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Exclusive Interview with Peter Miller, Sound Designer on “Rango”

Posted by on Apr 27, 2011 | 4 comments

“Rango” is ILM’s first animated feature. I was blown away by the level of detail in both the look and the sound design. Sound designer Peter Miller was kind enough to share his film making experiences with me.

Designing Sound: So how did you become involved in the project?

Peter Miller: I worked with Gore (Verbinski) on The Ring and we’ve wanted to work together since. I think he knew this film was right up my alley – he pitched it to me as Sergio Leone meets Hayao Miyazaki meets Carlos Castaneda. How could I refuse!? My good friend Craig Wood edits for Gore and the three of us have a great rapport in sound language. Both Gore and Craig are very sound-aware, and really great collaborators.

DS: How was it different working with the director on this film compared to the last?

PM: I think we kind of slotted quickly back into the way we worked on The Ring. We followed a similar process, even though Rango was a lot longer in creation. Gore is very much what I would call a ‘contributive’ director. He likes to be involved in as much of the process as he has time for. Typically, that means we start working very early on in the production time-line and discover our ideas together. It’s not a situation where he just gives a brief and then turns up for the final mix. Even though Rango is a comedy, I found the emotional requirements for the construction of The Ring and Rango oddly similar. In the same way as setting things up to scare an audience becomes a very subjective and intellectual exercise in a horror film, so does making people laugh in a comedy. After you’ve heard the jokes a few dozen times the initial funniness has worn off, so finding the humor takes a fairly cerebral approach. Which is not to say that we didn’t laugh a lot when we were making Rango – we just hoped the audiences would laugh at the same things.

DS: When did you start sound designing the film?

PM: I started on Rango in 2008, when the storyboard edit was almost complete. There had been some sound work already as the ideas came together, but Gore felt it was important to get me on-board as soon as he was able. I did some work on the ‘Metaphor’ sequence, where Rango is thrown between the cars on the highway, and the ‘Ritual’ where the townsfolk do their odd dance. Over the next months I also built a large library of atmospherics and fx and then went to Los Angeles later in the year when Craig came on. Craig mostly cuts with 5.0sound when he works, and we’ve found it a great way to start forming the shape of the final soundtrack. It is very unusual for sound people to be pulled into a project this early, and it is a measure of Gore’s great skill and commitment to sound that he insists on this happening.

During 2009, as the digital animation phase commenced, I worked from my studio in Australia providing sound effects and sequences as they were needed. In July 2010 I traveled back to the US for the next 7 months to complete the sound. At this time the full sound crew came on-board and I was very fortunate to have as my co-Supervising Sound Editor an old friend, Addison Teague, who I had worked with previously on ‘The Ring’. Addison headed a very talented sound crew from Skywalker Sound, and together we set about realizing Gore’s vision for Rango.

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Rodney Gates Special: Designing Vehicle Audio for “Transformers: War For Cybertron”

Posted by on Apr 26, 2011 | 4 comments

[Written by Rodney Gates for Designing Sound]

Home Digs

“Transformers” is a mega-hit franchise for Hasbro with a huge fan base fueled by cartoons that beckoned to us in our formative years during the 80’s. The battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons has raged on for decades now, with seemingly no end in sight, and we still line up to see it, be it new toy line, game, and movie releases.

When Activision handed down the “Transformers” mantle to us after “The Bourne Conspiracy” was released, we knew this was going to be quite a bit different than anything the studio had done before…and FUN. Finally I had the chance to work in the science fiction genre, something I’d always wanted to do.

In the very beginning, we weren’t sure what the story was going to be, but that didn’t stop us from jumping in and recording a new library’s worth of material in a few short weeks. Much of that was in anticipation of creating a whole new soundscape of material that didn’t exist much in our libraries with the prior game titles we had worked on. Fun times indeed!

As the vehicle technology behind the “Bourne” game’s Mini Cooper was being expanded and improved to make a vehicle mode viable for Transformers combat and transportation, I began editing all of the best vehicle source we had from the overused commercial libraries most sound people are familiar with out there. As anyone who’s done this knows, there isn’t much to work with. At least much that’s usable from a game standpoint. Still, I prided myself on getting all sorts of tractor trailer squeaks and hisses ready for Optimus Prime and muscle car engine audio ready for Bumblebee.

However, we soon learned that the story of the game wasn’t going to take place on Earth at all. Instead, the focus would be on the Transformers’ home world, Cybertron, as we jumped into the story of what happened before coming to Earth, an area not thoroughly-covered by Hasbro’s existing canon.

This was exciting news indeed.

With the robots no longer needing the ability to transform into human-designed vehicles for disguise purposes as they did on Earth, this opened up the sonic palette quite a bit to experiment with what it might sound like for these Cybertronian citizens to zip around in their own vehicle form, aligned with their own advanced civilization and technology.
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The Recordist Releases North Idaho Wind HD

Posted by on Apr 25, 2011 | 0 comments

The Recordist has released North Idaho Wind HD, a bundle of three new libraries of wind recordings, including Forest Wind HD, Frigid Wind HD and Corn Stalk Wind HD.

North Idaho Wind HD | $50 | 31 files | 1.46GB | 24-Bit 96kHz

Forest Wind HD contains 10 elegant 24-Bit 96kHz wind sounds from some intense windstorms here in North Idaho. Recorded over 3 distinct seasons it has blowing wind through tall fir trees with leaves and without. With slight howling and long sweeping gusts this wind demonstrates the open and dynamic forest landscape here in the North Western part of the US. Recorded with a Sound Devices 702 and a Sanken CSS-5 (Normal and Wide mode).

Frigid Wind HD contains 12 24-Bit 96kHz freaking cold wind sound effects from my field, garden and woods in North Idaho. Recorded with a Sound Devices 702 and Sanken CSS-5 during one of the coldest days of the winter in early 2011. The snow pack was hard and the wind was blowing with gusts that nearly froze my face off as I was standing out in the open with mic in hand. I was able to get the wind through my garden fence and whipping through the utility wires overhead. Another location was right out my back door on my porch which was getting hammered by the wind as it blew throught the bushes and trees. I’ll never forget how cold it was that day as it was for the record book.

Corn Stalk Wind HD contains 9 24-Bit 96kHz wind through dry corn stalk sound effects from my feeble attempt at a corn garden on my ranch here in North Idaho. Recorded during an elevated wind event with a Sound Devices 702 and a Sanken CSS-5 along with a Sony PCM-D1. The corn had long since died off but was still standing tall. I was making a last walk through of the garden before the colder temperatures set in and noticed the wonderful noises coming from the corn section. I was not sure how long the wind was going to last so I ran and got my PCM-D1 and sat low near the stacks and started recording. I was pleased with the results for the most part but decided I needed more wind protection for the mics. I switched to the Sanken CSS-5 and continued recording for another hour. A lot of the recordings were not usable but I was able to pick out sections that were pretty good. So, here they are.

Each library can be purchased separately at $20.

Servo, New SFX Library of Chuck Russom FX (Q&A Included)

Posted by on Apr 25, 2011 | 0 comments

Chuck Russom FX has released Servo, a new library loaded with more than 600 small machine/motor sounds recorded from 20 different sources.

A collection of small machine/motor sounds, the Servo Sound Library features sounds from a variety of sources. Motors from powered car seats, power tools, kitchen appliances, cameras, and many more props were recorded, often in multiple ways, to produce this diverse collection of sounds. The result is a library full of sounds ready to be used for robots, sci fi devices, industrial machines, and anything else your imagination can come up with.

Servo | $70 $60 | 619 sounds | 24-Bit 192kHz (96kHz version included as well) | sound list

Below you can find more information, obtained in a Q&A with Chuck, who talked about several things, including this new release, the anniversary of the company and future plans.

DS: What inspired you to do this library?

CR: I had planned to do a servo library a year ago, when I started releasing libraries. I even had it all recorded, it just needed to be edited and prepped for release, but it just sat on my drive. Over the course of the year, I kept putting it off while other opportunities popped up. I think I was planning that I was going to release a metal library, then rocks, then servos.

Probably the biggest reason it kept getting delayed, is that my first metal library (Metal FX) turned out to be just one part of a larger collection of metal that I had planned, so after every library I released, I’d go back to recording more metal. So far, I’ve released 2 parts and am working on my 3rd metal library now.

Last month I was visiting Skywalker Sound and I got to hear some C3P0 movement sounds. Just the raw SFX tracks, outside of a mix. They were simple sounds (I think I remember reading that Ben Burtt originally created these with an electric car window or something), but in context they work really well. It inspired me to get back an finish this servo library. So I went back to those recordings that I did a year ago, figuring that all I needed was some editing and I was done, but I wasn’t that thrilled with them anymore. They were ok, probably fine to release, but I felt I could do better. So I recorded everything for this release fresh.

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Pitch Shift Vs. Speed Shift

Posted by on Apr 25, 2011 | 1 comment

Colin Hart has posted an interesting article over on his website. The article is in response to an idea that David Sonnenschein and I discussed when talking about Colin’s winning entry in January’s Sound Design Challenge. Specifically, we were wondering if there was a perceivable difference between a 192k recorded file when it was pitch shifted via plug-in processing, or when it had been forced to play back at a slower sample rate. It’s an interesting idea to consider in the design process.

One of the things I like to do in my sound design is to record at 192k. It opens up a world of options to you – you can do lots of cool things like major pitch shifting (since 192k will capture up to 96kHz, and most pro recorders are capable of 40 – 50k) and major time stretches (since you have 4x the data as 48k) without incurring any major sonic degradation. I love recording at 192kHz and then forcing it to play back at 44.1kHz. You get a lot of really cool sounds – some very deep, yet sonically full sounds.

Head over to Colin’s site to find out the results of his experiment.

Norio Ohga, “Father of the CD,” dead at 81

Posted by on Apr 25, 2011 | 0 comments

Just a brief note of sound design-y import: MSNBC reports that Norio Ohga, president of Sony in the 80s and early 90s and (nominally) “Father of the Compact Disc” has died of multiple organ failure.  He was 81.

Ohga is generally cited as being the primary industry champion for the Compact Disc-Digital Audio system, the “Red Book” CD or just plain “audio CD” to you and me. It’s to Ohga that most sources attribute the choice of the running time and recording dimensions of the CD, 74 minutes of 44,100 hz (actually 44,056 hz), 16-bit stereo audio; for many years a legend circulated that Herbert von Karajan had suggested the 74 minute running time in order to accommodate his recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony “Choral,” but this was always apocryphal and probably invented by an over-aggressive marketer at Phillips, Sony’s partner in the development of the CD.  The CD-R and CD-ROM quickly followed on after the original CD-DA standard in 1980, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Ohga had originally trained as an opera singer, and had been hired by Sony after writing them an angry letter complaining about the quality of their reel-to-reel tape machines in the 1960s; he remained interested in hifi sound his entire life.  He’s also credited with focusing Sony on content creation as much as consumption, using his tenure as Sony CEO to buy Columbia Pictures, CBS Records, and creating Sony’s Playstation unit.

The choice of lossless linear PCM for the CD, a simple and royalty-free format, infinitely reproducible and unencumbered with effective copy protection, was obvious and practical at the time, but would have extraordinary repercussions for us and everyone else in the business of professional recording. Because of the audio format, the CD was the first widespread consumer format that could be used practically by professionals, and it was–for the first time an amateur, at home, with nothing more than a consumer computer and consumer disc recorder, could produce recordings of as high a quality as a professional, and this recording could be played in any middle-class living room or car. The fact that sound could be “ripped” off a CD at full fidelity in non-real time, unlike any tape format, revolutionized what most old-timers tended to think of as the “sound library.”

The ease of ripping also made massive, widespread and decentralized content piracy a reality, and I think it’s not too strong a claim to say that CD ripping initiated the debates we now have over copyright, the rights of copyright holders, the putative right to “mash-up” and repurpose recordings without a proper license, and the practicalities of maintaining a copyright regime in an era where massive amounts of audio can be copied across the globe, at marginal cost, with modest equipment available to any 9-year-old.  I’m sure none of this occurred to Ohga at the time, but in retrospect he stands at the very crux of these developments. What if the CD had been a few years late in development, or Ohga had demanded a two-hour run-time, and so Sony proposed the CD contain ATRACS audio instead of PCM?  Perhaps then the CD would have just been MiniDisk 0.9…

Take a moment and reflect on how different the last 20 years would have been if you’d bought your music on digital cassette, you’d bought all your libraries on DAT, and your only choice for archiving your libraries was a PCM-F1, DASH or ProDigi tape.

For more on the compact disc check out Pohlmann.

Rodney Gates Special: Creating Hand-to-Hand Combat Audio for “Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy”

Posted by on Apr 22, 2011 | 6 comments

[Written by Rodney Gates for Designing Sound]

Jason Bourne – One Skilled Fighter

Jason Bourne is one of my favorite characters brought to the silver screen in the early 2000’s. More realistic and practical than James Bond, he made for a great character to watch.

I loved the tightly-choreographed fight scenes in the films, so when we set out to begin development of a game version of this character and his story, I was totally excited. After all, I already had a “Bourne Supremacy” poster on the wall in my office. :)

PAF, BOOM, BAM!

We knew the hand-to-hand combat aspect of Bourne was going to be a large component of the game. The animators, designers and programmers created an extensive fighting system over the dev cycle to help bring this to life.

There were rapid light and heavy punches, kicks & blocks, combined with slowed-motion, quick-time event takedown moves for multiple assailants, as well as the seemingly-endless contextual takedowns moves you could perform on all manner of objects and structures around you. With the expert attention to detail and proper framing, these were highly-cinematic events that were cool to watch unfold onscreen.

Creating the sound for this part of the game was a playground for the Audio team, and I for one had a blast.
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SFX Lab #1: Experiments on Pressure, Blow Holes

Posted by on Apr 22, 2011 | 5 comments

Welcome to SFX Lab, the “laboratory” of sound effects, a place dedicated to experiment and explore sound libraries with the goal of learning different kinds of sounds and some of its morphing features.

We take libraries of a certain theme and put them through some experiments. Think about not only what you will learn, but also for what your ears are obtaining. Some time ago, I read an inspiring interview of Walter Murch, where he said:

“Never before in history, before the invention of recorded sound, had people possessed the ability to manipulate sound the way they’d manipulated color or shapes. We were limited to manipulating sound in music, which is a highly abstract medium. But with recorded material you can manipulate sound effects—the sound of the world—to great effect. In the same way that painting, or looking at paintings, makes you see the world in a different way, listening to interestingly arranged sounds makes you hear differently.”

So, that’s the goal of this. To never stop hearing new sounds and researching them in depth. Exploring from these thematic libraries is a great way to train ourselves and teach us a lots of new things about the sounds we use, the many things we can find in a single collection of sounds and what we can derivate from them, etc. If you don’t learn anything from the text, just think about this section as an art gallery in the street. You can go there to hear see the pieces and allow your mind to explore.

HISS and a ROAR Pressure

One thing I love from these kind of sfx packages is that you never stop exploring the content. Think about this as not only a variety of material for fabricating new designs but also about how much you can explore such a complete palette of sounds and learn what these objects can do.

The variation of performances, perspectives, tools, gear and processes are really valuable things that teach you a lot about real life sounds, and of course when it comes to design, what you have is a lot of control and more accurate sources.

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New Webinars: Secrets for Great Film Sound with David Sonnenschein and Ric Viers

Posted by on Apr 22, 2011 | 1 comment

David Sonnenschein and Ric Viers are back again with “Secrets for Great Film Sound” webinar series.

Learn the essential tools and techniques from the best in the business!

  • How do you talk to the producer to get the gig in the first place?
  • What kind of prep can you do with the script to keep under budget and get the best recordings?
  • What gear and techniques do you need to solve those tricky dialogue scenes?
  • How can you integrate your skills with the picture editor and music composer?
  • What tools are available to help audio support character, emotion and story?

COMPLIMENTARY 1 Hour WEBINAR

Wed. April 27, 6pm (Pacific) Session – Sign Up HERE

Thur. April 28, 9am (Pacific) Session – Sign Up HERE

More info at sounddesignforpros.com