There’s been more VR content made in the past year than the last twenty combined, thanks to the emergence of the Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and other such virtual reality (VR) devices. There’s lots of innovation happening on the visual front, including new methods of gameplay, narrative structure and visual design. The obvious question: what’s happening on the audio front?
There are discussions about audio for VR across the Internet but most of them are related to the technology behind binaural/3D positional audio. There also is lots of academic research related to auditory interfaces spanning the past couple of decades. A search on Google Scholar will lead to lots of good material worth reading. [This post is focussed on first person game like environments, where audio-visual realism and synchronisation is necessary]
Over the past two and a half years I have been involved with Two Big Ears where we’ve been developing 3Dception, a very very efficient real-time and easy to use binaural audio engine that works everywhere (you can head to the website to watch and download demos). During this period I’ve had the opportunity to design sound for about fourteen augmented and virtual reality projects including games, interfaces for the visually impaired and audio led tourism apps. My experience so far, especially when working with binaural audio, has shown that some of the ‘tricks’ we take for granted in non-VR applications don’t work as well. This article is a summary of a few things that I’ve learnt, as a designer, when dealing with such technologies.
This article is by no means exhaustive. My hope is that it can be expanded as more sound designers experiment in this area. I’ve also made a copy of this article on a wiki which I hope to update as I continue work in this area (it is on wiki to facilitate community contribution!). I’m also currently working on a short playable game t
Photo cc: zoomar
While Designing Sound is snuggled firmly in the warm and cozy blanket of text articles; it’s not always the most convenient way to absorb information. Whenever I am walking on a hiking trail or making a long (or even short!) drive I don’t usually listen to music unless I am out of new podcast episodes! People may be aware of the podcasts we have covered and collaborated with recently but I thought it would be cool to wrap them all up into a nice little bundle for everyone!
Here’s a roundup of the sound design podcasts that I listen to regularly:
One of the main reasons to start this site back in 2008 and also one of the things that keeps me motivated to do this is the impact that some people had in my life; curiously, people who I haven’t met in person, but I’ve deeply met with my ears.
I’m talking about those sound designers who created initial routes for all of us and started to develop a truly amazing way of working with sound, by establishing the essence of this art, not just from a technical perspective but an emotional, narrative and even spiritual one. I’m so glad to make this post about about one of those sound genius, a person that I know many of us deeply admire, Alan Splet.
He had the main faculties any sound designer needs to have, as described by Splet’s widow Ann Kroeber: “attention to detail, nuance, perseverance, ability to vastly influence the mood of a scene by the choice and placement of sounds”.
Photo by: Lu Chiganer
Last month my friend Marc Mailand was showing me around his home studio (which is super sweet). We were discussing his surround setup and mentioned needing a surround panner and how expensive they are. I noticed the PS3 controller sitting on his desk and wondered out loud: “There has got to be some sort of DIY solution using a game joystick as a surround panner”. So when it came time to think up an article for this months topic of “Surround” I thought it would be eezy peezy to round up all of the DIY surround panners out there, only to find that it is a mythical beast!
That’s a lot of bass
Let’s talk about surround sound systems for a quick second, shall we?
A modern surround sound system, in its simplest form, consists of six channels; Left, Center, Right, Left Surround, Right Surround, and the Low Frequency Effect channel. The first five channels are all fairly self-explanatory, denoting the location of the speaker itself and the channel’s location in the sound field. That last one, the LFE, is a little bit more complicated.
Broken wax cylinder containing the ‘first’ film soundtrack circa 1894-1895
In ‘broken’ month I wanted to find out a little more about what’s being done to fix (and preserve) some of the broken pieces of film history. The story of the Dickson Experimental Sound Film (link to view at the end of the article) seemed to be a good way into the subject and I am indebted to Ken Weissman, supervisor of the film preservation lab at the Library of Congress, Jerry Fabris, museum curator at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park and Paul Spehr, author and film historian, for their help putting this article together.
As April comes to an end and we wrap up our topic for the month, “broken”, I wanted to take a moment and share something that I learned when I was first starting out, and something that I find myself having to remember quite often: how to react when everything starts to break.
We depend on a lot of complex technologies in our day-to-day lives, some more intricate and convoluted than others. As sound designers, we often find ourselves using even more complicated and specialized gear and equipment, adding to the complexity. While a lot of time and effort has gone into making these technologies work perfectly, the simple fact of the matter is that things have a tendency to break, often when you need them the most. As an old friend of mine likes to say, “Murphy was an optimist!”
I intended to have this up last week but recovering from GDC was a fulltime job and the proverbial dog ate my homework when Google Docs made the rough draft of this article disappear. However at the time of writing the GDC Vault has not updated with audio/video of the event so hopefully this post will have a more timely release around the same time as GDC Vault. All of the photos were taken on my phone (apologies!) except the above header which is courtesy of the GDC website.
Lets get to the talks!
The first day of GDC had the Audio Bootcamp hosted by good friends of Designing Sound: Garry Taylor and Damian Kastbauer. It was super super informative but the talks were super short and not the easiest to take notes during! So instead I live tweeted as much as I could so please check out my Twitter feed from around that time and more importantly check it out on the GDC Vault.
Guest Contribution by Michael Theiler of Kpow Audio
We always knew The Banner Saga was going to be something special. First contact with the guys behind it was so positive and just easy. Our meetings and emails hit all the rights notes creatively so much so we just knew it was going to be an exhilarating ride. We weren’t wrong. Working on a project with such rich creativity and depth behind it, paired with the encouragement and trust the team showed, buoyed us, and heightened our commitment to the project.
There were a few key areas we concentrated on when it came to the sound design of The Banner Saga. We wanted to pay particular attention to the ambiences of the locations in the game – to make them real and evocative and never distract the player from the game. We wanted to make sure the banner, which is always with you but changes in length depending on how the player is progressing, had gravitas and importance without overwhelming the player. Likewise for the scenes where travelling by cart is depicted, the cart sounds were incredibly important as they were the sounds of the population traversing vast distances, fleeing from a dark force. We needed the fighting sounds to be gritty and real, and for their special abilities to have a different sound to them. We wanted the fighters to feel like they were pulling their strength and concentration for their actions from an internal well of ancient power. Finally we wanted the UI to not draw too much attention to itself, to feel solid and real but distinct from the other in-game sounds.
I recently had a chance to sit down with sound designer and sound FX recordist Charles Maynes and chat about his new “LA Underground” sound library, available from Rabbit Ears Audio. Inspired by the gritty and seedy Los Angeles shown in countless films, “LA Underground” is a 10 GB collection of ambiences from all over the city, from the industrial centers near the LA River to the heart of Downtown.
Designing Sound: How did this library come about?
Charles Maynes: I had been talking to Zach Seivers and Justin Davey over at Snap Sound, who I had met through Dave Yewdall. Basically, a conversation I had with them last summer was kind of the seed for the conversation I eventually had with Michael [Raphael]. They had been hired to do a film in New York, and they were going to go out on location and record a bunch of stuff in the city and at the practical locations, and they were like, “Hey, this is a really big projects for us, so we’re going to actually invest in some Schoeps mics and stuff.” They were debating whether to go M/S or X/Y.