Since embarking on my informal game sound study of footsteps and movement sound, things have continued to develop in a remarkable way. What started casually, quickly spiraled into a lengthy debate involving many people and uncovering some interesting patterns.
I recently reprised a presentation I gave at GDC this year at my local IGDA chapter in an attempt to share the findings of the initial study and continue the discussion with some of the new information gleaned in the meantime. If you missed it at GDC or are interested in some of the additional insights that came out, this presentation breaks down the fundamentals and unique considerations that emerge across a diverse cross section of game genre’s and uncovers some curiosities and aesthetic choices .
It may be not so surprising to have found people who feel passionate about the role footsteps play, but it’s no less fascinating to hear how deep people’s experiences go, and how willing they are to share their perspectives. What once seemed like a small part of game audio, has taken on a whole new light after being placed under the microscope. I’m thankful to everyone who has contributed to the conversation during the last year, and hope that by sharing these insights we can all move forward and give appropriate attention to movement sound in games.
Hit the IGDATC link for some additional related articles: IGDATC Video – Footstep and Movement Presentation
Here’s starting off this month’s special with an exclusive interview with our guest David Sonnenschein.
DS: In addition to being a sound designer, teacher and musician you are also a writer, director, producer, painter and sound therapist with research in neurobiology. That’s quite a list! How has your experience in these different fields influenced you as a sound designer?
David: I entered all these arenas because of my curiosity and enthusiasm for discovery and creativity. Effortlessly, my experience of the world seems to center around my senses, in particular sight and sound. I’m a visceral being that has been lucky enough to live in an era of audiovisual expression and make a career from that. Parallel to that, I have a streak of the scientist in me, exploring and testing theory with application, specifically in neuroscience, psychoacoustics and sound therapy. For example, the area of binaural beats and brainwave entrainment is so powerful and still at the beginning of application within the area of sound design. I like to find cause and effect, isolate principles and then use those for the job at hand, whether it is for teaching, therapy or entertainment. And yet I’m also into musical improvisation as a totally different way of expression, very spontaneous and playful. This trait I have of pulling together diverse elements into a whole enables me to be the kind of sound designer that asks first and foremost, “What is the intention of this scene or project and how can I best express this through sound?” With this in mind, I have a very large tool kit to draw from.
DS: The tools you teach like sound spheres and visual mapping are extremely powerful and also unique when analyzing a script, film or design piece. How did these ideas evolve and what influenced them?
David: When I read the works of Michel Chion and Walter Murch, for example, which laid out very clear principles of how sound works in film, these brought up more questions for me. In both film and real life I was experiencing phenomena that certainly confirmed their ideas (like diegetic and non-diegetic sound), but I wasn’t totally satisfied with these models. Visual mapping, which charts the dramatic curve of the story over time and relates it to sound design, came out of my training as a screenwriter, neuroscientist and natural tendency to make things graphic. It helps me and others to get an accurate overview of where the whole film collaboration is headed, all on one single page. You can zoom in and out, and see relationships very easily throughout the entire storyline. In developing the sound spheres model (which we’ll get into more detail in one of the next articles on the website this month), this came from my direct experience, kind of like a meditation form, observing how my mind, body and sound interacted on an everyday basis. Film is a medium that attempts to create a life-like experience, immersing the audience in something that will feel like it’s really happening, so it makes sense to study and draw from our real life and apply it to the audiovisual medium. I explored this for several years with my students, asking them to experiment with the sound spheres model outside of class, then share with us so that we could develop their personal experience into a film scene. In so doing, we would discover more universal principles and then I would feed that back into the model, which continues to evolve as I write. My next theoretical work will be presented at a conference in June in Konstanz, Germany, analyzing how the human voice fits into the sound spheres.
Audio Director Paul Weir shares a recording of a recent informal panel discussion on Mixing for Games held as part of the Association of Motion Picture Sound (AMPS).
Through AMPS (The Association of Motion Picture Sound) we had an informal panel discussion covering the common issues regarding mixing for games. The event brought together game and film audio people and topics discussed included carrying the emotional element through a game mix, the ways in which film post-production is merging with game audio, mix technology and the lack of standards.
Audio recording and other resources over on Paul’s recently minted Game Audio Cogitations blog.
SoundWorks Collection has published a fantastic profile on the sound of “The Lost Thing”, featuring sound designer John Kassab, who we recently interviewed.
The story of “The Lost Thing” is about a boy who discovers a bizarre looking creature while out collecting bottle tops at the beach. Having guessed it is lost, he tries to find out who owns it or where it belongs, but is met with mute indifference from everyone else, who barely notice its presence, each unwilling to entertain this uninvited interruption to their day to day lives. For reasons he does not explain, the boy empathises with the creature, and sets out to find a ‘place’ for it.
Supervising Sound Editor and Sound Designer John Kassab discusses his extensive work on this animated masterpiece bringing to life the world of the Lost Thing.
Directors Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann were also winners for Best Animated Short Film for “The Lost Thing” at the 83rd Academy Awards in 2011.
HISS and a ROAR has released TORTURED PIANO, a new library loaded with 1,143 sound design sources recorded through the destruction of a dilapidated old upright piano.
The library is a huge collection recorded and mastered at 24-Bit/192kHz (total of 7.3GB). The content is diverse and unique, offering all kind of sounds recored with different microphones and a wide variety of performances. Also includes recordings of a baby grand piano using contact microphones. I’t’s available at $79 (until May 20. Then at $99).
There is nothing sadder than the death of a musical instrument, but this broken old piano was deceased long before I got it. So my mission was to immortalise its final sounds as it was struck, scraped, twanged, hit and slowly deconstructed to a pile of kindling and broken wires. And then a wake was held….
The resulting library is an incredibly diverse collection of disturbing and unsettling sounds, perfect for evocative sound design but also useful for many practical applications: some of the wood creaks, shrieks, hits & splits are particularly resonant, while many of the metal-on-wood scrapes are prime source material for woosh creation.
Let’s hear some sounds:
As usual, Tim Prebble, responsible of this fantastic release, shares with us the stories behind this unique recording adventure.
DS: What inspired the library?
TP: I’ve always been fascinated by how the piano is sometimes categorized as a percussion instrument. And I’ve always loved the range of sounds possible with a prepared piano so I decided to take it to an extreme. Some of the sounds I imagined would involve actual destruction of the piano, and I like playing my baby grand piano so I started hunting for an old upright that was beyond repair. I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice an actual instrument still capable of bringing joy to someone, so back in January I came across a zombie piano – it was literally the living dead!
I’m pleased to announce the visit of David Sonnenschein to Designing Sound during this month. David’s approach to sound design is amazing, so it’s an honor for us to share his ideas to you.
About David Sonnenschein
David Sonnenschein’s story can shed some light on how different experiences meld into a synergy toward sound design. He began studying clarinet at eight years old, performing in symphony orchestras and chamber groups, then took up the flute with the conscious choice to not read music, but to jam, developing his ear’s sensitivity and spontaneity.
As a neurobiology undergraduate at UC San Diego, his interests in physiology, psychology and dreams were united by research in a sleep laboratory. Fascinated by the mind-body interface, he published several studies relating brainwaves to mental states and biorhythms, and developed insight into the physiological and perceptual processes that serve as foundations for the creation of sound design.
Sonnenschein’s musical exploration continued when he lived in Indonesia and Thailand, listening, collecting and playing the local instruments made of bamboo, palm fronds and gourds. Returning to the U.S. to direct the award-winning short “Little Red Riding Hood: A Balinese-Oregon Adaptation”, he mirrored the form of the Balinese mask dance, playing bamboo instruments with his clarinet and flute, and composing a non-verbal sound track by associating each character with a theme and instrument.
In the MFA program at USC Cinema School he found a healthy atmosphere to continue exploring sound design, inspired by guest lecturers like master sound designer Walter Murch. His thesis film “The Owl’s Flight” utilized sounds of Pre-Columbian ceramic instruments, animal calls, Tijuana marketplace atmosphere and a variety of fire effects. By constructing the right sonic mood for a story about a Mexican Indian shaman and the battle over a sacred healing mask, he garnered the Verna Fields Trophy for Best Sound by the Motion Picture Sound Editors.
While living in Rio de Janeiro, Sonnenschein directed his first feature “Super Xuxa”, a Wizard of Oz-like fantasy starring the popular kids TV show host Xuxa Meneghel. This gave him the opportunity to introduce an impactful sound design concept to an industry which in the past had not paid much attention to audio quality. He produced five more features and collaborated with several Brazilian producers and directors to develop their soundtracks, while administering sound design workshops throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas. Finding a gap in the literature regarding the narrative use of the sound track and recognizing the uniqueness of his own sound design methodology, Sonnenschein was inspired to write the book “SOUND DESIGN: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema.” He is currently preparing the second edition of his book to include chapters on interactive media and a newly developed psychoacoustic model termed “Sound Spheres.”
Besides creating, teaching and consulting on sound design for film, Sonnenschein has worked in audio for interactive media and sound healing, finding fertile exchange between these various fields. He is currently administering online webinars to international universities and sound designers worldwide, making his knowledge base and coaching directly available through his website www.SoundDesignForPros.com.
Here’s a link to a short video that summarizes his teaching content:
Chuck Russom FX has released Blood and Guts, a library recorded/produced by Chuck Russom and sound designer Rob King, and created for sound designers who are looking for sources usable for designing sounds of blood, flesh ripping, bone breaking, dismemberments, zombies… you got the idea!
The sounds were not just recorded for being part of this library originally. These sounds are valuable sources that Chuck have used for years, as he commented to us:
6 years ago, I teamed up with Rob King, who is one of my closest friends. He’s an amazing sound designer, musician, recording engineer, all around audio genius. We decided to record a set of fight/combat/gore sounds that could be used in our own projects. We also had an idea that we might release it as a commercial library. Over the years, we’ve used these sounds on nearly every project we’ve worked on. I know these sounds appeared in God of War 2, Medal of Honor, Quantum of Solace, Dante’s Inferno, Bulletstorm, and Rift. And I know the’ve been used in more than just those project. As I said, we’ve used them on nearly everything we’ve worked on in the last 5-6 years.
We never did get around to releasing the sounds commercially. So, after I released the Servo library last month, I started to think about releasing these sounds as a library. All of the recording was done, much of the editing was even complete. I went back to the material finished up the editing, mastered them, added filenames and metadata, and sorted them into a collection for release. In addition to those recordings done back in 2005, I found some pumpkin gut recordings that I made back in October of last year, they fit well with the rest of the sounds, so I included them.
These sounds were recorded at 24bit 96K using a variety of microphones, I can’t remember specific mics anymore, but it was a pretty elaborate set up of some very high-end gear. I performed all of the Foley and Rob, who is an amazing recordist, handled recording duties. We did the whole thing over a couple days in his studio and it was quite messy! Luckily we covered the floors and walls in plastic, but his live room still smelled like a bad salad for days.
Blood and Guts includes 477 sounds recorded and mastered at 24-Bit/96kHz, WAV (embedded with descriptive metadata). It’s available at $50.
Want to hear?
And there’s more! Chuck also launched a new rewards system on CRFX, which he explains below:
David at Tracktimeaudio has published an interview with Watson Wu on recording cars.
I have the privilege of getting my first interview with the awesome, excellent, Watson Wu.
TTA: First off, some of your work with NFS ProStreet — this game emphasized more on the fun of the game than on the realism of driving, did this slightly different emphasis have any effect on the recording technique for the vehicles? Were there any cars that proved difficult to record well? Lastly, did you use predominately dyno-based recordings?
For ProStreet I was hired to field record passbys and help the EA team apply microphones on GT race cars in Sebring, Florida. We were capturing Corvette CR06, Cadillac, and Viper cars during their practice runs around the track, speeding at 170-190mph. The Corvette CR06s are The Loudest race cars I have ever encountered! They were like constant sustains of gun shots, painful to our ears. While many of the microphones were able to withstand the constant pounding of the high decibels, I was given from the team mic pads to cut off the extreme sounds going into my field recorder. While EA as well as a few of their external contractors sometimes use dyno-packs, I most of the time capture vehicles while in motion. Many of us believe that this recording on the go produces the more natural sound. As we have learned from years of recordings, we constantly strive to achieve better or nastier recordings with newer microphones and push the limiters to the extreme for that more aggressive sound. after all, video games and films are fiction based.
Continue reading here.
Designing Sound Rearder: What technique (or tip) you wish you had known when you first started doing sound design professionally?
Rodney Gates: I wish I knew how to make something sound large, other than just using reverb tail. One way this can be achieved is by pitching something at multiple intervals – an octave down, two octaves down, and blending with the original. This makes whooshes longer and fatter, and impact sounds beefier. Letting the sounds pitch and change their duration naturally is smoother than keeping their length the same as the original, but the time-correction has it’s uses for keeping heavy sounds short (as long as they are blended a bit with the original, most pitching artifacts are hidden in this process). Also, working with the highest sample rate and bit depth files you can helps a lot with fidelity (24-bit / 96kHz is great, with 192 being even better). The higher sample rates help keep the high-end of the sound as the upper harmonics are brought down during the pitching process, whereas rates of 48kHz and below have their limits, causing the sounds to get darker the further down they are pitched.
DSR: What is your weapon of choice (or method) to create production elements (whoosh, sci-fi sounds, etc)?
RG: I like to use Waves’ Doppler plug-in for creating whoosh effects. However, I wish it handled audio files at a higher sample rate than 48kHz since it’s pitching sounds as it’s core usage.
For electronic sci-fi sounds, adding light MetaFlanger is nice to “tech” something up a bit. For a little low-end emphasis, a Rectified (Pro Tools plug-in) sine wave around 80Hz (or sweeping around that area) is cool to add.
Plug-in automation is your friend, too – it can add a lot of movement to your sounds when using it with plugs like MondoMod or Enigma, etc.
SoundWorks Collection has published two interesting interviews with sound effects recordists Ann Kroeber and Charles Maynes, produced by Michael Raphael.
Welcome to the Soundworks Collection; an audio series that profiles individuals whose lives are spent bringing to life some of the worlds most unique sound projects. Whether they are recording in the field, editing and mixing on a dub stage, or creating sounds in a foley pit, these professionals keep finding new and exciting ways to craft sound. This week we hear from sound effects recordist Charles Maynes. His work has included the HBO series “The Pacific”, “Flags of our Fathers”, and “Starship Troopers”. You can often find Charles recording loud explosions and heavy gunfire, but when he needs to rest his ears, he turns to Bach.
Ann Kroeber is a field recordist, editor, and sound designer, whose recordings were in The Black Stallion, Lord of the Rings, and the Horse Whisperer. Over the years, she has developed her own way to connect with the animals she records. In 1999 she formed a company called Sound Mountain and has recorded and or provided sound effects for such films as The Star Wars Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Gladiator, The English Patient, The Horse Whisperer, A Bug’s Life, K-19, Polar Express, The Village, Hidalgo etc. and many games. She was Sound Designer on Carroll Ballard’s recent Duma and Fx Editor on his Fly Away Home as well as Affonso Arau’s Zapata. She has also provided sound effects and sound designed for a number of popular Games. She produced a 3 CD set of sound effects for the Hollywood Edge called “Sounds of a Different Realm Special thanks to American Public Media and Weekend America for the use of the audio piece.
SoundWorks Collection podcasts on iTunes.