A few years ago, I wrote a tutorial on how to make your own custom GLaDOS style ringtones. With Portal 2 now upon us, I thought there might be some new test subjects that would be interested in this info. I’ve included the MP3s that I made in the post as well, just to give you an idea of what the results sound like.
Here’s the MP3 for text message and email notification. Enjoy!
What is it about a female voice, cooing out over a loudspeaker that we find so appealing? Fictional advisors and computers everywhere are voiced by sultry ladies: the computer from Star Trek: TNG, Andromeda, the Queens from Resident Evil, the Terrans from StarCraft. I racked my brain to think of a machine that was voiced by a man, and all I could come up with was KITT from Night Rider. Frankly, I was never a fan; too much attitude.
Ever since cell-phones have supported MP3 ringtones, I’ve fantasized about having a sonorous, digitized voice let me know that I was recieving a call.
And then I played Portal.
From the moment GLaDOS welcomed me to the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, I knew it had to be her. It wouldn’t suffice to extract her voice cues from the game. No. I needed more. I needed custom GLaDOS speech, specifically rendered for my cellular purposes.
Generating my own personal GLaDOS wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. After a bit of searching, I managed to find a few sources, mostly on Half-Life and Portal mod sites, that had attempted to re-create the effect. I wasn’t too impressed with the results, but it gave me a place to start.
1. Write your script
GLaDOS, being a psychopathic AI construct, has a very particular way of wording things. She wouldn’t just say “new voicemail”; she’s got too much personality for that. So when you’re deciding on what you want your custom ring to say, try to keep in mind how GLaDOS phrases her statements. Take a look at some Portal videos [or play the game] to familiarize yourself with the subtleties of her dialogue, and then get started. For this example, I’m going to have GLaDOS say:
“Oh joy. Voicemail has arrived.”
Simple and short enough to be a voicemail notification, but still possessing a bit of that saccharine humour that makes her lovable.
2. Text to speech
Valve used voice actor Ellen McLain as the voice behind GLaDOS [she's also the announcer in TF2 - "You failed!"] but since we don’t have her available, we’re going to do what the automotive industry has been doing for 25 years: replace people with robots.
Enter text-to-speech. I’m sure you’re all familiar with Microsoft Sam, or those annoying banners that appear on some less than kosher websites ["Type what you would like to say in the text box and I will say it."]. Text to speech is still a long way from sounding natural. But, for our purposes, this is practically ideal. There are numerous sources to get text to speech rendered online. Try TextAloud or AT&T. Just be sure that you’re not using the voice for commercial purposes to avoid legal issues!
These programs can be tricky. Often, the cadence won’t be right, or they’ll mispronounce certain words. With some tinkering, careful comma placement, and by spelling things out pho-net-ick-ah-lee you can subjugate these machines with your fleshy will. Once you have your notification phrased satisfactorily, save it as a .wav so we can get into the good stuff.
3. Audio Manipulation
Okay. So this part of the tutorial requires some pretty specific audio editing software. Notably, a program called Melodyne by Celemony. What we’re about to do is change the pitch of the individual syllables, so really, any pitch changing audio plug-in will work. But believe me when I say that Mellodyne is by far the best and the easiest. It’s got a great visual interface, but best of all it quantizes individual syllables for you.
Open up your .wav file from earlier in Melodyne. It should look something like this:
It will look different if you had the text to speech say something different, but the process is the same regardless.
First, press and hold on the Edit Pitch button [it's second from the left] and select Pitch Modulation from the drop down:
Press Ctrl-A to select all. Double click on the text field with the three dashes in it. This will allow you to enter an amount that we’re going to flatten out the pitch, so to speak. Type in -100 to flatten things out completely. Those lines that were jumping all over the place should now be entirely flat:
Next we’re going to adjust the Formant frequency. Click the tool that looks like a bar graph [it's the third from the left in the picture]. Click and drag the red bars that appear. Notice the value changing as you do so. Pull them up to anywhere between +100 and +120.
Give it a play; it’s already starting to sound more like her. Now comes the tricky part.
Make sure you deselect the project. You’ll notice that the words are broken into little chunks, and usually quite accurately around words and syllables. This is what makes Melodyne great. Using the select tool, just grab the individual chunks of dialogue, and drag them up and down to adjust the pitch. While this is technically simple, it requires a bit of finesse to get it to sound just right. You’re going to have to play with it a lot, and loop it until it sounds like GLaDOS. Don’t get discouraged. Go back and reference some of those portal videos if you need inspiration. Here are some tips to help you out:
- While GLaDOS’s voice can oscillate wildly, it tends to stay in and around one note for the majority of a sentence, with only a few growls and squeaks. I keep things in and around G4.
- She’ll often place the emphasis on the wrong syllable, so try dragging this piece really high, or really low to add emphasis.
- Sometimes, you’ll want to make a pitch change on part of a word or syllable that Melodyne hasn’t “chunked” automatically for you. To split it into one or more new pieces, use the Note Separation tool, and double click where you want to make the split. This is useful for creating what I call a trill – where her voice changes pitch subtly mid-syllable.
Here is what the final product should look like:
When you’re happy with what you have, save your work [both the .melo project file and the wav]. Note that Melodyne can only export as a .wav or .aiff. If you want an MP3 version, you’re going to need to convert it.
4. Post-production (optional)
While by no means necessary, there are a few things you might want to do to enhance the performance of your new ringtone. I bounced the MP3 files to my phone, only to find that even at max volume, they were kind of quiet. To fix this, I opened all the files in Cubase, cranked the track gain, and added a volume envelope to give it a boost. This is also a good time to insert silence at the end of your ring, so that when it loops, it doesn’t loop too quckly and get on your nerves. I also added a bit of reverb, but ended up taking it off the finished products because it just sounded muddy coming out of my phone’s tiny speaker.
And there you have it! Once you get the technique down, it’s quite easy to fire these off. Then you can be the object of every nerd’s affection with your own custom GLaDOS ringtones.
Thanks to Valve for making one of the best, albeit shortest, games of all time. If you want to check out the tutorials that inspired this check out the Archive and Thinking with Portals. Thanks to ErolComic.com for hosting this page.