Guest article by Douglas Murray
photo by flickr user Bo47 (Bo Nielsen)
Remember, all rules are meant to be broken! With that principle in mind, let’s scratch the surface of the grammar and possibilities of an aspect of film sound design: backgrounds (also called BGs, atmospheres or ambiences).
Backgrounds offer a powerful opportunity to use sound for maximum impact. Movies essentially need to have background sound at all times. By adding background sounds to a scene we define what the scene is, where we are, and what’s happening around us, even off screen. We can also suggest to the audience how to feel emotionally about a particular scene by giving subtle or direct sonic cues incorporated into the background sounds.
ambiances, plural; ambiences, plural
- The character and atmosphere of a place
– the relaxed ambience of the cocktail lounge is popular with guests
- Background noise added to a musical recording to give the impression that it was recorded live
Wherever you may be reading this article, stop whatever you are doing, and listen to your environment. What do you hear? Tempting as it may be to declare ‘nothing’, the complex cacophony of the world around you is being combined, and fused together in your environment to create the sound of a specific location. The sound of your immediate surroundings is being pulled from all manner of sources such as electrical hums, water pipes, passing traffic, neighbours, the weather and even local wildlife. As indistinct these may be from your perspective, these sounds are still making their way, however faint, into your room, heavily filtered and being reverberated around and off your furnishings to distort them beyond recognition and delivered to your ear as a nondescript, intangible ‘room tone’. Its such a slight sound that many people simply don’t hear it. They hear ‘silence’ (Probably because they haven’t tried to make any recordings there!)
A collection of blog posts, and a special edition of the Game Audio Podcast, have been coordinated by Damian Kastbauer and David Nichols on the dense subject of racing game audio. The remarkably in-depth studies (which feature video examples) rip apart audio techniques for the racing genre, investigating subjects such as tire squeals, surface types, camera perspectives, and of course, the sounds of the engines themselves.
From the Lost Chocolate Blog;
These informal game sound studies aim to expose the technical side of game audio by making an assessment of current generation titles. The assessment is then used as a way to better understand the differences in approach, aesthetics, and progression of techniques across a small sample. By turning the focus onto emerging details that arise during the course of the study we are able to identify area’s of significance and interest that help communicate the current state of the art. These finding are then represented in a content-rich report that includes: videos, article links, and specialized interviews. The goal is to help raise awareness for the technical side of sound design and help in the understanding of what is often not very well represented in current literature.
Check out the study in all it’s glory at the following links:
Vroom Vroom – A Study of Sound in Racing Games ( Introductory article in Game Developer Magazine )
TrackTime Audio blog – Racing Game Sound Study
Lost Chocolate Blog – Racing Game Sound Study
Game Audio Podcast – Racing Game Sound Study (with guests Mike Caviezel, Mike de Belle and Tim Bartlett)
The vehicle focused Track Time Audio blog has posted an interview with Turn 10′s and ex-Bizarre Creations Creative Audio Director Nick Wiswell, covering the production of Forza Motorsport 4 and the pipeline of recording sessions to finished in-game audio for the car engines.
TTA: Could you talk a bit about the process a vehicle goes through between recording session and finished in-game? I think the work involved after the recordings are made are under appreciated by gamers because they just don’t know how much work goes on.
NW: It’s a long process, so I’ll break it down into stages like a recipe:
To record a car you will need:
* A car and a chassis dyno, or an engine and an engine dyno
* An 8 – 10 channel recording device with multiple microphones to capture the engine, intake system and each exhaust pipe sound independently
* A dyno operator who understands that “full throttle” means all the way to the floor, and a car owner who won’t freak out when you do that
* An hour or two of time
1. First thing to do is set up the car on the dyno (your dyno operator will usually do this for you) and set up all the recording equipment
2. Then run the engine, do a few throttle snaps and a power run or two, and walk around the car trying to find the spots that have the sound you are looking for
3. Then set up close microphones on the engine, intake, turbo (if fitted) and each exhaust pipe plus microphones at points where you found interesting sounds
4. Press “record”, set levels and ask the dyno operator to run through the following sequence:
·Full throttle power pulls in different gears or at different speeds (depending on the type of dyno)
·Held steady RPMS at 500 RPM intervals from close to idle up to close to redline
·Acceleration and deceleration through the gears (if possible on the dyno)
·Simulated track driving (if possible on the dyno)
View the rest of the interview on the Track Time Audio website
With Oscar rearing his ugly head, and people again becoming obsessed with little gold statues, I thought it might be a good opportunity to start a discussion on a topic that has been floating around the professional sound community for some time.
A few years ago, we began hearing that there was talk within the Academy about the two sound awards, those of Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. Firstly we heard rumors that the Academy as a whole wanted to unify the two awards into one. Secondly we heard that there was growing interest from some of the Academy members to move the two sound awards out of the main awards show, and into the technical awards show.
The basis for moving the awards out of the main awards show was probably due simply to the possibility of swapping sound editors for airtime, speeches for high-priced commercial time. It also showed a well-known lack of respect for what sound people actually do. There were great champions for our cause, trying to educate the public and the members of the Academy, that was we do is not purely technical, any more than a cinematographer or picture editor is a technician, employing technology in their respective jobs.
But what about the other discussion about unifying the sound awards? It’s my opinion, and I know this is shared by some, opposed by others, is that is is a shame that this didn’t happen.