So, Chuck Russom Special has come to the end. Many thanks to Chuck for sharing his fantastic stuff with the community and thanks to the readers who participated in the month. Here’re the answers to his questions:
Wow, the month of April just flew by! I want to thank Designing Sound for hosting me this month. I also want to thank the readers for putting up with my ramblings! I have really enjoyed putting together all of these features and reading all the comments. If you enjoyed my recording posts and want to hear more, follow my blog. If you want to keep up with my ramblings, you can find me on Twitter.
Designing Sound Reader: With regards to designing weapons for shooter games, do you consider the ethical aspects of your work? Where do you stand on such issues?
Chuck Russom: The games that I work on are usually created for adults. The games are often violent, but I have no problem with adults playing whatever type of game that they choose. I don’t feel most of the games are for kids. It is up to parents to keep an eye on what their kids are playing and decide what entertainment is not appropriate for them. As for the debate about if the game industry markets mature games to kids, or if it should be illegal for retailers to sell to kids, I don’t really care to be involved in the debate as I don’t know the answers.
When I work on games based on actual events (Call of Duty, etc) I do think about how we are representing the sacrifices of the the soldiers who fought in those conflicts. And yeah, maybe the games areexploitive to a point. Personally, from being involved in those projects, I’ve learned a lot of history that I might not have learned otherwise. Its always my hope that at least someone playing one of these games is interested enough to go out and learn the true history behind these events.
DSR: Hi Chuck. I can see you record a lot of different sounds everyday, and also you’re releasing your won sfx company… Storage has to be very important to you. I just want to know what kind of hard drives do you use? Do you have a backup system? or a RAID, a Drobo, or something like that?
CR: I don’t use anything special for hard drives. I just make sure to have an onsite and offsite backup of everything. For work-in-progress stuff, I have it all sync’d to my Dropbox account.
DSR: Hey Chuck. Terrific Special!! I love all your posts and also you have a new daily reader of your blog. I was wondering about your techniques on sound editing and restoring and I have a couple questions: 1) When you transfer your recordings to your computer… How is your workflow? Any special techniques or tips on that? And 2) What tools do you use for editing and restoring? Do you like tools like RX, Waves Restoring, Sonnox, DNS/WNS, etc…?
CR: After I record, I copy everything to a folder on my computer. The folder is sync’d to my dropbox account until I have a chance to get it backed up to an offsite drive. I always want a copy of my stuff offsite, just in case something happens. I have a folder that contains all the files in my editing queue. Once edited, the files are copied to a mastering queue folder. After mastering, they are copied to a metadata tagging queue folder. Then finally they are copied into my library.
I use Nuendo for mixing/editing, Sound Forge for editing/mastering, and mostly Waves plugins (including WNS, and Znoise.). I prefer using editing and EQ to fix problems instead of noise reduction, but will use it if I have to.
DSR: What is your main equalizer to deal with sound effects? Do you use the default EQ of Nuendo or do you have any preferences? And what about your favorite compressor/limiter?
CR: I use Waves Ren EQ a lot. Note because it is the best, but because I’ve been using it for years. Lately, I’ve also been using the Waves API EQ’s a lot. I also use the EQ of Nuendo from time to time. It’s quick and easy and does the job. Waves L2 is my favorite dynamics processor.
DSR: Chuck, I’ve been recording and mixing music some years ago. I already know some techniques on EQ and Compression for post, but I’m still don’t understand well when and how to apply compression to a single sound effect… I use tools for change the transients, and also limiters and compressors to enhance or “compress” the sounds, but I want to know if there’s an specific rule or some technique used on dynamics processors…
CR: Really the only rule is to not use processing unless you need it to achieve the sound you are after. I use a lot of EQ and dynamics processing. I mostly use EQ to cut and correct issues. I’ll use dynamics to get more punch and fullness out of a sound. But if the sound doesn’t need processing, don’t mess with it.
DSR: Hello Chuck, you mentioned that you love using Sound Forge. I would love to know some of your favorite sound editing tips with this software.
CR: I mostly use Sound Forge for mastering sounds, making loops, and quick edit jobs. Every sound that I design for a game or library passes through Sound Forge before it is done. I like to use Sound Forge for cleaning up and fading the head and tail of a sound. I will also use it to fix any problems I see in the waveform and do final processing (EQ, dynamics, etc). When I’m editing recordings, if it is a mono or stereo recording, I’ll usually edit it in Sound Forge instead of Nuendo. I just find it faster. If I recorded multiple tracks, then I always edit/mix in Nuendo, then master in Sound Forge.
DSR: Mr. Russom, you sir, you do a lot of field recording. I think the list of things you haven’t recorded is shorter than the list of things you have recored. So I ask you this which I have a problem with; Mic gain when recording. Judging gain is something I need to work on. I went out to record a train, waited in the frakking freezing cold for it to pass, which it eventually did. Whereupon, I get my recording, bolt inside, shed my parka and zero down all my gear at what was surely a record speed, put my SD card into my computer, ready for AWESOME train sounds, expecting an intense ‘BWOOM TICKA-TICKA-TICKA-TICKA’ as it booms past me. However, all my mic picked up was ‘Fwuh-ta-ta-tuh’. I thought I had adjusted my gain well, I clapped my hands, and adjusted the gain until until I wasn’t peaking. CLEARLY, this is no the way to go. So, to summarize my VERY LENGTHY question: Do you have tips for selecting the right gain levels for what you’re recording?
CR: I’m not sure that I fully get what you are asking, but here are some thoughts on gain staging. It’s obvious if you record with levels too high that your sound will clip. But you also need to be careful about recording too low (I talked about this in my gun recording article). It is also common that recording issues have nothing to do with your level settings. If your mic can’t handle the SPL level you are trying to record, it could crap out on you. You fix this by using a different mic, or moving the mic further from the source, or even poiting your mic in a different direction. You may have too hot of a signal coming into your recorder/mic pre. You fix this by using in-line mic pads to lower the signal coming in.
There are a couple other issues that you could have when recording something like a train. First, trains push a lot of air as they move by. If your mic does not have sufficent wind protection, the air will blow into the diaphragm of the mic and cause it to distort. Second, there could be a lot of low end coming from the train. To us, low end doesn’t seem to be as loud as high end. Your mics do not react the same way as your ears.
Finally, the only way to know where you should be setting your levels is to really learn your gear and experiment recording as much as you can. Then, you will have a good baseline to start from every time.
DSR: God of War II is a very loud game, in terms of music, and sound. Was there ever a conflict between the sound design team, and the music team over whose noise takes precedence, or gets cranked up more? Or in videogames, is the attitude toward balancing the mix between music and sound more laid back since the player can adjust those levels on their own?
CR: When we mixed GOW1, the game’s Director, Dave Jaffe, was adamant that the music had to be really loud. We, as sound designers, hated it at the time, but you have to give the director what he wants. On GOW2, I felt it was important to be consistent and keep the music loud.
DSR: Can you tell us if you managed to bypass this MTX box, cause we’re a couple of guys who think that it’s still possible to do it (making a 7pin to 5pin to 2x 3pin XLR connectors)… Also, can you give us some of the most crazy “natural / unreal” sounds you ever recorded?
CR: I’ve never tried to bypass the MTX (decoder box for Neumann RSM191). Even if you built the cable, I’m not sure how the signal would be without the decoder. I don’t know enough about the tech behind that mic, I’m not sure that it is the same as having 2 separate mics. The box doesn’t bother me, it fits easily into an extra pocket in my recording bags.
DSR: Also, how do you give metadata to your sounds? What’s your strategy in terms of how to name your sounds and describe them. Thx again!
CR: I use Basehead to inject metadata. I’m always finding new ways to name and describe stuff. I like to include info about what the source is, when/where I recorded it, what it was recorded for, etc. It helps later to find that thing that I know I recorded Xmas day 2010. When I’m describing, I try to think of any words/phrases that I would expect to use to find a sound in a search. I make sure those words are in the metadata.
DSR: When recording sound fx, how often do you use several different mics to capture different perspectives. I understand that gun sessions is an obvious one as well as vehicle recording. But do you find yourself using multiple mics for perspective/different sonic qualities when recording other more common sounds?
CR: If I’m doing a session where I have a bit of time and can set up in a location (vs running around with my gear), then I will often use multiple mics. If it is an expensive or rare source then I always record multiple tracks. I don’t always keep all of the mics when I am editing. You’ll find some mics that worked better on the source and you use those tracks. Often, you won’t know which mics worked best until you are back at the studio. That is why it is nice to have multiple mics setup. It does take more work though, sometimes that added work isn’t worth it.
DSR: Regarding audio implementing, is it part of your job as a sound designer nowadays? If so, what engines are you usually working with (FMOD,WWISE,etc…)?
CR: I think that in general implementation should be a huge part of game sound design. Now that I am freelance, I don’t do as much hands on game engine work as I did when I was in-house. I’m mostly hired to create assets these days.
DSR: Knowing that your audio will be downgraded somewhat for a videogame, do you ever compensate by adding more high end than you usually would in the mix so it pops through more after it gets converted down to whatever format? MP3.. 44K.. or whatever videogames are doing now-a-days?
CR: I don’t generally add high end to compensate. After doing this for a while, you begin to know when something may have an issue in-game. Sometimes when a sound is converted into game format, strange things happen, and you have to revisit a sound. For the most part, I just go off my experience and have a feel for what will and what won’t work once implemented. But, you never know 100% until it is in the game.
DSR: What software do you use aside from your DAW and sound forge? Do you ever get into Max/MSP, Reaktor, or any other programs? Thanks!!!
CR: Besides my DAW and Sound Forge the only other software I really use is Basehead and batch renaming apps. I’ve never used Max/MSP. I have Reaktor, but have not got around to learning it.
DSR: I had a question regarding session file management. With games today having a lot of sounds that often need to be tweaked, do you put the individual layered sounds that comprise an explosion in one session file or have more of a macro file containing all of the explosions, shotgun blasts, etc? I’m wondering what file management practices you would recommend based on your own personal experiences.
CR: It depends on what I’m working on. For weapons, each weapon gets it’s own session. I may also have specific weapon fire and weapon Foley sessions for each. Character/Creature sounds I often just keep one session for each character. I may have seperate sessions for vocals and for weapons/magic. For level based sounds like fire, doors, and other events, I often have a session comprised of all the sounds for that level. It depends on how big the session is going to get. Another approach would be to have sessions for categories like mechanical sounds, breakables, etc. I try to sort out the best approach early on a project. It all depends about the type of work that I’ll be doing. The important thing is to be able to quickly find the source for all sounds that you design, so that you can do needed fixes as fast as you can.
DSR: if chuck lost all his all library data today – what’s the first thing(s) he’d do to rebuild?
CR: I think I’d first find the nearest bridge to jump off! This is definitely something that worries me, and I’ve taken steps to ensure that it never happens. I have an offsite backup of my library that I check on regularly, so I’m protected in the case that I have a fire, theft, drive crash, etc. IF I did lose everything, I would rebuild little by little. I’d probably just build a library from each project I work on. It would take years to rebuild.
DSR: how is your room acoustic treated? A photo of your studio, perhaps? what you consider is the most important thing for a treatment?
CR: I have acoustic panels and bass traps from GIK Acoustics. Right now it is pretty basic, I have panels at the first reflection points on the walls/ceiling, and bass traps in the corners and on the wall behind me. I think the most important thing about treatment is to buy/build a product that is designed to be sound treatment (instead of using carpet or something). There is a lot of info on the web to read about acoustics and how to treat your room, following the basic guidelines will take you a long way.
DSR: Reading the gun and explosion designing articles, I realized that Chuck have really clean recordings. Do you have any special tip to get clean edits? I’ve an specific issue… When I load the files into the editor and do some cleaning (fade, trim, eq, compression, etc) I see a nice dynamic range and fine amplitude, but when I normalize the file, the maximum value is a little peak (not a clip, just a part with higher amplitude). So if I normalize to -0.5dB that peak will be the maximum peak and the rest of the file wouldn’t be in -0,5db. For example with an engine loop. It’s a constant sound, but it has a little peak. If I normalize that the peak would be at -05 and the rest of the file on something like -3, etc.. I can cut it and make a crossfade, but.. is there a way to reduce this kind of peaks? I don’t know how to normalize and get files with this clean dynamic range/amplitude. Maybe more eq? Compression? What could I be doing wrong? Bad recording? Bad editing?…
CR: If I understand you question correctly, and the problem you are having, I’d say that you should NOT be normalizing your sound. Normalzing only raises the maximum peak of a sound to a set level. It sounds to me like you trying to get more level out of the entire sound. You need to use dynamic processing like compression, limiting, or a volume maximizer (Waves L2, etc). If you want everything to be at the same level, then you need to squash your peaks down, while raising the level of the rest of the sound, normalizing isn’t going to do that for you.