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“The Lost Thing”, Exclusive Interview with Sound Designer John Kassab

Posted by on Mar 28, 2011 | 2 comments

The Lost Thing is a beautiful 15-min animated short film based on the book by Shaun Tan, who is also director of the piece, along with Andrew Ruhemann. The film has won several awards, including an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

I have interviewed John Kassab, sound designer on the project, and responsible of giving life sound to the characters, places and all the events of this amazing story. Perhaps you already know about him, since we’re talking about the same person who published that fantastic report called “The State of Post-Production Film Sound”, which was recently updated  with new sections about conforming, SD to HD conversion, and an extended discussion about backgrounds. Download here (PDF).

Below is the interview I had with John, where we talked about specific elements, important scenes, techniques and methods applied, and more. Enjoy!

Designing Sound: John, could you please introduce yourself to the readers and tell us how did you get started in sound and what has been the evolution of your career?

John Kassab: My awareness of filmsound started early on when I awoke to the sound of The Exorcist (1973) playing in the living room when I was about 6 or 7. This track had a profound effect over me. Although I didn’t see a single frame, I don’t think I slept for the rest of that week. Since then, without any real understanding of how film sound was made, I have been all-ears. It wasn’t until I was about 12 when I heard the footsteps of the T-Rex in that famous scene form Jurassic Park (1993) that I really started to take particular notice to the craftsmanship. And when I heard the toilet shoot-out come horse vs motorcycle scene in True Lies (1994) in the following year at my local home theatre shop, I was positively hooked to the idea of working with film sound at some capacity – although in honesty, at that point I really wanted to be salesman at the home theatre shop so I can listen to Laser Disks to my heart’s content.

Almost a decade later I started university as a Law student who took some cinema classes on the side to keep sane. As the years rolled on I attended less and less of my law degree and become completely immersed in cinema until I (thankfully) dropped out of Law altogether. When I finished my undergrad in Cinema, I studied a short course in sound production purely out of interest. However, halfway through my course, a chance meeting led to an introduction to the head of sound of the South Australian Film Corporation, a tall guy by the name of Rory McGregor. We connected over a mutual enthusiasm for cinema and audio. Rory then introduced me to his colleague, re-recording mixer Pete Smith. Pete subsequently mentored me informally, for about a year. I spent a lot of time looking over his shoulder and trying not to get in the way or outstay my welcome.

When I did finally outstay my welcome, he and Rory recommended me for a 10 week paid internship under the SAFC’s attachment program on the feature film December Boys (2006) staring Daniel Radcliff. On this film I was very fortunately to have learned from some of the best people in the Australian film sound industry including Jenny Ward who was extremely helpful and whose lessons I still hear occasionally in my brain when cutting difficult lines of dialogue. I was even given the opportunity to design the rides in the carnival scene and amazingly most of the work made it all the way to the final print master. After this experience I decided to go independent as a sound designer, contacting and meeting with as many studios, filmmakers and film students that would agree to meet to talk about sound.

DS: Could you tell us about the approach of the director to the sound of The Lost Thing?

JK: Shaun Tan is a truly remarkable sound conscious director and I feel quite blessed and honored to have worked with him. Before this filmic endeavor, Shaun had predominantly worked in the silent and still mediums of painting and illustration. To his credit, he overcompensated for his apparent lack of experience with directing sound by completely immersing himself in a way that I have never seen or heard of a director doing.

Shaun started to collect lots of sounds from around his house with a domestic camcorder and cut them to the animatic using i-movie. He had even created some simple layered sound designs to better explain how he felt the world and its characters could sound. Some of the sound ideas where indeed quite brilliant and in a few occasions I re-created them with better quality recordings. And in a couple of other instances, I simply lifted them straight out of his animatic because of the ‘character’ that he had captured in those recordings. In the sound design, I really wanted to capture as much of Shaun as possible for his fans. Other than recordings he had made himself, I also included his voice in some of the backgrounds and sound recordings of his pet bird, Diego.

DS: What were your initial thoughts and preparation?

JK: My initial thought was that of being completely overwhelmed and then excited and then overwhelmed again. I realized very early on that this was a great opportunity to do something quite new and explore unchartered territory – at least for Australian filmmaking. The sound schedule ran concurrently with animation so I had roughly 13 or 14 months to work on the film. This allowed for a lot of time to experiment and to make loads of recordings. I started making recordings immediately in preparation for the project using the images from the book as a guide for the types of sounds I though I might need later in the project. I also recorded a lot of wild sounds with Foley artist Adrian Medhurst with a bunch of cool odds and ends he has lying around his studio.


Ric’s Tips and Tricks: Cable Repair

Posted by on Mar 24, 2011 | 0 comments

[Ric Viers has prepared a series of quick videos, where he will be sharing some useful tips and tricks for anyone who records sound effects in the field. All the videos were produced directly from the Detroit Chop Shop and will be published exclusively on Designing Sound TV during this month]

Today, Ric shares some tips on cable repair, directly by professionals of the matter.

Watch the video on DSTV

More Videos

Exclusive Interview with the Audio Team of “Medal of Honor”

Posted by on Mar 23, 2011 | 2 comments

Medal of Honor has been one of the most important franchises of warfare video games. Most of their titles have really good sound work, and Medal of Honor (2010) is not an exception of it.

Below is an interview I had with the audio team of the game, talking about the different challenges they had and the techniques/processes applied on recording, designing and implementing the sound of this adventure.

Danger Close Games Audio Team:

  • Audio Directors: Erik Kraber and Paul Lackey
  • Sound Design Leads: Tyler Parsons and Jeff Wilson
  • Dialogue Lead: Joshua Nelson
  • Sound Programming: Eduardo Trama

Desinging Sound: With all those great Medal of honor titles already in the market, what was your approach on this title to make it as good as the previous ones but also new and different?

Erik Kraber: We come away from every project with a laundry list of things we wish we could have done better, but were unable due to time, resources, or technology. It is often hard to get past the frustration of knowing what “could have been” on the previous project, but it just fuels us to keep pushing it further each game. For this latest Medal of Honor we had quite a challenge, because it was an entirely new setting and decade for us to create within. So our massive library of sounds that we had recorded and built of every World War II weapon, vehicle and foley suddenly became dated.  MOH 2010 was about reinvention on all fronts, and audio was a big part of that. Fortunately, we had a very talented senior team of sound artists and programmers who have all worked on multiple MOHs before, so the franchise audio aesthetic sensibility and quality bar is now part of our DNA.

Our focus was to take our learning s from the previous games and go deeper on all the things we try to do on each MOH – focus on authenticity and the personal story of the soldier. We want to give the player the feeling of truly being in that world, living that experience. While not every sound in the game is necessarily realistic, they are intentionally not hyped to the point of feeling like a Hollywood blockbuster. Guns need to represent their real-life counterparts accurately but still provide distinct character and interact with the world in believable ways.  The voice acting needs to feel more like a documentary than a feature film and represent, as accurately as possible, the foreign languages of the indigenous people. The music needs to be current, exciting and fresh, but true to MOH’s orchestral roots and its focus on scoring the humanity of the soldiers throughout the story and not just support action.

DS: How was your collaboration inside the audio team and also the relationship with other development crews?

EK: Within the audio team, communication was easy, as many of us have been working together for years. We also collaborate with many external contractors for music, dialogue, and sfx and with other studios, especially DICE, who handled the development of the multiplayer portion of our game. Fortunately, as part of a big company like EA, we have the opportunity to share and learn from all the other great sound people in the numerous studios across the world.  Paul Lackey organized a Gun Summit, where we had EA audio teams who were working on weapons-based games come to Los Angeles for a week-long weapons recording session and knowledge sharing session. The result was a great exchange of ideas and approaches to sound recording, design and technology and some of the most comprehensive weapon field recording sessions ever done.

Tyler Parsons: For the single-player portion of the game, Paul, Jeff, and I each owned individual levels as well as global sounds (and focused on our own shares through the bulk of production), but we also held group play-through sessions as we got closer to final in which the entire audio team would gather and really scrutinize each level in turn. This made sure that everyone got “ears on” everyone else’s work and had the chance to offer feedback to improve the game.

Our sound designers interact with every other discipline in the game (design, background art, animation, visual effects, et al). We had a very strong relationship with the level designers – we would have frequent meetings and spotting sessions to discuss the latest changes in the levels, how we could best use sound to tell the story and enhance the experience. Implementing sounds throughout the game required us to constantly work with design scripting, the VFX and animation tools, and so forth (as well as collaborate with software engineers to draw up new audio features).  Luckily, the other disciplines were staffed by rock stars who appreciate the impact that sound can have on the player’s experience. We got excellent support.


“The Insiders Guide to Music & Sound for Mobile Games”, New eBook by Ben Long

Posted by on Mar 21, 2011 | 0 comments

Ben Long has released a new eBook called “The Insiders Guide to Music & Sound for Mobile Games“.

Mobile is by far, the fastest growing sector of the video game industry. New mobile devices appear almost weekly, each promising heightened user experience. This has created new challenges for audio professionals. Join Ben Long as he reveals the creative, technical and business aspects of audio in mobile games, including:

  • The #1 secret to mixing audio for mobile apps
  • New methods of breaking into game audio
  • Free music & sound resources for developers

+ Learn unpublished techniques for working with game audio on multiple platforms.

The eBook is available at $39,95 (retail price $77). For more information and articles of Ben, visit Game Audio 101.

Sound Design Challenge #8: Synthesizing Radio

Posted by on Mar 21, 2011 | 0 comments

YouTube Preview Image

Shaun Farley has published all the details for this month’s sound design challenge.

I’ve arleady mentioned that this month’s challenge is going to be tied to the video above. You won’t need to download it, because we’re not actually using the video. You’re task this month, is to synthesize the “natural radio” sounds from the video. And this month, we have a nice little prize to give away, courtesy of Focal Press.

Continue reading…

Ric Viers Special: How To Achieve “Million Dollar” Sound Without A Million Dollars

Posted by on Mar 17, 2011 | 19 comments

[Written by Ric Viers for Designing Sound]

A few months ago, I was watching an episode of Family Guy. Peter Griffin was up to his usual antics and during one of the scenes, he was crushed by a falling piano. BAM! I scratched my head and hit rewind on the DVR. Sure enough, the piano smash they used was a sound effect that I created for a commercial library. It’s always fun to randomly hear your work.

Looking back on when I created that sound, I’m actually a little surprised at how haphazardly I recorded back then. When I first started, I didn’t have very good monitors. In fact, all I had was a pair of high end computer speakers and a good pair of headphones. I recorded on DAT recorders which are extremely noisy compared to today’s low-end handheld recorders. Thankfully, I had really good microphones. I created several libraries for major companies using this set up and grew my studio as the work increased.

The piano crash was a combination of a couple of random keys slammed on a grand piano. The recorder was a Sony TCD-8 Walkman DAT recorder. The microphone was the cheap one that came with the unit. The wood smashes and splinters came out of a recording session on a stage. Those elements were recorded with a MKH-416 on a Sony TCD-10 DAT recorder. I mixed the elements together and designed several effects that ended up in a sound library. Nobody knew how the sounds were recorded. They heard the sounds for what they were. Years later, the sounds I created with my beginner package are still being used by professionals.

The point is you don’t need a million dollar studio to achieve million dollar sound!

Mark Mangini told me a story about how he needed a simple sound at the last minute during a mix session at Todd AO for a major film. I don’t recall exactly what the sound was – a pen being set down or something like that. He giggled and told me he whipped out his Zoom recorder and recorded the sound right there on the mix desk. So, in a facility with millions of dollars worth or recorders, mixers and microphones, he used a recorder that could fit in his pocket.

It’s easy to get hung up on gear. But don’t confuse gear with quality. Techniques will always trump the technology. Always.

Gear is a money pit. It’s a trap. It’s fool’s gold. You can sit and stare at catalogs all day and drool over a certain piece of gear, convincing yourself that if you only had this one piece of gear your sound would be amazing. Then, you save up and buy it. It sounds great. Then, a month later, you see something else in the catalog and convince yourself that if you only had this one more piece of gear…

Stop! Put your hands in the air and step away from the catalog. You’re chasing your tail and you’ll never catch it.

You are an artist. The artist paints the picture, not the brushes. Brushes are important, but a true artist knows that he could use his fingers to create art if he didn’t have brushes. The bottom line: don’t wait for that dream studio before you start your career. Press the red button and get started now!

Record, record, record! Edit, design, mix, rinse and repeat.

The White Album by the Beatles is one of the greatest albums of all time. What’s funny is that for less than $2,000, you can go to Guitar Center and by software, mics and even monitors that would probably surpass the quality of the equipment the Beatles used to record that album. This is unbelievable, but true. Digital technology has leveled the playing field. A laptop rig can produce higher quality recordings than what the Fab Four used to record legendary songs.

Don’t let the size of your mic cabinet determine whether or not you are a professional. Start developing your craft now. As the paying gigs come, you can always upgrade. But, don’t wait for the upgrade to get started.

Here are a few tips to help you achieve that “million dollar” sound.


Jedsound Twisted SFX, Free Collection of Sound Effects by Jean-Edouard Miclot

Posted by on Mar 17, 2011 | 1 comment

Twisted Tools, makers of awesome Reaktor ensembles and crazy sound packs, have released Jedsound – Twisted FX, a free collection of very unique samples recorded and created by sound designer Jean-Edouard Miclot.

We are excited to offer an amazing new collection of sounds by sound designer Jean-Edouard Miclot.

It isn’t everday you can get your hands on unique and properly recorded field recordings, sound effects and foley sounds, so grab ‘em while they’re hot and feed them into your favorite Twisted Tools device!

To get you inspired, we’ve even added a bank of fx presets that make use of these sounds in Scapes.

The package includes 128 WAV files at 24-Bit/44.1kHz. Download here (requires free registration on Twisted Tools). I also recommend you Jean-Edouard’s blog, specially if you’re interested on cool sound experiments and recording inspiration.

Sound Categories: Rubber Balloon, Elastic, Groan Tube, Slide Whistle, Putty Noise, Whoopee Cushion, Sound Pipe, Dog toy, scientific toy, Springs, Slinky, Laser, Magnets, Bell, Wind chime, Plane, Train, Jackhammer, Wrench, Digital Camera, Vacuum Cleaner, Underwater Metal Dings, Underwater Singing Glass Rings, Underwater Sprays, Statics, Electromagnetic Fields, Motors, Servos, Electric Shaver, Faulty Light Bulb, Wolf, Moose, Crows, Dogs, Cricket, Bumblebee, Flies, Door, Chair, Rock, Dumpster, Ice cracks, Whooshes, Dings, Squeals, Squeaks.