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Posted by on Dec 31, 2009 | 0 comments

Andrew Lackey Special: Q&A From the Readers


Here are the answers to the questions that some of you made to Andrew Lackey.

Designing Sound Reader: I have technical question regarding monitor placement and stereo imaging. In most studios (like my own) the monitors are some distance to the left and right of my two computer monitors, where most of the time on the right one the movie is displayed.

Andrew Lackey: When I have a scene of somebody walking from left to right, I tend to pan the footsteps from hard left to hard right. But too my ears, somebody is walking from the left of my studio to the right, outside the screen borders.

How do you deal with this problem? If it’s for television, do you mix as if the speakers are right next to the screen? And do I need additional speakers right next to one computer screen to check the stereo image?

It is definitely important to have a screen in the center dedicated to video. Most studios have two monitors for the DAW and one in the center for a video. I usually elevate my video display by hanging it on the wall and placing the center channel underneath it…but above my computer monitors. As far as left and right…most people have the speakers set up on the outside of their tv. I actually like this because it means as a designer I have a little more room in the stereo field (off the side of the screen). So, I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t see “panning off the screen” as a big problem. If something is actually going off the screen in the video….seems reasonable to go the extra distance you have with the panner to reflect that. So, first off get your speakers set up in the optimum place…then get a feel for how the panner spread reflects the actual width of the screen and where off the screen starts. Then check your mix on another system that seems like a good non-studio target system. I use my home theater for that.

DSR: Hey Andrew… What could be the best way to study sound design online?

AL: As with anything you have to balance theory with practice. No site or class or book is going to teach you everything, but there are tons of great resources. Designing Sound is a great one. You’re path is unique and these bits of information only help you in so far as you are practicing. Find a project, research good techniques, have fun with it and repeat.

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Posted by on Dec 30, 2009 | 3 comments

Andrew Lackey Special: 11 Field Recording Tips


Sound recordists are a special breed. On a recent trip to Zambia, the safari guides were very interested in the sound I recorded of the animals and villager’s ceremonial drumming. Apparently no one ever records sounds there. Here are 11 general tips from my experience field recording for film, games, music and fun.

1) Put together a really great rig.

Building your rig is an ongoing process, and includes a whole lot more than just a recorder and a mic. If you do enough recording you’ll eventually need stuff like walkie talkies, a high quality battery charger, tools, wind protection, mic mounts, tape, zip ties and cases to carry it all. I have 5 plastic bins and 2 hard shell waterproof cases that I can load up pretty quickly. I usually don’t need everything, but on really involved sessions like cars and guns I do. Its nice knowing I’ve got everything I’m likely to need in the ‘rig’.

2) Buy a cheap handy recorder.

You can get terrific results with cheap handheld recorders like the Zoom H2. No, they are not going to knock your socks off with fidelity, but tuck this little thing in your bag and grab all those great door creaks, printer paper jams, and car alarms happening in your world. I use stuff I’ve recorded on mine all the time in my sound design. Have you ever heard an airplane toilet flush…awesome!

3) Stay Lean and Mean

Field recording is all about thinking on your feet. When recording, I like to work with as little gear as possible. I even use really short mic cables because I don’t like carrying around the extra bulk. Also, by simplifying as much as possible you are reducing the likelihood of things going wrong and focuses your attention on what matters.

4) Keep the process in perspective.

It is helpful to keep in mind the relative importance of factors to good sound recording.

Sound Source > Environment > Mic Placement > Mic type > Mic Quality > Mic Preamps > Recording Resolution

So in other words, you wouldn’t get the full benefit of your 24bit / 192khz recording if you are recording in a noisy environment. My point is that you can optimize your recordings by paying attention to the things that matter the most. Recording sessions can get pretty hectic, and its easy to get caught up in changing mic position and not realize that the wind is picking up.

5) Give midrange microphones a try.

I love my Neumanns, but they’re not the best mics for every situation. I have a number of mid range mics from Audio Technica and Shure that sound great and have useful features. Overall, mid grade mics tend to be more rugged and able to withstand tough environments. Also, you won’t cry as much if it ends up in the water or run over by a car.

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Posted by on Dec 24, 2009 | 3 comments

Andrew Lackey Special: Surviving the Crunch; Being Healthy Sound Designers


For many of us, this time of year is about spending time with family and friends; the other “half” of the life balance. I jokingly put half in quotes because that “half” can look a lot more like a sliver on the pie chart during some projects. One of the dicier topics in our industry is “The Crunch”: the final weeks or months of a project where there aren’t enough hours in the week to get everything done to the quality bar you’ve set. Audio Pros are particularly vulnerable to this problem since sound production is finessed and finalized at a very late stage in the process. I’ve worked in TV, Film, Video Games and Commercials…as an in house sound designer and as an external contractor….”The Crunch” is universal.

The prevailing opinion in the biz is ‘deal with it’…’it’s part of the job’. I agree with this, and even embrace it…to an extent. To function well on commercial products, creative right brainy people need limits…especially time limits. Crunch mode helps focus your attention, cut ideas that aren’t paying off and commit to the creative choices you’ve made.

However, there comes a point in “The Crunch” where personal well being becomes an issue. In a generalized observation gathered from myself, my peers, my mentors and younger people coming into the business, we often go over the line. Yes, “The Crunch” is part of the job, but sacrificing your health and well being is not. In this article, I offer you no guidelines; only evidence that your personal health is supremely important. This line is always up to you to define.

Two Aspects: Health and Well Being.

Health – Stress while recording a lion is good. Weeks of stress during a crunch is bad.

The sustained and habitual stress of our work sets us up for what doctors call Chronic Stress. Stress in small doses is good. In fact, it keeps you from doing stupid things like stepping out into traffic. It helps us survive very dangerous situations. The problem is that our bodies can’t stay in that state very long without doing internal damage. Chronic stress is just that. This constant state of stress doesn’t allow your body to recoup, and your cardiovascular system, digestive system, weight and mental health are all at risk. Many doctors believe this to be just as bad as a serious addiction. Look it up.

Wellness – We can all learn a thing or two from Ben Burtt.

At the end of Ben Burt’s recent acceptance speech for the Charles S. Swartz Award, he warmly and sincerely says:

“And lastly I want to urge everybody that…we know in post production you’re in a very tough business that takes a lot of sacrifice of your time and energy. I’ve never fully solved this problem, but I’ve learned over the years that you have to make time for your loved ones. That you have to try to get home for dinner and be with those kids across the table at night if you can. And I know the business doesn’t favor that kind of activity…it doesn’t put an emphasis on that. But you find in many many years that those loves ones that you leave at home, that are waiting for you, matter a lot more ultimately than the films and shows that you do. So try to find a balance there. Try to find projects that allow you to do that, or make decisions that allow that to happen. Thank you for this award its really an honor.”

Ben opened huge doors to the wonders of sound that we’re all playing in. He has had an amazing career in doing so. Yet, in a lifetime achievement award he is saying…”loved ones are more important”. This isn’t the first time any of us have heard this advice, and on some level we know balance needs to be maintained to keep ourselves and our lives functional. The fact is humans need this practice of community, commitment and belonging to stay healthy and happy. To a certain extent we build these relationships with our coworkers, but spiritual leaders, doctors, and sound design visionaries agree… spending quality time with loved one’s is at the core of content happy lives.

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Posted by on Dec 22, 2009 | 5 comments

Andrew Lackey Special: Top 5 Audio Tools for Christmas (but don't yet exist)


For the most part, Sound Designers use borrowed tools.  Most audio software has its basis in music, and through the years features have been added for linear post production and surround sound.  Particularly in the areas of interactive sound design and surround sound there are big time needs for audio software development.  Here’s my Christmas list:

1. Sample Bank Audio Designer

Protools, Nuendo, Logic are great for linear, but the vast majority of the material game sound designers do is samples.  I imagine a cross between an audio editor (like DSP Quattro, Peak or Sound Forge) and a sampler (like Battery for visual purposes).  The key feature of this tool is that the samples of a bank can be edited/processed accross the entire bank or one at a time.

So say you have a bank of 10 punch sounds.  The waveforms of all 10 samples should be visable (with zooming options).  You can edit or process destructivly on any sample or the entire group.  In a pane at the top you can also edit the bank parameters like random pitch and random volume.  Lastly, auditioning the sounds is based on the bank parameters.  So the samples would randomize as they’re being played.

Future Features:

  • Auditionable from runtime events in the game.
  • A Source audio file feature would allow the import of a source sound that could be sliced into bank samples
  • Each sample could have mulitiple tracks availible for layering…then you can automatically exporet a mix down.

2. True Surround Delay Plugin

I don’t want to gripe too much, but when it comes to plugins developers seem to completely overlook the post market.  I mean seriously how many stereo vintage compressors do we need?  So to start off with, I’d just like a simple 5 channel multi tap delay with feedback.  Mono in 5 channel out.

3. True Surround Whacky Effects Plugins

Ok now that we’ve got delay, how about an oscillator modulating the azimuth of the surround field and the pitch of a sample.  Or what about if you panned a sound directly into the center of the room and put an LFO on the radian and the frequency of a notch filter.  Come on people you know what I’m talking about….crazy stuff….this would frickin’ awesome!!!   True canyon echos, waves rippling on a pond, helicopter blades, supernova’s radiating out in all directions.   I basically want Pitch/Time Blender 5.1…come on Sound Toys.

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Posted by on Dec 16, 2009 | 0 comments

Andrew Lackey Special: Dead Space [Exclusive Interview]

Dead Space is one of my favorite videogames and the sound there is really amazing. We have already seen good info about the sound of Dead Space, but here are some more specific questions from an interview that I had with Andrew Lackey, Check it!

Designing Sound: First of all, tell us exactly what was your job on Dead Space.

Andrew Lackey: I was one of three sound designers on the project along with Dave Feise and Dave Swenson. Don Veca was the Audio Director. I came onto the project as the prototyping phase ended and full production started. Most aspects of the game’s sound was a team effort shared across the audio team. I did the boss fights (Hivemind, Leviathan, Drag Tentacle and Brute) several characters (Divider, Exploder), the scripted sequences (like the elevator in Ch1), and cinematics (like the opening of Chapter 1 and the end of the game). I also helped with the foley, ambiences, props, physics items and weapons.

DS: What was the collaboration like between the sound team and the development team?

AL: The audio team was really tightly integrated into the overall process, and sound was a major part of the design from beginning. We were given ample opportunities to weigh in on design, and occassionally we took the lead on desgining the experience of a section of the game. In Ch 1, we knew that Issac was going to recieve the Cutter weapon after escaping the slashers in the elevator. This was a high tension moment and we wanted to shift into a really creepy messed up vibe in the workshop. We constructed this “beyond the walls” kind of dramatic scene with sound effects, music and voice to lead into Issac’s first fight with a zombie. This is an example of how we as the audio team not only designed the sounds, but did a fair bit of level design in key places to pull off dramatic events. This kind of thing is everywhere in the game. Ideas like this could come from anywhere, and usually required the collaboration of several people in other departments and the audio team.

DS: You did all the boss fights… How was you approach to sound design on each of these fights? Could you give us some examples?

AL: For the boss fights, I worked really closely with game play producers, animators and engineers. They would get a prototype of the boss working in a white box (a isolated testing map not yet integrated into the game.) I would get a run through of how the Boss fight was supposed to go, and how the player needed to play it in order to beat it. Since the game is quite dark overall, we looked for opportunities for “Audio Tells” in every fight that would reinforce a sucessful tactic by the player. Size, ferocity and bad ass-ness are usually really important for a boss, but its really really important to clue the player in to when they’ve hurt the boss as well. For creatures that aren’t bi-peds, the animators are limited in how the characters express pain. For the Leviathan, it took a few attempts to really register pain sonically and visually, but eventually we got it.

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