My 9-year old nephew got a book for Christmas on stop-motion animation with Legos. When I saw his first videos, they were so fun I had to add sounds to them (what I do for a job, basically!). With a few simple suggestions, he was off and running doing all his own sound design.
Here’s some recommendations on what software to use to add sound, where to find sounds, and what kinds of sounds to look for.
First off, here’s the book he used to learn how to make a stop-animation movie with Legos:
Klutz Lego Make Your Own Movie Kit. It even comes with the legos, backgrounds and the baseplate. It’s easy to get started and a movie can take as little as 8 minutes to make.
Let’s look at one of his movies without sound:
The same movie with sound:
The sound really brings the dinosaurs to life!
Types of Sounds
When you’re building out sound for something that’s starting out silent (like stop-motion animation), there’s two main elements of sounds you can add:
Backgrounds. These are sounds that help establish where you are. In the above video, I used a jungle and wind blowing through trees to create the environment. Some other ideas for backgrounds are traffic, people talking, crickets, birds… if you hear it in real life, it probably exists in a recording.
Sound effects. These are individual sounds like the eggshell cracking, dinosaurs roaring, and walking.
Where to Find Sound Effects
The place to look for sounds is called a “sound effects library.” It’s exactly how it sounds – all the sound effect files are cataloged so you can search by words. It’s sort of like Google for sound effects. There’s a lot of free online sound fx libraries for educational/personal use. Some of my favorite free ones are:
You have to get creative searching for sounds sometimes and that’s where this gets fun. Let’s say you want to make the sound of an alien spaceship. We don’t have real recordings of alien spaceships so how do you create one? You could search a sound fx library and get lucky and find some alien or spaceship sounds someone else created.
Or, you could ask yourself, “what else could an alien spaceship sound like?” You could try searching for sounds like “buzz,” “spin,” or “whoosh” and see what you find. Sometimes it takes a combination (called “layering”) to come up with something you like. Maybe some underwater bubbles added to a refrigerator buzz and a weed wacker would work.
With the dinosaurs, I had some decent dinosaur sounds but I probably would have also searched for “roar” (like a bears or lion) for the big ones. Little dinosaurs might sound like birds (crows or parrots come to mind).
Your software might be able to do effects like pitch shift or reverse to come up with some creative sounds, too.
Tip: Lego Walking Sounds
A real lego doesn’t make sounds when it walks, so in film world, you can make it whatever you want it to be. Sound fx libraries can use different terms, but common ones are “steps” and “footsteps”. Steps will be recorded with different types of shoes and on different surfaces through a process called Foley. Your legos could be walking in sneakers, high heels, flip flops, barefoot, or more – and they also could be on concrete, grass, solid wood floor, hollow wood, linoleum… you get the idea. The great part about animation is it can be whatever you want it to be!
If you want to add music to your videos and put it online (on Facebook, Youtube, etc) copyright is a concern. Facebook, for example, will block some videos if it recognizes copyright music. If you’re just doing it for yourself (or to send to family), it’s ok to use a commercial song but please purchase it. You can also search for “royalty-free music.” One site I like is Musopen.org.
Software to Add Sounds
To add sounds to a Lego animation movie (or any stop-motion animation), I would look for video software, not audio software. Most audio software (that’s simple enough for kids to use) is geared towards recording and some can’t load a video.
Video software, on the other hand, is designed to take a movie and change it (either by adding audio or adjusting the picture).
For Mac Users
For Mac I would absolutely recommend iMovie. It’s easy to use and it comes free with a lot of Macs. If you don’t have it, it’s under $15. You can even use it on a tablet although that may complicate getting sound fx.
For PC Users
Since I’m a Mac user, I can’t offer much personal help here (sorry…) but here’s some options I came across that may be worth trying. I would try a demo/free download if possible before purchasing.
How professionals do it
Professional sound people essentially use the same process to add sound effects to a film. Someone who does this for a living is called a “sound designer” or a “sound fx editor.”
A lot of sound designers record their own sounds, too. Ai-Ling Lee, one of the only women ever nominated for an Academy Award for Sound Editing, carries around a small sound recorder with her everywhere. Anytime she hears an interesting sound she records it. These sounds are edited and added to a sound fx library.
If you’re interested in recording your own sounds, a cell phone or tablet with a microphone is fine to get started! It’s really about learning to listen for interesting sounds or sounds you can’t find in a sound fx library but can’t use. Or, maybe you want to use the sound of your own cat or dog!