A personal journey through sound.

DIY Bodyfall Dummy

Posted: July 16th, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized

About two years ago, I built a bodyfall dummy, inspired by one made by Mike O’Connor. Mine just had a torso and arms; plenty to generate lots of rhythmic variations. I wound up not using it then, but I recently busted the dummy back out and did a quick outdoor session for an indie sci-fi horror game I’m working on. The dummy’s name is AAE-9173, most folks’ least-favorite Pro Tools error code.

The video below contains the cleaned-up, lightly-mastered impacts, recorded with a Sennheiser MKH50 (a CO-100K was also used, but the ultrasonic content was neither extensive nor useful). Details on its extremely low-budget, DIY construction are below.

In thinking about how to build up enough mass to make it sound realistic, but be light enough to manage, it occurred to me that I was also trying to get rid of books and old magazines that local agencies didn’t want. That became the basis for the “guts” of the dummy. I found a paint-stained longsleeve shirt in my closet, and measured my own torso and arms to ensure that I build the inner parts to provide a good fit.

Most of the old books I wanted to get rid of were really thick hardbacks, and I knew those covers would sound wooden or slappy if they were just put into the dummy. I used a miter saw to cut off the book bindings, duct-taped the pages together, and that formed the torso. To make sure there was a slightly absorbent “skin” over the books, I wrapped the entire assemblage in a few layers of closed-cell foam sheets (which I had left over from my stop-motion animation days).

For the arms, each arm segment was a duct-taped bunch of rolled up magazines, also wrapped in closed-cell foam. The foam that holds the upper and lower arms together is one arm’s-length sheet, providing for elbow-like articulation…a bit stiff, but we’re not building a posable mannequin here. I sealed the wrists and waist of the shirt with duct tape. The bulk of the material within the shirt was enough to keep it all in place without falling out.

Where to do the recording was frustrating; inside, I have suspended hardwood floors (wrong resonance), and the transients would active the room modes of any place in my home. Outside was the concrete surface I needed to record on, there was a lot of traffic and neighborhood noise…birds, too. What saved the day was having the mics really close to the impact zone. The dummy weighs 40 pounds, so the impacts are beefy and quite loud. With some judicious edits, the signal to noise ratio wound up being just fine without any need for de-noising.

The best thing about this project was knowing that my back issues of Tape Op magazine would continue providing sonic goodness!

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