Here are the questions made by the readers and answered by our special guest Jamey Scott.
Designing Sound Reader: You said you enjoy building scenes from scratch. Where do you like to start? Background to foreground? Foreground to background?
Jamey Scott: I prefer background to foreground. Frequently background stuff gets discarded as mixes get bigger, but I like to have it to work with.
DSR: How heavily baffled is your ADR recording room? Is the ideal space for ADR a completely dead room, or do you like having reflections in it for options?
JS: My ADR room is relatively small with 702 fiberglass on the walls and a cloth covering, so reflections are minimized. There’s a window, but I usually have it covered with a thick curtain to eliminate bounce. My ADR recordings don’t have any reflection problems and there is no “room sound” in them, so I think it’s a better way to go for flexibility rather than having a built in sound. You can always give it color later but you can’t take it out, so it’s important to record as dry as possible, in my opinion.
DSR: Which type of mouse do you use? Are you a trackball or classic mouse user? How do you mix string swells and emotional music where you “feel” your way through the faders with a mouse?
JS: I just use a regular old optical mouse.. $9.95 @Frys. I’ve tried to get used to trackballs as a lot of friends swear by them, but I never could. When I make fader moves with music, I use the virtual faders in ProTools and just move them up and down with the mouse. Frequently though, I get better results just tweaking the automation envelopes.
DSR: What’s your favorite compressor/EQ in Pro Tools for dialogue mixing?
JS: For dialog, I normally use the Digi EQ7, though I’ve been known to use Filterbank quite a bit too. Just depends on the sound of the source and what I’m going for. For compression, I use very transparent things in general, such as the Waves Rcompressor and MV2. I try to stay away from compressors on film dialog as I generally prefer a traditional sound but in games, it’s sort of unavoidable, so I try to use things like MV2 which brings out the lower stuff a little more gracefully than a brute compressor.
DSR: What is your favorite noise reduction plug-in or hardware for reducing background noise for dialogue tracks?
JS: I just love Izotope RX2. It’s freaking magic.
DSR: Do you have a track limit for the amount of sounds you combine for a sound design element?
JS: Limit? No. Whatever it takes, right? I’ve never exhausted my primary HD3 system on a single serious of sounds, if that’s what you mean.
DSR: What sort of word clock or synchronization do you use with your Pro Tools I/Os?
JS: I clock and redistribute through an Apogee Big Ben off of my SyncIO. I have a lot of systems to sync so I need that extra distribution source.
DSR: What sort of outboard gear do you own and use often, if any?
JS: I’ve pretty much eliminated all of my outboard hardware over the years. I used to have so much, but as new plug ins come out and I get comfortable using them, I generally phase out the hardware equivalents and just end up donating them or selling them. I still keep some FX boxes around like my TC Fireworx which has some things in it that I haven’t been able to replace with plugins yet, but I’m sure that eventually it’ll go away too. Makes a great D/A converter anyway :)
DSR: Do you use any type of mastering or “sweetening” on your film or video game mixes?
JS: I have a last pass mastering stage on my primary mix bus that I use on everything. It includes the Waves 360 plugs that I use for bass management and crossover points. I also do a last pass limiting stage here. However, I don’t ever compress or anything like that on my master. I know a lot of music mixers do that, but I find it introduces an uncontrollable variable and I don’t like that. I try to maximize my dynamic range and I do that with disciplined mixing instead of compressors.. takes a little more time, but it’s worth it.
DSR: Do you cross-check your mixes on any other types of systems or alternate sets of speakers in your mix room?
JS: I only really mix 5.1, so that limits the venues that I can test in. I do however, have 2 home theater systems in my house that I sometimes check on. I’ve also taken a lot of my predubs to mix on studio stages over the years so I’ve become pretty keenly aware of where my system’s strengths and weakness’ are. I’ve been working in my room and speakers for almost 8 years now, so any time you mix on a system with that amount of frequency and time, you know how your mixes are going to translate and I’ve certainly gained that perspective over time to the point that I don’t really need to reference check. I do to satisfy client curiosity, but that’s about it.
DSR: What do you use to monitor iPhone games you sound design? Do you have a way of loading the sounds onto the phone and playing them back as if you’re playing the game?
JS: Heh… yeah, I email myself the sound and then play it through the phone. Very unsophisticated, but it works :)
DSR: Even when you are designing and mixing a film or video game by yourself, do you still pre-dub or do you mix in a session with all of the elements so it’s easy to go back and forth from the units as opposed to going back and having to open pre-mix sessions to change something?
JS: Good question. Every mix situation is different. You should check out the workflow tutorial I recorded for this feature series as I talk about that quite a bit. To sum up, for small mixes, I create ballparked stems and then mix them in a master stem session. For larger mixes, I mix on 2 machines and have all of my tracks live, stemming out to a dubbing recorder. If my clients want to mix on a stage, I do a very advanced predubs and rent a stage pretty much just for sanity check, but I rarely rent out stage time for builds and predubbing. It’s a waste of money, and my studio translates extremely well, so there’s really no need.
DSR: How do you archive your projects once you’re done? What type of long-term backup media are you using for your projects? Do you back up your projects as you’re working on them and what type of storage do you have?
JS: I have a NAS system connected to my network which has mirrored, hot-swappable drives. My systems back up nightly using ChronoSync, but when a project is completed, I optimize the sessions, get rid of the junk, and then back them up to two drives, one I keep in a safe deposit box, and the other in a vault at my studio. I keep them indefinitely because you never know.
DSR: What program or software do you use to handle picture and timing changes?
JS: I’m still doing it old school style, reading off an EDL. I’ve yet to use software that does it reliably and because I automate things on my master busses which don’t get included on region checks, I have to move them by hand anyway so until I’m fully convinced that a software solution can do it reliably, I just do it manually or I have an assistant do it.
15. I asked Aaron Marks this one when he was interviewed here, but I’d like your opinion as well. Do you find that the video game industry is moving toward specialization, i.e. hiring certain people only for GUI sfx and other people only for weapon sfx, etc. or do you find the industry prefers the “one-stop shop” for sound effects, hiring one person/team for the whole package?
JS: I think it varies based on the scope of the games that the developers are doing. For smaller, handheld games, I say one-stop-shops are the way to go. Saves money, employs guys for a long time, and everyone’s happy. For AAA console games, it’s advantageous to split it up to get the best guys working on the best aspects. Sometimes devs have many people attack the same aspect and let the game designer listen to all of the concepts and then determine which way is the best way to go. I see a lot of that these days and although it has the potential to create a schizophrenic sound concept, it can certainly be beneficial by providing a large palette of options. I think a lot of people spend a lot of time trying to predict trends and patterns but the truth is, every developer is going to evolve into a system that works for them. For some it’s contracted out, others want it all in-house. There are no rules and you should use that knowledge to empower yourself to do what you want, how you want it done. I hated depending on company budgets to determine what kind of gear I used, so I decided to build a kick ass mix stage and work from home and that’s what I did. There will always be developers who will give you a chance to prove your worth in whatever form you’re offering it, so create a plan for yourself, and when the time comes to offer what you’ve got, be sure you can back it up and make your clients keep coming back for more of it. That’s how it’s done… trends be damned!
DSR: Related to the question above but do you see that changing in the future, 1, 5, 10 years down the road?
JS: I’ve only experienced the game industry in an upward momentum. There were a few down times but in general, the game industry has grown immensely over the past 20 years. It’s taking over the sphere of media influence that most of us hoped for a long time ago but never really imagined could really happen. If my kids are any example, they’d rather play a video game than see a movie or watch tv 9 times out of 10. Same with all of their friends. So that’s the generation that will determine future demand of media and my sense is that games will dominate from here on out. Eventually, movie making may evolve into an interactive form and regain some ground, but I think it’s pretty clear that the medium itself is going to have a hard time competing with interactive entertainment. That said, I think the 10 year forecast for games is pretty bright. I think games will become more ambitious both artistically and theatrically and there are going to be some incredible opportunities for hip and innovative sound people. I can’t predict what form that will be in, whether it will be specialized, in-house, contracted, or whatever, but I have my plan and that is to keep on doing what I’m doing, learn as much as I can, and keep pushing to improve both personally and as a contributor to the larger picture.
DSR: Also, I notice recently there’s been quite a rise of small-scale SFX libraries popping up, a number of which are highlighted here on Designing Sound. Do you find these being used more and more, or are the large cover-all libraries still the standard? Similarly, what sort of percentage of SFX do you create for an average game? Is it more or less than in film?
JS: I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer this questions because I specialize in custom solutions and signature sounds. I’m mostly hired for the things that need to sound unique or give a game a signature sound so I use library material in a very limited way. As a sound worker, it’s great to have a big library and know where everything is, but as a sound designer, you’re more of a craftsman and library is just one tool in your quiver. I would not say that there is anything standard anymore. Games that use the same old tired sounds get clobbered in the reviews, so you really need to bring a more exciting and innovative game to the table if you want to work as a game sound designer.
DSR: Lastly, do you have any creative ideas for how to get into the industry when you don’t live in any of the “big” cities a la LA, Seattle, NYC? For example, I live in Minneapolis and will have to remain here for a few more years and I’d really like to start establishing myself but don’t have anywhere near the opportunities, at least in the video game industry. Are there any good ways to get a hold of small games developers, like a “gamasutra” of little guys. Thank you very much for taking the time both to interview and to answer!
I recently hired an assistant who lived in the north midwest area. He basically attended engineering school and then moved out to LA and hit me up for an internship. He proved his worth as an intern so I hired him and now he’s my right hand man on a AAA game. It ultimately comes down to your skills and your professionalism. You can find opportunities as a remote freelancer for small things like iPhone games. That’s actually pretty easy these days as there are so many game developers and the audio needs aren’t tremendously demanding. You should really focus in on what you do best, demonstrate it and then hustle to get work and impress potential clients. Eventually you’ll either land a job or a client or something that starts to open more doors for you. Persistence is rarely unrewarded.
DSR: Hey Jamey. First thing. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us. Second, I’m interested in knowing more about the way you use QuicKeys in your daily work (I’m also a big fan of this program). Thanks in advance!
JS: My pleasure! I’m glad that there is an audience for this stuff. I use quickkeys for anything that I would have to otherwise do repetitively. For example, if I have a bunch of files that I need to separate with a gap on a time line, I’ll create a quickkey sequence which selects the region, nudges it by a set amount, selects the next region, and then loop it by a specified number. Saves tons of time. Also for keys that I find ergonomically confounding, like zoom…I use that more than anything so having to reach across the keyboard for it just won’t do. I assign my control-z and control-x for that so that it’s right under my left hand at all times. There’s tons of them and I frequently make them on the fly to avoid repetitive gestures.
DSR: As a Sound Designer do you also have to work with software such as Fmod to organise and code your audio or is that done by someone else? A lot of games now use the real-time processing of audio do you try and record everything as dry as possible?
JS: There’s a significant distinction between “sound designer” and “technical sound designer”, which deals with sound design from the implementation aspect which is becoming significantly more prevalent these days with the new middleware packages. I am not an ace at these programs but I have designed many custom game audio engines that have similar functions that these programs excel at so I have a great grasp of the underlying concepts. I’ve sort of steered my career towards a creative content provider so the more I work doing that, the less likely I am to have the opportunities to get really deep with these programs. I like doing that kind of work, but it’s just not where I’m at in my career at this point. As far as how dry I create my source, I generally have some sort of ambience in most of my sound. I use ambience to define a global character to the sound of a game or film. I’m not talking about long reverb tails as game engines are getting really good at that now and it’s a waste of memory to have long tails on sounds, but in terms of the actual character of a sound, I definitely use early reflections and I even use specific frequency feedbacks and buildups to my designs for interesting colors.
DSR: Let’s say you get a new video game to work on, what kind of visual do you receive? Screenshots, unrendered or rendered cinematics, a pre-built alpha version of the game? Do you automatically have to send your files to the programmer or you have a sandbox to test them quickly in an environment that is interactive? Great articles. Thanks a lot.
JS: Every situation is different. When I’m an audio director, I get daily builds of the games and I stay involved on a daily basis here at my facility. When I’m sound designer, I usually get movies of ingame events that I create sound to and then I mock up how they should sound when implemented. When I do concept designs for things that aren’t in the games yet, I work from sketches or even audible descriptions, so it spans the possibilities. I recently created cinematic soundtracks for Risk Factions off of a script which was then animated to after the audio production was complete!