to.”

The team arranged to have mortar shells and dynamite blown up. They scoured submarines and battleships for heavy metal doors with stressed hinges. They dragged an anchor across different surfaces. They even called an officer from the San Francisco Police Department to record the sound from the department’s newest siren, which Clary had heard one day when he was sitting in his office. “It really caught my attention,” he says. The police department had adopted a new siren that mixed low frequency and high frequency sounds that would carry the screech of the siren further distances. Fortunately, the police department let ToyTalk stop by to record it for The Winston Show.

“My goal is always to sort of stretch our acceptance of reality on a visual medium of sorts,” Clary says.