7 Things I learnt about Sound Design & Audio Post Production

Here are some of the ideas I wish to share after completing an academic assignment at the end of my studies at SAE Institute Singapore.The following points are some of the things that I  realised as I was progressing through sound designing for game play and cinematics of Fallout 4 by #Bethesda Studios.

I recorded foley, hard effects,  sound designed and composed a few music pieces for this short video from Fallout 4 game play.The project was an audio post production at its core. But I assumed that I am also designing sounds for the game.

 1 Get Organised

In any industry, organised and tuned ways of doing things will only make things easier and save a lot of time and hassle down the line. Here are few things I did in order to get in the habit of staying organised.

Sound Map

Watching the scene that requires sound designing and creating a sound map real fast helps in identifying which sounds and ambiences need to be in the scene. Following is a link to actual sound map I created for this game play video.

Sound Ma_Fallout_4_Gameplay

Trello for project management

Does audio  post project  need a project management ? I come from a software background, where I regularly practise agility and SCRUM in my software development projects. Same concepts can be applied to a project of this nature.

#Trello is a very useful tool to list down all the tasks that needs to be done.You can attach and reference resources, add members, comments, and track progress etc.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 9.41.06 am

 

“Backlog” contains all the tasks that has to be done. “Doing” is what I am currently engaged with and  and “Done” is once I have done the task. Apart from that it has the option of creating as many lists as we see fit. But I must highlight that the more simpler your board is, more effective it will be, so don’t go TOTT.

Storing Sound Libraries and Naming Assets

Deciding and having  clearly defined  places to store your sound libraries, field recordings, backups and designed sound effects is very crucial in early stages of your career, and in all your projects.

I picked up the book titled ” Sound Effects Bible” by Ric Viers and learnt a lot of good practises and tips and tricks he had to share from his wealth of experience.Check it out its a quite a good read.

2 Find Your Own Workflow and Improve It

How field recordings were treated

Foley or hard effects I record end up in a folder named Unprocessed_96k. 96k because I recorded my samples at a 96kHz sample rate. While saving the raw recording, I renamed them to have all the key words and tags to identify the nature of sounds captured.

And I made sure this folder is backed up from time to time. Back blaze is  a great option if you are serious about your backup strategies of your samples and project archives.

Then I used these RAW samples  inside the project in Pro Tools. At the time the clips were used they are were cleaned to get rid of any noises that it contained.

Now during this process if I came across a certain sound that I could generalise as a sound effect, I processed it, normalised it and exported it to my own sound library. The following image illustrates this process.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 2.13.26 am

Field Recordings -> Staging -> Processing ->  Personal Sound Library

To be able to search sounds whenever I need them, I simply use my Mac Books OS search in the finder. and pressing “Space bar” on a selected sound quickly allows me to listen to it.

One can also use mac’s tagging system, separate iTunes media library just for your samples s well.

There are much better and sophisticated options like Sound Miner for organising and searching sound files. But for me, at this stage the Mac OS X search gets the job done.

As for the rest of the work, following is my approach.

The designing of sound was done in Pro Tools for 98% of time.Having said that, some times I found it more easier to work in Ableton. Specially when the sounds needs to be heavily processed and new ideas has to be generated. Ableton provides a nice set of tools and way of working that aids trying out creative ideas very easy. Pro tools Audio Suite is not so helping in terms of experimenting with plugin chains with real time parameter changes.

untitled-infographic

Sound design was done with Pan & Balance and effect processing in the same time. This is a technique I learnt from my lecturer Kevin Teoh mentored me during this process.

Having the effects added as we go us a rough idea of how it sounds at the end. So in this way at last what is left is the fine tuning, fine adjustments and more automations to make it more complete.

Once sound design is completed for few Iterations, I started working on the composition of the score. Which was solely done in Ableton using East West Composer Cloud and Rewired Reason as the virtual instrument provider.

Finally when I have something substantial that I can share and get feedback, I sent it out to most of my friends who are in to gaming, professional contacts, and also posted in gamesdev.net forum as well.

Feedback loop then took me back to the sound design stage to fine tune and change things.

This is the workflow and this whole process is the iterative creation of content – which brings me to my next point.

 

3 Do Creative Iterations

I cannot stress enough the importance of this. In software industry we create prototypes of applications very quickly and then improve on that. In that way we have a minimum viable product as quickly as possible and also it gives us a sense of the direction and validity of our thinking as well.
Same principal could be applied for the creative projects in audio as well. I believe the best thing to do is, to quickly do a full round of implementation of sound design for the complete scene you have. Then work on improving that. Slowly but steadily the progress is made. The beauty of this approach is that it boosts your confidence, gives you a sense of  an achievement overtime you complete one iteration.

 

4 Learn the Basics of Psychoacoustics

Psychoacoustics is the science of studying how sounds are perceived by human brain. It is obvious that learning the basics of psychoacoustics helping to improve the quality of the work we do as sound designers. Because at the end of the day, what matters is that what is perceived by our audience.

Here is a  very nicely written related blog post about psychoacoustics and sound design tricks by @GEORGGTPS.

By putting this scientific knowledge of how brain decodes sound in to practice can significantly improve your skills as a sound designer.

 

5 Start Listening to Your Surroundings

Are you listening or are you hearing ? For most of us, for the most part of our life, we are just hearing our surroundings. What if we start paying a closer attention to the sounds happening around us in detail ? Then we would be listening. And just like sound mixers learn by listening to great mixes, sound designers can tremendously benefit from critically listening to the sounds generated by events in our surroundings. What that gives us is the ability to recall every element that makes a particular sound. Recalling the nature of the sound in your head will then make it much more easier to audibly visualise the sounds that needs to be created. This very fact resonants with the teachings related to being in the moment, completely aware of your surroundings. And its also a form of meditation.

6 Know The Tools of The Trade

Great craftsmanship does not solely come from the tools being used. It comes from the skills and the creativity of the creator. But every great creator understands which tool to be used in which scenario.

Technology changes so fast and so does the tools we are using to create audio content.Thousands of plugins and many software tools are there at our disposal at this time. Following are the most basic tools I used for more than 90% of the time for this project.

DAW was Pro Tools primarily. Ableton was used for the score and some sound design.
And following are some of the plugins used for processing of the audio with the Audio Suite in Pro Tools.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 3.06.34 am.png

Stock EQ that comes with Pro Tools, Compressor/Limiter, Time Shift, Izotop RX5, Audio Assault Transient Shaper.

These choices are very subjective. Specially the make and the vendor of these tools. But looking carefully these tools are the most basic tools that one can learn to master in early stages of sound design career. One reason that I could get away using these basic tools for this project was because of the organic nature of the soundscape.  Was it for a sci-fi game play footage, there may have been more tools to alter sounds. And also usage of synthesisers could have been in the picture too.

For the master buss of the Pro Tools output I used following two plugins. A multi band compressor and the loudness meter.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 9.45.48 amScreen Shot 2016-03-08 at 12.27.55 pm

 

And this barely scratches the surface. Going beyond audio post production and sound design, there are tools like wwise, Fmod  to be mastered if one is serious about integrating sounds in to games.

 

7 Spend Time with Veterans

I quickly learnt a lot of things just by listening to Pod Casts, Interviews and watching some good youtube videos. Information is overflowing, you just have to filter for quality content that help you to grow. A lot of resources out there is free of charge and provides you with wealth of information.

Game Audio Podcasts for game industry news and interviews, DesigningSounds.orgLynda.com for lessons , Full Sail University Interviews I found on the youtube , David Farmer Sound Youtube channel,Sound Works Collection and many more. Again these are the references  that I came across during last couple of weeks.

These industry veterans talk about their experiences and how they do things and this is a very quick way to catch up with the industry and know what to expect out there.

Commuting is when I tune in for these channels to listen and watch things that interests me.

These are the 7 most important things I realise I should repeat after working for his audio post production project.

Special thanks goes to Kevin Teoh and all the staff at SAE Institute,  Singapore , Gwen Guo from  IMBA interactive for providing valuable feedback and guidance in this project.

 

I do not own the copyright or ownership of following original video produced by Bethesda Studios. I only replaced the audio content originally created by Mark Lampert and team.

This exercise is purely for educational purposes.

 

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