Sound for Scarehouses – A Chat with Dreadnoise’s Liam Booth

Scarehouse attractions are deeply immersive and entertaining attractions for live entertainment. You enter into a haunted house or farm and are plunged into an adrenaline-fuelled, fear-addled experience that will have you running for the exit.

The sound design combines music with chainsaws, music boxes, screams and other frights to make your hairs stand on end, but one particular sound designer has been looking to take this a step further.

Scottish Sound Designer & Composer Liam Booth has created Audio Armor, a wearable motion-controlled audio/visual system for use in the live attraction and entertainment industry. Liam used our Krotos Starter Library to help bring this awesome tech to life and we caught up with him to hear all about it!

Hey Liam! Tell us a bit about your background in sound design.

I first learned about sound design during my undergraduate studies in Audio System Engineering at GCU (Glasgow Caledonian University). We got given a module on sound for film where we had to create the soundtrack for a 2-minute zombie animation.

This was a very interesting subject for me, as each student’s variation on the soundtrack proved how crucial sound design is in conveying the emotion of a scene. Keep things minimalistic and the scene seems eerie and suspenseful, or give the scene a massive fast-paced glitch fest of a track and it becomes this intense action thriller. 

Sound Design resonated with me the most out of all the different industry sectors. After graduating, I decided to pursue a master’s in sound design at Edinburgh University. This was a fantastic course and heavily reinforced my passion for the art. From here, Dreadnoise and the concept of Audio Armor was born. 

Liam in character at one of the scarehouse experiences he has worked on

What projects have you worked on in your career?

My main focus in sound design is on the live attractions and entertainment industry, which came from a lifelong love of theme parks and all things spooky.

My family would take me to Alton Towers every year, and when I was older we started to attend their Scarefest event, which featured “scare attractions” that are essentially horror-themed walkthroughs with sound, lighting, special effects, theming, and of course, live actors. 

Over the past 8 years, I myself have performed as an actor in these scare attractions, such as the city-wide zombie chase game 2.8 hours later, four seasons at Alton Towers Scarefest, and a whole host of special events with the scare acting agency Scare Scotland.

Scare acting is probably the most fun I will ever have. There’s just something special about seeing the joy/terror in a customer’s face as you stampede towards them with a chainsaw! 

Just like with the sound for film module, I realized while working in these attractions how important sound design is to setting the scene and telling the story.

I have loved challenging myself over the years by creating concept attractions, and through only sound design and composition, attempt to create a vivid picture of what the story is about.

Last year I sold my first collection of sound design works to Screamfest Burton-on-Trent for their new attraction “Creed Farm”, and I can’t wait to work on more. 

How did Audio Armor come to life?

In October of 2019, I had just started my master’s and was also performing at a scare attraction in England for the Halloween season. While performing, I was trying to come up with some ideas as to what I could do for my project. I knew I wanted to relate it to the attraction industry but wasn’t sure as to what it required.

I was performing alongside an Alien character who was dressed in a high-quality full-body costume, and a terrifying big silicone mask that moved with your face. This character’s visuals were very intense, but I realised while performing alongside it that something was missing, and that thing was sound. 

This big brooding Alien should’ve had ground rumbling steps, bone-cracking limb movement, and a deathly shriek, but the character didn’t have the ability to create these sounds. It was equivalent to watching a horror film with the sound on mute.

From there, I decided I would try and create a sound tool that reinforced these characters, to increase their immersiveness. 2 years later, it’s just about ready to go! 

How do you aim for this technology to change the immersive experience of scare attractions?

Although Audio Armor was initially created to make big scary characters even scarier, the versatility of the technology means that it can be used in all aspects and genres of entertainment, whether that be for reinforcing a characters sound, subtly controlling sound effects and lighting around you while storytelling, or even street performance due to its portability. 

The current industry standard for controlling effects in attractions is for actors to press “actor buttons” hidden around the room, and then perform along to these sequences.

This can be done quite well in attractions such as The Dungeons, but it makes the experience very copy-paste, giving the actors little freedom as to speed and position of the performance.

Here is where Audio Armor changes the game. You don’t perform along to Audio Armor, it performs along to you, allowing you to focus more on your actual performance, which in turn gives guests a better experience. 

You used Krotos Sound Effects Libraries to bring your technology to life. Can you tell us a bit about the sounds you have used from this library?

After seeing Krotos starter library at such a great price, I had to grab it and see what I could do with it. I used the element pack to create the fiery movement of the Wickerman, the Bengal tiger samples to create the Humanimal, and the fantastic weapons samples to create a selection of finger guns. 

What is it about Krotos sound effects that you felt were best suited for this project? 

The Krotos starter library was an amazing inspiration for the selection of characters that I created. I had initially planned some lower-key presets due to the limited nature of my own sample recordings, but with the huge variety of sounds that Krotos offers, I was free to come up with much more rich and dynamic presets.

Sounds like the exotic animals and weaponry are samples I will probably never be able to record myself without spending a fortune, so having access to such high-quality packs is very helpful. I can’t wait to try out more of the Krotos packs and see what characters can be created. 

What were your favourite sounds from the library and why?

It has to be the gun sounds. When I first created the finger gun presets on Audio Armor I couldn’t stop laughing as I felt like a big kid making finger guns that actually sounded realistic.

It’s so much fun to play with and really helped reinforce why I created this in the first place, to bring joy to people through an immersive experience. 

Without giving too many secrets away, can you provide a brief overview of how these sounds are implemented?

Audio Armor offers a selection of different sample players depending on what the user wants to do with the samples.

There are one-hit players for things such as footsteps, dynamic volume loopers used for such things as the fire movement of the Wickerman or the cracking bones of Humanimal, or even sustainer which allows a specified area of a sample to be smoothly sustained for as long as the user wants, which is what I used for the Bengal tiger recordings, the flamethrower and machine guns.

On top of this, each of these players can load a full sample library, allowing for different samples to be triggered each time so there’s no horrible repetition to ruin the immersiveness. There are a couple of other players that will give the user even more control over the samples, but I will keep them a secret for the moment being!

What’s next for Dreadnoise & Audio Armor?

Audio Armor will be moving onto commercial development, with the hope that it will be able to launch later this year.

I will be attending this year’s Scarecon at Thorpe Park in early May, so anyone who is attending can come and have a shot for themselves. Apart from that, I will be uploading a lot more content over the coming months showing off the versatility of Audio Armor through some fun little challenge videos, which will hopefully involve many more of the Krotos sound packs!

For more information on Dreadnoise:

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Want more Haunted Attraction ideas? Take look at the video below!

Design Sound for Haunted House Attractions with Dan Bieranowski

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