Classic Cartoon Sound Effects!

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
The podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz tells stories about the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds. It is a great show that you should definitely subscribe to and I’m pleased to present one of their episodes here today. It’s all about these sounds, which almost need no introduction.

Roman Mars:
From Twenty Thousand Hertz, here is Dallas Taylor.

Sound Effect:
(Crash from fall)

Dallas Taylor:
If you watched cartoons as a kid, you probably knew instantly that the sound you just heard was from Looney Tunes. You probably also know that sound meant Wile E. Coyote failed to catch the Road Runner – again. It’s pretty crazy how we can fill in the whole scene based solely on the sound effects, even without a single “meep, meep” from the Road runner (meep, meep). Wile E. Coyote started falling off cliffs in 1949, yet we still hear that falling sound effect in modern cartoons, like “Teen Titans”.

Teen Titans:
“I wouldn’t stand there if I were you.” (Falling sound effect)

Dallas Taylor:
Here it is in “Justice League Action”.

Justice League:
“How’d you do that? It defies the laws of physics.” (Falling sound effect)

Dallas Taylor:
And here it is even in “Family Guy”.

Family Guy:
(Falling sound effect) “Ow.”

Dallas Taylor:
It’s been almost 70 years since the first Wile E. Coyote cartoon, and that sound, along with many other cartoon sounds, remains constant.

Mark Mangini:
The beauty and the joy of cartoon animation is that the characters do not have to obey the laws of physics. They also don’t have to obey the laws of logic. And therefore, sound doesn’t have to obey those laws either.

Dallas Taylor:
That’s Mark Mangini, an Oscar-winning sound designer, who works with the Formosa Group.

Mark Mangini:
I don’t very often get to talk about my early days in cartoons.

Dallas Taylor:
Mark doesn’t get a lot of questions about cartoons because he has an impressive resume designing sounds for Hollywood blockbusters.

Mark Mangini:
I’ve worked on 142 live action films. Most recently “Blade Runner 2049”, “Mad Max: Fury Road”, which I won an Oscar for and I’m very proud of, “Warrior”, “Gremlins”, four “Star Treks”, a “Die Hard”, a “Lethal Weapon”, “The Green Mile”.

Dallas Taylor:
But before Mark did sound for films, he worked for one of the most famous cartoon studios in the world.

Mark Mangini:
My first job in sound was at Hanna-Barbera Studios in their sound department. I started as a track reader, which is a subset of sound editing where you’re charged with transcribing the recordings of the voices so that the animators know when to open and close the mouths of the characters.

Fred Finstone:
“Just keep your eye on the ball, Barney boy.”

Mark Mangini:
That led to subsequent promotions to becoming a sound effects editor in that department at Hanna-Barbera and an apprenticeship with a number of really amazingly gifted sound editors. Back then, this was 1976, I didn’t know anyone who was called a sound designer, but I would argue that everything that we were doing at Hanna-Barbera was every bit as designed as maybe something more profound that was being heard in a motion picture.

Dallas Taylor:
Mark worked on some of Hanna-Barbera’s most famous cartoons.

Mark Mangini:
The Flintstones.

Fred Flintsone:
“Come on Barney, let’s go.”

Mark Mangini:
Some Huckleberry Hounds.

Huckleberry:
“Fire Department.”

Woman:
“Help, you got to help me get the cat out of the tree. Help.”

Huckleberry:
“How’s that?”

Mark Mangini:
A whole raft of Scooby Doos.

Shaggy Rogers:
“Scooby Doo, where are you?”

Mark Mangini:
The Super Friends.

Super Friends:
“Their mission, to fight injustice, to right that which is wrong, and to serve all mankind.”

Mark Mangini:
And my personal favorite because it starred Mel Blanc, Captain Caveman.

Captain Caveman:
“Captain Cavemaaaan!”

Dallas Taylor:
Long before Mark worked for Hanna-Barbera, and even before Wile E Coyote was falling off cliffs, Walt Disney made history with Steamboat Willie in 1928. (whistling) This was the first cartoon with synchronized picture and sound. (whistling)

Mark Mangini:
Walt and Roy and Ub Iwerks, themselves, would be the sound effects guy in their live orchestral recording sessions for those early Steamboat Willies. In the early days before there was multi-track recording or mixing, you had to perform the sound effects live with the orchestra in one straight pass. So these sound effects guys had to assemble props, put them in front of microphones, and perform anything that they could acoustically, live, and in sync with the orchestra.

Dallas Taylor:
Music and sound effects had to be performed at the same time in the same space. Musical instruments were used to make the effects because they were easy to find, and easy to manipulate. In this Tom and Jerry clip, the sound of a frying pan hitting Tom’s face is played by a cymbal crash. (cymbals)

Dallas Taylor:
And that falling whistle from the beginning of the episode? (falling sound effect) That’s played on a slide whistle.

Mark Mangini:
The percussionist would probably have it as part of their kit, and it was just natural to convey going up (slide up) or down (slide down). You could manipulate them in any one of a number of ways, very quickly or very slowly.

Dallas Taylor:
Sound effects played by musical instruments became an iconic part of all cartoons. Then, new audio technology in the 1930s allowed sound editors to add sound effects after recording the orchestra. They could use any prop to make a sound, but often still chose musical instruments.

Dallas Taylor:
And because sound effects and music were tightly linked, they worked together to create unique soundscapes. Listen to this audio clip from the very first Bugs Bunny cartoon called “Porky’s Hare Hunt”. In it, you can get an idea of how effects and music can come together. (sound effects clip)

Dallas Taylor:
The sounds for “Porky’s Hare Hunt” were created by an editor named Treg Brown. Treg worked on Looney Tunes for decades and created many of the iconic cartoon sounds we still know today. (cartoon sound effects)

Mark Mangini:
Once we divorced ourselves from the need to record live to picture, Treg had this fundamental understanding of how to de-contextualize a sound, how to take the sound of your finger in a coke bottle and make that the sound of the Road Runner tongue flip. (coke bottle sound effect)

Mark Mangini:
Or, why the sound of an inertia starter, the sound of this motor that makes a biplane engine start, why that’s the sound of a spinning Tasmanian Devil. (motor sound effect)

Mark Mangini:
He learned to be a genius at taking sounds out of one context and placing them in another context. And that’s what made him so amazing, and when you listen to those Looney Tunes shorts, there isn’t a lot of cartoon sound in those. There isn’t a lot of comedic sound. It all relied on his ability to take a sound from somewhere else and put it where it didn’t belong, creating this bizarre juxtaposition that made it funny. And I don’t think there was anybody better than he was at that.

Dallas Taylor:
Around the same time Treg was working at Warner Brothers, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were creating the “Tom and Jerry” cartoons at MGM. Mark’s mentor Greg Watson was a sound editor on those early “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.

Mark Mangini:
When I met him, he was in his 60’s, late in his career but immensely proud to be still working in cartoons. He still saw it as an art form, something he was very proud of. And he would never take credit for anything unless I asked him, “Hey, Greg, where did this come from?” And he said, “Oh, I remember back in ’51 when Bill did this one funny scene with Jerry and we needed a funny sound, and we thought it would be good to do this.” He was a man that was just thrilled to be a part of the process.

Dallas Taylor:
Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbara eventually created their own studio. And during their 30 years of making cartoons, they created a massive library of totally classic sounds.

Mark Mangini:
I think they’re unique, at least because of their own merit they’re just silly. So many of them, even out of the context of the cartoon, just sound like that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. But then, within the context of the cartoons and the way that they were used and the life that they brought to those cartoons, they just get better basking in the limelight of the animation.

Dallas Taylor:
For instance, this sound is pretty silly on its own.

Dallas Taylor:
Now imagine Tom hanging from his whiskers, and the unavoidable fall as each one is plucked from his cheeks. (plucking sound effect) There were hundreds of familiar sounds like this created at Hanna-Barbera studios.

Mark Mangini:
They had such a signature quality to themselves that it made them stand out as a unique piece of quality artwork, sonic artwork.

Dallas Taylor:
In the 1960s, Hanna-Barbera started selling their sound library. Other production companies, like Warner Brothers, use these sounds to this day. The popularity of the Hanna-Barbera sound library has given cartoons an almost universal sound-language. But, Mark feels some sounds are overused.

Mark Mangini:
I was on a one-man campaign to eradicate “head take”. (head take sound effect) It was this inane noise that was, again, I think was a recording accident that you would use whenever a character all of a sudden caught themselves in the midst of thinking or experiencing something bizarre, and it was way overused.

Dallas Taylor:
And did you ever notice how it sounds when a cartoon character runs? (running sound effect) Mark’s not a fan of that one either.

Mark Mangini:
That running sound was called “blop gallop.” And, again, a sound that was, I felt, overused and I tried to not use it as often as I could. That’s illogical, but I tried not to use it as often as possible. It’s a testament to its effectiveness. But even in 1976, I was turning into an elitist, I suppose. How embarrassing.

Dallas Taylor:
Of course there are plenty of sounds that Mark loves, like a tip-toeing xylophone. (xylophone sound effect)

Mark Mangini:
Oh, that’s a classic sound. I have actually used that sound. I did the two “Flintstone” live action movies, and I did use that in that because that was a sound that Brian Levant, the director and I, just loved. And we just couldn’t avoid using that.

Mark Mangini:
My favorite was “The Jetsons” spaceships. (Jetsons music and spaceship sound effect) And I never found out what those were made from. I tried to deconstruct them, I asked around the studio if they know who made them, and nobody knew, but that sound always brings a smile to my face. (spaceship sound effect)

Dallas Taylor:
Sadly, some of the old techniques have been lost. But remember, this was a busy studio, and everyone was focused on getting the work done on time and getting cartoons on air.

Mark Mangini:
It was a real machine. It always started with track reading.

Track Reading:
This is ballpoint puns, line one.

Track Reading:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen…

Mark Mangini:
Which is to say the voices would be assembled in a studio with a script and storyboards. The director of that show would walk the talent through the recording session so that you captured all the voices, speaking all the lines that you needed for that particular episode.

Sylvester:
“Just watch the birdie.”

Mark Mangini:
Then, the animators would go off and then draw the characters doing these things. Then a month later, all the animation would come back in short rolls of completed scenes, then we and the editorial department would assemble them in their storyboard order, and then cut them down to show length. There wasn’t like animatics in between like we have in live action. We’d assemble a show and then cut sound to it.

Dallas Taylor:
When Mark was working with Hanna-Barbera, they didn’t have a department dedicated to creating new sounds. If he wanted an effect that wasn’t in the library, he had to find it himself.

Mark Mangini:
You were just kind of on your own. I was the most adventurous, especially for “Super Friends”, I would go across the hall to talk to the two composers, Paul Decort and Hoyt Curtin, and I’d ask them for musical sounds, and especially synthesizer sounds, so they would give me long recorded stretches of just weird noises they’d make with their synthesizers. And they would always be used as the science fiction components. If I had a spaceship or a flying saucer in an episode that’s what I’d use the electronic sounds for, because that felt futuristic to me. (futuristic sound effects)

Dallas Taylor:
And if Mark couldn’t find a sound he wanted, he had to create it, even if he had to use his own voice.

Mark Mangini:
If you can’t find it, you do it with your voice. It’s the easiest tool to manipulate. You have total control over it. I use it for creatures and animals and funny noises. I did a lot of Gremlins voices for the “Gremlins” movies. (Gremlins clip)

Mark Mangini:
It’s just something where you feel the character inside of yourself and you think, “I can do this better,” and you just do it.

Dallas Taylor:
Mark also went on to work on some of the most classic animated films.

Mark Mangini:
I did “Beauty and the Beast”. (singing & sound effects)

Mark Mangini:
“Aladdin.” (singing & sound effects)

Mark Mangini:
And “The Lion King”. (singing & sound effects)

Dallas Taylor:
Mark’s experiences with animated films were different from the grind of televised cartoons.

Mark Mangini:
If nothing else, you get much better schedules. You usually get the time to design and create something that no one’s ever heard before. Another sort of unique distinction is that you have the option to create sound first, and then have animation be done to what you did. It’s not that often that we get to actually drive the image, and on the Disney animated films and the Pixar films and the Dreamworks films and others, they’re smart enough to know the value of sound and how it can be the inspiration to the artist to draw something that they might not otherwise have drawn.

Mark Mangini:
For example, in “Beauty and the Beast”, Belle’s dad was this inventor, and he had built that funny ax-chopping machine. That was a sound that we made before animation. (clip from “Beauty and the Beast)

Mark Mangini:
That’s just pure design. That’s when you get to let your imagination run wild. You can see a picture from a storyboard, and then you just get to dream up what it might sound like. And that’s just gold for a sound designer, when you’re sort of allowed to design unfettered.

Roman Mars:
With all of the cable channels and streaming services available today, there’s more animation than ever before. So how does sound design work in modern cartoons and which iconic sounds are still used today? We’ll get to all of that when Twenty Thousand Hertz on 99% Invisible continues.

[BREAK]

[Sound effect montage]

Dallas Taylor:
If you haven’t watched a cartoon in years, it might surprise you that sounds from decades ago are still being used today.

Heather Olsen:
I use the older sound effects quite a bit still working in cartoons. The Hanna-Barbera library, the Warner Brothers library, it’s still the go to for certain gags, and certain shows.

Dallas Taylor:
That’s Heather Olsen, an Emmy-nominated sound designer for animation. She works at Advantage Audio.

Heather Olsen:
I’m working on “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” for Disney XD (clip from “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” and sound effects), “Trolls: The Beat Goes On” (clip from “Trolls” and sound effects) and “Spirit Riding Free” for Netflix (clip from “Trolls” and sound effects).

Heather Olsen:
I worked on a lot of Butch Hartman shows, “The Fairly Odd Parents” (sound effect), “Tough Puppy” (sound effect), “Bunsen is a Beast” (sound effect), “Pig Goat Banana Cricket” for Nickelodeon (sound effect). I also worked on “The Adventures of Puss in Boots” for Netflix (sound effect), “Gravity Falls” for Disney XD (sound effect), and “The Boondocks” for Sony (sound effect).

Dallas Taylor:
Heather is an expert in modern cartoon sound design.

Heather Olsen:
Cartoon sound effects are different from live action sound effects because with live action you start with production sound. You’re recording a picture and they’re recording the audio at the same time wherever the actors are. So if they’re on a street you have cars going by. Whereas in a cartoon if you’re doing a street scene, all I get is dialogue. It’s just the actors who are recorded, and I get to start with a blank slate. I don’t have to try to hide production backgrounds. I get to get the dialogue, and I get to create a world around it.

Heather Olsen:
It’s kind of the best thing and the worst thing at the same time to work on a cartoon, because you’re not trying to hide anything, but you have nothing to start with, so in your head you have to think, what would this sound like?

Dallas Taylor:
Much like Mark’s time at Hanna-Barbera, Heather gets a fully animated show and often adds sound effects from a ready-made library of sounds. This includes many from the Hanna-Barbera and Warner Brothers’ libraries. Here are some of her favorites.

Heather Olsen:
It’s called the “tube thunk” sound effect. (tube thunk sound effect)

Heather Olsen:
I think everybody knows what this sounds like, maybe not what it’s called, but it’s that sound when a character gets their head stuck in a jar, you hear that thunk (sound effect). I love that old sound. It just so clearly conveys my head is stuck in this jar, and it’s not coming out again. And I also love all the old running sounds. (running sound effect)

Heather Olsen:
And I’m using the “xylophone blink” in “Trolls” all the time. (xylophone blinks sound effect)

Heather Olsen:
Those sounds I think have just persisted in everybody’s mind and every show because that’s a language that we’ve started to understand. So instead of blinks, you kind of expect to hear that xylophone at this point.

Dallas Taylor:
And of course, Heather uses the “falling whistle”. (falling whistle sound effect)

Heather Olsen:
I think in our sound effects library it’s called “bomb drop” but it’s the same thing. I mean it’s another piece of the language that everybody knows.

Dallas Taylor:
Since some of the shows she works on are more realistic, Heather wants us to hear the sounds of the characters moving around and interacting with their world. Kinda like a live action movie.

Heather Olsen:
The foley department really brings the show to life. They record footsteps (sound effect), things characters touch (sound effect) which we call props. They do more of the smaller sounds, and it’s great to have foley doing that instead of a library, because then you’re not hearing the same footsteps over and over. They really make it sound more real.

Dallas Taylor:
And just like in the past – if you can’t find a sound, you have to make it.

Heather Olsen:
One of the stranger things I’ve actually recorded and done myself for a sound effect is we had a bit in Robot and Monster where everyone was in a crowded restaurant. So it was supposed to be this crowd of people gagging and grossed out by something, and that’s not exactly an effect I had sitting around in my library. So I grabbed a bunch of people around the office, and we recorded ourselves gagging in lots of different ways (individual gagging sounds). and then I pieced it all together into a crowd (crowd of people gagging).

Dallas Taylor:
Sometimes layering multiple sounds together is the best way to create something new.

Heather Olsen:
An odd combination that you might not expect and I did not invent this – “animals and engines” – is a really great one. You put animal roars under engines, growls – it really kinda of brings a vehicle to life.A lot of shows do it, but Star Wars definitely. The TIE fighters. There’s some growls under there as they go by. (TIE fighter sound effects)

Heather Olsen:
It’s fantastic. Inspiration.

Dallas Taylor:
Another option Heather has, is to take a classic library sound and change its pitch to make a new effect. Take this cartoon “boing” sound effect (boing). She can pitch the sound up (boing – pitched up). Or down (boing – pitched down).

Dallas Taylor:
Heather uses a lot of classic, non literal sounds while working on cartoons. But some modern cartoons are more realistic than slap-stick, her choices really depend on the show.

Heather Olsen:
When we get a new show, we’ll do what we call spotting the show, where the clients come in and we watch it together, and we talk about what they’d like where, and just the overall feel of the show. Is going to be a realistic show like “Spirit” or is it going to be really cartoony like “Fairly Odd Parents”? (clip from “Fairly Odd Parents”)

Heather Olsen:
“Fairly Odd Parents” taught me how to speak cartoon. (clip from “Fairly Odd Parents”) It’s just not stop cartoon, cartoon, cartoon. Whereas something like “Spirit” it feels more like you’re making a movie with horses out in the fields with girls. (clip from “Spirit” and horse sound effect)

Dallas Taylor:
Because “Spirit Riding Free” has more natural sounds than a cartoon like “Fairly Odd Parents”, Heather needed some new sounds.

Heather Olsen:
We got a whole new horse library, because in that show there’s three characters who are horses. So, there are no actors voicing them and they each have a different personality. So, we had to find different vocals for each of the horses. (horse effects)

Dallas Taylor:
But even “Spirit Riding Free” still sometimes needs a dose of the vintage cartoon sounds. (clip with vintage cartoon sound)

Heather Olsen:
A lot of times people will come in with their show and say, “I don’t want to use those old Hanna Barbera sounds, I want to do something completely different.” But they’ve kind of animated it the traditional way. So when you put new sounds to that, it feels wrong, and a lot of times they eventually go back to using the older sound effects.

Dallas Taylor:
When it comes to cartoon sound design, Mark and Heather both agree that the medium pushes the boundaries of creativity.

Mark Mangini:
Characters stretch unnaturally out of their body shapes. Those are just of the simplest examples of visually what’s happening with these characters. So, in a way it gives you permission to break the laws of what sound you should hear when you see something.

Heather Olsen:
I really like working for animation because I like to build a world with sound from the ground up, because in animation the best part is you’re designing a world from nothing, a world that no one’s ever heard before. And sound design I think is a huge part of the process for animation because there’s no sound except the talking, so you get to do that backgrounds and the sound effects, and the foley, and I think it all combines to really bring the animation to life.

Mark Mangini:
So now, there’s so many tools that anyone can get their hands on. You’re really free to design sound in any way your imagination desires. It’s important for us to follow our hearts. When we follow our heart and then we make a career out of that, we make a day-to-day avocation to something, that gives all of us purpose and it allows us to make a contribution to the world.

Credits

Production

This episode was written & produced by James Introcaso and featured interviews with Oscar-winning sound designer Mark Mangini of the Formosa Group and Heather Olsen from Advantage Audio.

Defacto Sound is a sound team dedicated to making the world sound better. Twenty Thousand Hertz is hosted by Dallas Taylor.

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