Luca Fusi Sound Design | Implementation


GDC 2015 – Sunset Overdrive and Maintaining a Vision

All Style, All Substance:

The Audio Journey of the Vanity and Traversal System for Sunset Overdrive


Kristen Quebe (Microsoft) [@gameaudiogirl] [] Bryan Higa (Obsidian) [@bryanhiga] ... and special guest Jeff Dombkowski (Microsoft) [@ThBigDombkowski]

If it were as easy as taking what you've built in Wwise and dropping it, a fully realized and performant vision, wholesale into a game, game audio would sound a lot better than it does already. It's never actually that easy. If I've learned anything in game audio so far, that's it.

When we play games, we form opinions. That's human nature. But you'd do well to tread lightly if you don't know the whole story of how that game took shape. Hear something you like? Presume that a lot of people fought really fucking hard to get it there.

And if you hear something you don't, or don't hear something you wanted to, don't presume to know anything at all.

Closing the gap between vision and execution in game development takes a lot of work from a lot of people.

On the sound side, you're going to need a creative mind to dream up the way the game should sound, conjure that initial target that the game'll strive for until it hits shelves. You'll want a technical sound designer type to take that vision and turn it into systems that will surface raw sound design in a way that hits that mark. There'll be some Producer / Sound Supervisor type to draw up all the asset lists, rolling and militarily maintained Excel sheets of required components and filenames that'll go into the grist mill and let the middleware project run. You're going to need designers to make all that stuff.

None of that matters if you aren't able to get a team behind you.

Programmer support, production time, budget, headcount--all of these are really unsexy-sounding concepts that nonetheless hold any game's features in sway. It takes people to get stuff working, and when time and money are inflexible, people are a really hot commodity. Pretty much all my takeaways from GDC last year were that the best-sounding games with the coolest tech were coming out of the most supportive studios. Gaining that support takes a champion or vision-holder who's willing to go tirelessly to bat for the stuff that counts.

It's clear from the way Sunset Overdrive's vanity and movement system turned out that they had a champion. Maybe a bunch of them! And a whole stable of talented designers; I saw something like 15 listed contributors from Microsoft alone, not to mention the entire audio team over at Insomniac. Just the same, what they pulled off sounds pretty incredible. I'm gonna quote myself here because I already gushed a ton about this last Wednesday, and it's my blog.

Anyways, let's get to the meat and potatoes of some of what they did.


Sunset Overdrive is big on clothes, and shoes. You can dress your avatar up in a half billion combinations of tops, bottoms, shoes and accessories. The visual results are often goofy, but super fun to tinker with and own. But who wants to let art have all the fun? Kristen, Bryan, Jeff and a whole whack of Microsofties went wide, recording thousands of rolls, tumbles, jumps, stretches, runs, walks and jingles for everything the art team could kick up, then manually put all those assets into Wwise structures that could operate independently and were switchable per-limb.

Again, important sub-theme here is that someone convinced someone to let them do this. Someone also ensured that all Foley assets for a given action (say, rolls) were always being trimmed to an exacting standard, ensuring that tumbling around in leather pants didn't lose any of the core energy right at the peak of the roll that doing so in blue jeans might. Seems like a thing you'd just do, but when you've got legitimately thousands of assets to cut, you'd be tempted to just trim silence and bounce that stuff out. Nope.

VIDEO: Sunset Overdrive Audio System: Vanity

Final result? Your character sounds like a wonderful blend of all the ridiculous stuff you're wearing, no matter what it is. No shortcuts taken.

Layers of Awesome

Another system in Sunset Overdrive is the so-called "Level of Awesome." Think of it kind of like keeping a multiplier going in Tony Hawk, where, as you hop from rail to rail and stitch overland tricks together in a manual, you've got a big combo bonus stacking up. Now imagine that combo bonus making everything your character did while under sound way cooler. This is what they did.

The team took a bunch of actions--falling, jumping, grinding, bouncing--and matrixed them against what they felt the core of each Level of Awesome should sound like. At Level 1, your basic movement actions might have a little extra zip to them; at Level 3, you're the hero at the core of a retro arcade game, with cartoon stingers and chiptune trails following his every move.

VIDEO: Sunset Overdrive Audio System: LOA

This is a system that needs to be seen (and heard) in-game to be really appreciated, so I can't wait for the Vault video to go up.

The long and the short of it is that they fucking nailed this. Consider building this system into your next game and you'll probably think you can do it. The way you'd set stuff up in Wwise seems clear, anyways--events that play both a basic layer of a sound plus a switch-driven sweetener layer, with that switch being driven by some Awesomeness RTPC that jumps values at set crossover points. But maintaining quality and timing standards across every one of these layers, ensuring that each action is not only legitimately improved and themed for each Level of Awesome (instead of just, "yeah, we made the whoosh heavier with an EQ") but that peak energy and timings stayed consistent? That's incredible.

That it all gels so well together in-game speaks volumes to the organization of the sound team and to having a really solid plan.

And again, to having someone who managed to buy them the time and space to execute.

There's lots more to the talk that I won't bother going in, but it's full of crazy accomplishments on the game audio front. This talk alone showed me the power an empowered, passionate Sound Supervisor can bring to a game, and I applaud the entire team for pulling off what they did. Honestly, the number of talks on Sunset Overdrive at this year's GDC (two on audio alone!) are a testament to the game's technical and artistic achievements far and beyond its already awesome reviews.

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I've been to GDC a couple of times in the past, always returning to reality overflowing with ideas, batteries recharged.

But this year's was something special.

Some lucky confluence of my own experiences, where my head's at, the people in attendance, the conference itself--I don't know--came together to give me a GDC I'll never forget. That sounds like something out of a John Hughes film, but I'm serious.

Funny thing is that this year, it wasn't even the talks. I attended half a dozen or so over the week in between my volunteer responsibilities, and they were great. I left them all with lots of takeaways for my current gig at PopCap, some of which I'm putting into practice already. But my God, the conversations. Sunup to sundown, with restless hostel sleep that kept my brain from processing it all before it was time to do it again.

Each day began with a familiar, early-rising ritual: the 7AM walk through the urine-soaked, scaffold-strewn jungle that is SoMa to Sightglass and a morning roundtable with the Game Audio Podcast. (Side note: how the hell is that poverty line so distinctly drawn and right below a park, two shopping centers and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts?) This initiative was fully on the rails last year, packed each morning and full of amazing discussion. This year's, though. I mean, they may as well start selling Sightglass Track passes to the conference for all the folks that were showing up daily. I want to say we were running around 40-50 bleary-eyed sound designers, programmers and audio-curious every single morning. And yet, the whole thing--this interacting with the broader game audio community--still feels intimate, like it's really ours. The companion carousel lunch hour's the same way: a free-flowing group of game audio all-stars swapping cards and stories every day. No "X years AAA development" nor shipped titles necessary.

I don't think I'm the only one who felt this way. A scrape of last week's activity on the #GameAudioGDC hashtag reveals a lot of sentimentality and gratitude, held up as maybe the most important takeaway from this year's conference.

So I'll get to digging into some of my talks, thoughts and learnings in a later post, but wanted to start the snowball rolling with a final round of Internet thanks towards the entire game audio community for being so fucking rad. Not four years ago, this site was a desperate chronicling of me and my student exercises. I wanted very badly to belong to the conversation but was sharply aware of how little I knew, how I hadn't "broken in" yet. I wore this attitude on my sleeve a lot of the time, and it's made my small steps into this career really taxing at times. Turns out I needn't have felt that way. We're all in it--from the hobbyist, the still-enrolled and the just-getting-started to the AAA sound designer and audio director. There's room around the Sightglass table for all sorts. We're fortunate to have that.

As @mattesque put it on this week's Bleeps and Bloops, "at some point game audio got to the point where people felt like they could win without other people losing."

Cheers to that.

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Still Alive

It's been a few months. And as the days decompress and the hours return, my mind's pulling back towards updating, analyzing, writing. I hope to have some great content for you guys over the coming weeks and months, including updates to my reel, game audio discussions and whatever personal reflections I need to put to paper.

In the short term, here's what's new:

  • It's been a long summer. Back in May, I resumed my work with Microsoft and Team Dakota on Project Spark, which is now nearly out to sea. It'll be on store shelves on October 7th. I'm proud of what we've accomplished, and especially hope that we can keep it in the water long enough to realize everything else we're dreaming of. The game screams potential for awesome, reactive sound at every corner, and it's just about squaring those ambitions up against the realities of development. Lots in store if we can get to it.
  • The WUIS lays dead (or still) in the water for right now--resuming work at such a brutal pace didn't leave a lot of time for self-improvement outside of it. Now that things are settling, though, it's on me to start filling the time with pursuits outside the routine, doing things worth remembering. That may be a return to Unity jamming, or something else.

There's another thing I wanted to mention before I sign off.

Last year, I participated in Extra-Life, an annual fundraising drive where gamers around the world tap friends, family and loved ones for pledges supporting children's hospitals and cancer research around the world. In tribute, they put themselves through the ringer and ruin their sleep cycle on an unbroken 24 hours of playing games. I broadcast this last year on, and it was great to have people tune in and keep me going with live donations and support while I slowly lost my mind.

I'm doing another fundraiser this year a few weeks in advance of the main Extra-Life event. Two weekends from now, OCT 4-5, I'll be online for a 24-hour marathon, and am collecting pledges for a special and personal cause: the Ann K. Cresswell Memorial Fund.

Ann was the mother of one of my close friends and a beautiful human being who left us a few weeks ago. She'd battled and triumphed over breast cancer over the past few years. Her sudden departure at the hands of what might've otherwise been a routine sickness is a reminder that our methods for treating cancer ravage the body even as they restore it; moreover, a reminder that life is precious and always rushing by.

Donations to the Cancer Research Institute via the Ann K. Cresswell memorial fund go towards furthering cancer understanding and treatment, that our loved ones may live full and healthy lives outside of the horrible shadow it throws.

You can contribute via my group's GoFundMe page here:

I'll be forwarding all pledges I collect to the Ann K. Cresswell Memorial Fund. If you'd like a direct link or to contribute anonymously, you can do that here:

Additionally, the friends I'm doing this with are raising for local children's hospitals, if you'd like to support them (or both).

Talk more soon!

Some mood music for a rainy Seattle evening. I miss this game.

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One Week Later, Thoughts

Last week, I set the flag down and declared I'd be learning C# while I wait out this strange inter-contract abeyance.

I haven't made as much progress as I've hoped to. And typically, what I'd do is beat myself up over that. Why hasn't this thing taken root?, Why have you wasted other time doing XYZ when you know deeply that this is the best thing for you--that your mind craves those challenges, actually, on the days you've elected to do something else? and other such self-eroding lines of thought.

But that's a useless way of looking at things. There are lessons to be learned in our failures (probably even more than in our successes!) if we can find the clarity to wall off the sting of it, step back and analyze why things have gone wrong. Maybe you'll see some of yourself in this post and in the days' upcoming work logs. I don't mean for this site to turn into a self-help resource, but I don't mind exposing my flaws if it might help someone else.

The truth is that aligning my mind and body to want to work at this thing every day in a world full of easy, alluring--ultimately unsatisfying--escapist options, is really difficult. And as darkly reassuring as it would be to think that I'm alone in that, I suspect I'm not. Success on this front means building up good habits, like keeping the whole Luca unit running well on meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet, three things I've found to provide a lot of stability and satisfaction. Reflecting on how those things help has built some momentum towards keeping them going, and their upkeep becomes easier. As an aside, I've found that those three together are critically intertwined, and I can't really skip on any of them without the others falling apart. So that's something to troubleshoot.

I think it also means giving in to the bad habits, though, and seeing where they lead you. By not forbidding them, you naturally start to see that they don't provide you with the same satisfaction that all of your good habits do, or that their effects are totally impermanent. You naturally start to trend away from them, even as you've given yourself total permission to explore them in the face of your less sexy productive options.

This is what I'm finding in the face of some clarity today. Long as I'm learning--be it C# or how to short-circuit my natural tendencies towards more consistent progress--it's all good.

I wanted to share this song with someone after rediscovering it this morning.

Hooray For Earth - True Loves from Young Replicant on Vimeo.


I find this track irrepressibly beautiful and hopeful in a way I can't easily describe. And I've felt this way ever since stumbling across it three years ago.

Every little element comes together in just the right way to serve the meaning I've ascribed it. The thin, unpracticed vocals and kitchen sink percussion; that impossibly low bass line and how it wavers on the edge of breaking some oscillator or amp. The one, single variation on that chip sound when it bends up and down on the final chorus. And the terrible amount of reverb that glues it all together.

A friend of mine put it well: "There are a lot of songs that sound like this, actually...but this one is special."

What I think it is is that this track feels like being young as you experienced it--not as someone looking back.

Thanks for reading!

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Wwise, Unity and Starting Something

I've spent the last few months on contract break / forced sabbatical from my time at Microsoft. And through the professional void, it's been personally fruitful. Thanks to living like an antisocial monk for most of 2013, I'd put away enough to take a long trip into Southeast Asia and wander about for a month.

(That deserves its own post--which it may or may not get--but you can view my efforts at photojournaling the whole thing over on my Instagram. It starts here, and I wish there were an easier way to reverse-chronologically browse this thing.)

Travel led into more travel: I got to take a trip to the Italian homeland with my dad and brother for a week's skiing, eating and pacing around downtown Rome. Then GDC. Then, a few weeks later, the annual VALVE Hawaii trip, which I'd been invited along to as a guest. I'm really blessed to have been able to live out this downtime as I have.

But amidst all the vacationing, the overactive brain wanders. You gotta feed it or it dies.

I've thought for a while that a real safe heading for game audio is the career path of the audio programmer. In my last year's experience on Spark, I can tell you that their time is an incredibly precious commodity. If you, the intrepid Sound Designer and Implementer, are the dreamer of big things, they are the ones that turn those dreams into executable reality. I don't care how good you are with Wwise or Unity or whatever, on any game of sufficient scope, and if you're trying to do anything that'd stand out against the forward-rushing edge of game audio, you will need a programmer's help. Sometimes, though, you won't get it.

What do you do then?

As preparation for a hopeful and glorious return to pay-stubbed game audio--and because I have a little game I'd like to make someday--I'll endeavor to decode some of this low-level magic that these guys do. And, jointly because I want to keep myself on rails and give you all something to read about, I'll be documenting what I find, showing my work, demystifying everything I can.

The simplest of sandboxes seems like a ready-made project where I can poke into some Wwise-Unity integration and figure out exactly what's going on. I know Wwise well enough and there's documentation on that particular spot where the middleware hits the engine.

Here's a mission statement of sorts:

I want to hook a Wwise project directly to a game engine, preferably Unity. This means taking a Wwise project with in-built RTPCs, Switches etc. and creating brand new hooks to them within the game code, compiling and experiencing the audio moving about.

Starter questions:

  • Can I do this via an already built Unity game simply integrating a Wwise project into it?
  • What languages would I need to learn to do it?

I really don't know anything about programming beyond some basic batch scripting stuff and a well-rusted primer on Python, courtesty of my time at VFS. So, expect a lot of frustration, doing things without really understanding how they're working and, hopefully, lightbulbs coming on.

Step 1's checking out the Wwise-Unity integration package and seeing what the deal with it is.

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Hello! It's been a minute. Lots to catch up on--it's probably best to just jump into present day and go from there.

Another Game Developer's Conference has come and gone, and I wanted to make sense of the whole experience, commit it to print before the day-to-day sinks back in. Let's take it point for point.

The People

If I've said it once...

The best thing about the game industry are the people within it. This is my second year as a semi-credentialed, guess-I-belong-here attendee of GDC, going by that AAA name on my conference pass--but the people of game audio have been welcoming for as long as I've had intent to join them. They're humble, kind and--thanks to the tireless #GameAudioGDC banner-flying of @lostlab--extremely visible at the conference itself.

Something I saw this year was a lot of folks going Expo Pass only, saving some scratch and eschewing the body of the conference for the networking fringe: hallway meetups and late-night business idea shares over overpriced drinks. When you've got a group as organized as game audio, it works. Each morning's Game Audio Podcast meetup at Sightglass was an informal chance to mull over the day's talks and go all wide-eyed about the future alongside all manner of rookies and vets. It's so fucking cool that the group's that close-knit, and I really need to thank Damian and Anton for setting that stuff up every morning.

My heart goes out to all the underrepresented disciplines who don't have that same social leadership, as hanging with these guys is always the best part of the conference.

The Talks

Of course, there was a lot to watch and hear that you could only get to with a badge. Everyone I spoke with agrees that GDC2014's talks were a notch up: ferociously technical and full of stuff you wanted to run back and put into practice. I've outlined two specific favorites below.

Two of the most-talked about presentations on the Audio Track talks were delivered one after another on Wednesday morning--and both by audio programmers. Tools, systems and implementation hooks are sexy, and a development team whose culture supports these things is one of the surest components of a great sounding game.

Aural Immersion: Audio Technology in The Last of Us

Jonathan Lanier's an audio programmer at Naughty Dog (do they have more than one? The luxury!) who spoke on the systems that went into the incredible sound of The Last of Us. That one was my game of the year--in an age when I'm spoiled for choice and spend far too much time considering, but not actively engaging with, my Steam catalog, TLoU had me running home from work to fire up the console and running my mouth around the coffee machine every morning with stories of the last night's play. Lanier outlined the Creative and Audio Directors' early pre-production talks, which set audio up for development support and eventual success, before digging into the technical ins and outs.

The audio team was able to ground their audio in the gritty realism of the world by hitching a ride on Naughty Dog's tried and tested raycast engine. This let them throw lines and cones around every crumbling environment, bringing back useful information that let them filter, verb out and otherwise treat their sound. In a game where you spend so much time crouching and listening, the sum of all these subtle treatments made for some incredibly tense pre-combat situations: planning my approach as unseen Clickers shambled and squealed somewhere off in the dark, or straining just a little bit to hear Ellie and realizing I'd jogged too far ahead.

What's important is that the team never became slaves to their own systems, putting the technique above the telling. They tried out HDR--the silver bullet audio solution of 2013--and found it didn't fit the type of perspective they were trying to put you in. So they rolled their own dynamic mixing solution. They liked the way enemy chatter faded out over distance, but that same falloff curve meant some key dialogue with Ellie could go unintelligible. So they they sent enemy and friendly NPC dialogue through separately adjustable wet/dry treatments and reverb buses.

TLoU's audio tech is impressive, but nothing any AAA studio couldn't have dreamed up themselves. It's the fact that they got so much of it into the game--and had a studio that believed in audio; that gave them the resources to do all of that--that turned it into the greatest sounding game of the year.

The only shitty thing about this talk is that it was double-scheduled alongside A Context-Aware Character Dialog System. So, you had to pick one or another--but not both. One to watch on the Vault later on.

The Sound of Grand Theft Auto V

This was the Audio Track talk that sidelined everyone this year: Alastair MacGregor's an audio programmer from Rockstar who brought with him an overview of what it took to accomplish the sound of Grand Theft Auto V. I feel Rockstar doesn't often go public about their methods and techniques--as Anton said in the podcast, Alastair's name on the program felt like "someone from Rockstar being let outdoors"--but I don't think anyone expected them to reveal what they ended up showing.

GTAV features around 90+ hours of recorded dialogue, heaps of licensed music and sound design in what is almost certainly the audio budget record-breaker of last generation. All of this was powered by Rockstar's internal audio toolset, RAGE. It's maintained and developed by a team of audio programmers and sound designers that seem to be staffed there independent of any specific game project, e.g. they're a dedicated team. They've been iterating and improving upon RAGE from around the time of Grand Theft Auto V, making RAGE--now versioned 3.0--at least five years in the making.

RAGE is insanely comprehensive in what it facilitates; it reads like a game audio Christmas list fulfilled. Thankfully, volunteers and event management were on hand to scrape flying chunks of blown mind off the walls as Alastair touched upon feature after feature. Here are a few highlights; you'll want to try to catch the talk or someone else's summary for more, because there was more.

GTAV didn't even ship on PS4, ergo: there is and will be more.

How RAGE Wins Everything

Synchronicity 3.0
When the team started running up against the wall of lining up microfragments of weapon audio and trigger timings, the RAGE team responded. The engine allows for sub-frame (e.g. more than once per 1/30th second, or, more frequently than most stuff in the game's ever making a call), synchronous, sample accurate triggering of multiple assets in different formats. Designers could stack one gun layer in uncompressed PCM, another wrapped in XMA--which would need a little decoding--and the engine accounts for this, keeping everything locked up. Did I mention that GTA was so filled to capacity that the architects had to load audio into the PS3's video RAM to hit their goals? They did, and RAGE buffers for the transfer time out of video memory and still keeps things locked.

Better Engines, Cheaper
GTAV's cars sound much better than its precedessor's. (I don't know this for sure. Haven't played GTAV yet! But, I'm taking Alastair's word for it.) Beyond simple loops, each instance of a car in GTAV is kitted out with not one, but two granular synthesizers--one for processing engine sounds, another for exhaust--that help to split source recordings into tiny, reassemble-able grains at runtime, stretching their audio further and reduce memory usage. Naturally, RAGE features a nice, graphical interface for the audio designers to tune these synths in and offers fine control, e.g. what sections of a specific sample to granulate, how to blend between these areas to create convincing idle transitions (which, as steady, non-pitching sounds are typically poor candidates for granulation). They're even able to specify a % number of grains to use from each section to get really gritty about memory usage; get the sound believable, then start paring the complexity back and ride that fine line. Thoughtful options like this mean that these synthesizers can run with brutal efficiency, so that even the CPU load of double instances per car--and the game features a lot of cars--make for an effective tradeoff vs. loading fatter loops into memory. GTAV's programmers are seventh-dan master of the Cell processor architecture.

Like Promethean Fire
There's lots of talk about procedural audio these days: sounds spun up entirely out of oscillators and code, costing very little memory at the expense of some CPU usage. The idea is that at their best, procedural sound can free up valuable memory for larger, necessarily manmade assets like voiceover and orchestral music by covering all the little bits that you don't need to maybe get sounding 100% realistic. Footsteps, physics sounds, etc. At least, that's where most of us have been setting the near-term bar, because even making those sorts of sounds out of thin air is really freaking hard to do. The general consensus has been that procedural audio is coming, but isn't quite ready just yet.

Except that fully 30% of the sound effects in GTAV were created using RAGE's procedural audio editor.

Fucking 30%. Of a game that large. That shipped on the last generation.

Alastair spent some time demonstrating RAGE's modular synth-like interface that helped make this possible. It allows their audio designers to craft and tinker towards a procedural sound asset before exporting that synthesizer configuration as an asset that can run in-game. He auditioned a few that might as well have come from a microphone; apparently, Rockstar's sound designers are pretty much all Neo. This part of the talk thrust me through the full ten stages of denial and I eventually came around to stunned bewilderment.

tl;dr Rockstar's audio tech is years ahead of everyone and we all had no idea.

Everything Else

Gosh, there's still so much to go over. FMOD, Wwise and Fabric battling down to become the de facto indie audio solution of the future, just as Unity spools up its own tech. Unreal Engine coming down from its status as a AAA platform to meet the little guys with a cheapish subscription model, and throwing back the curtain on Blueprint, its new visual scripting tool for quickly creating awesome looking stuff.

It was a week of ingestion whose digestion continues. I'll likely have more to say once the whole of the conference hits the online Vault. The plan is to kick back and nerd it up with some coworkers, catch all the stuff we missed from the Audio Track and beyond. I'm sure there's lots in there that'd equally inspire.

For now, it's time to cool my spending, crack into a side project or two and thank everyone who made last week so amazing.

#GameAudioGDC is a truly happy place.

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Dialog Reel

I thought it might be a good idea to cut together several different short reels for different purposes -- not everyone's going to be interested in my sound design or implementation if they're looking for help with a radio spot or cleanup on a speech-only PSA. Sometimes, they may only want to see a selection of what I do.

The latest of these reels is meant to highlight some of the shorts I've done Dialog Editing or Mixing on, and it's below.

I found it pretty tough to find good cuts from my products that would 'showcase' dialog work, as usually it's the type of thing that slips into the background when done well. It's not really meant to be noticed. And so while the general public is still semi-clueless as to what goes on in post-production audio, I think there's a special lack of understanding around dialog work. If you tell someone you that cut sound effects on Transformers, they might stop and realize that Optimus Prime, as a CG construct, didn't make all those crazy transforming noises by himself. But tell them that you smoothed tone transitions between cuts on the production track or cleaned up unwanted movement/mouth noise, and you'd probably get a blank stare .

I think that the examples I chose for this reel and the way I structured it may help to show even the unfamiliar viewer what a Dialog Editor / Mixer typically does -- and to those of you already familiar with it, I hope you like what you hear.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcome!

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VFS Sound Design Program Review

I was approached a few weeks ago by one of the team from, who asked me if I'd write up a review of VFS' Sound Design for Visual Media program for their site -- which is about to undergo some dramatic design changes.

As of a couple of days ago, that review is online, and you can read it here:

The Hardest Year - Sound Design for Visual Media at Vancouver Film School

I was originally planning to host a review on this site as well, but as their formatting is just so much nicer, I don't think there's a need for right now.

Many of you have written to me with questions about VFS over the past year or so and I've been happy to help. And while I hope this review serves as a good starting point for a few new generations of prospective VFS SD students, you can still e-mail me directly if there's anything you'd like to know.

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A New Year

New Year's Eve is always a time for reflection. I certainly have my share of sound resolutions for 2012 -- tools and techniques I'd like to learn types of projects I'd like to work on, ways I'd like my professional life to shape up -- but more than anything else, I'd like to give myself permission to enjoy the ride a little bit. I'm traditionally very critical of himself and my own work, but as I stand here at the start of the rest of my professional life, I'm really hopeful about the way this new year's going to turn out. Here's what's new.

Linear Audio Reel

I've cut together a Linear Audio Reel of some of my work from the past 12 months, put together with a day's worth of learning in Adobe Premiere. Hacking it all together has already given me a lot more respect for (and interest in) the work of the picture editor, and Adobe's dynamic link technology -- which allows you to import and work with entire video timelines between applications, edit them live and see the updates reflected across the board without any re-rendering -- is really amazing stuff.

This represents pretty much the full spectrum of post disciplines I was exposed to this past year, and I think it plays pretty well. But I'd love to hear your feedback.

What's New

  • Finished post-production on Red Rabbit a month or so ago, earning my first IMDB Credit. I provided dialogue editing/mixing, ADR and Walla recording/editing/mixing, music editing/mixing, Foley recording/editing, and co-designed the sound effects for the film's animated fight sequence. Red Rabbit has been sent off to the Tribeca Film Festival, among others. Very pleased with the end result and have my fingers crossed..
  • Finished post-production on Portrait, a short horror slash paranormal film for VFS. Provided dialogue editing/mixing, ADR recording/editing/mixing and Foley recording/editing.
  • Have begun work on an unannounced independent platformer for XBLA. Really excited to be able to show some stuff from this one eventually..

This site will be getting a bit of a makeover in 2012 as well, as I rebrand and reform for easier independent contracting.

I'll be relocating to Seattle in the early part of the New Year to pound pavement and continue to collaborate on independent game sound and short films, watch this space for news as always.

And have a great New Year!

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So what's next?

Red Rabbit Logo

After finishing up Deus Ex: Human Revolution - one of the carrots that got me through the last two months - it's back onto some great, detailed Foley and SFX work for Red Rabbit, a student film we're polishing up for festival submission at the end of the month. Red Rabbit is a Tarantino-esque slice of cinema that tracks badass bounty hunter Babs Eaden through a small New Mexican town on her run to the border. I'm pretty psyched to get back into cutting blades and guns despite just coming out of the trailer redesign; there's always more to learn. I've been handling the dialogue and music edits/mixes so far and it's going well. The final cut should be done by the end of the month.

I'll be doing some production sound work on the side and chasing leads wherever I can. Most importantly, I'm laying out a couple independent sound projects/Thing-A-Week type deals to keep the skills sharp - some thoughts:

  • Ambiences - I love backgrounds, but after a DX:HR playthrough I am newly re-sold on their power to captivate and immerse. The EIDOS Montreal sound team killed it with the ambient beds in the Detroit and Hengsha hubs, and the way everything's mixed, it's difficult to know where the beat of the city ends and the game's own music begins.
  • Whooshes/Trailer Impacts - These two things are part of the bedrock of Hollywood sound design, and I feel like they're very minute-to-learn, lifetime-to-master. Fresh off that DX:HR trailer redesign, and I'm really eager to push past what I was able to do there and generate some new, personalized stuff and find my own favorite methods for these.
  • Synthesis/Zebra - I had such a great time with Zebra and Massive for creating all of the music and some of the inorganic sounds of my final, but have really barely scratched the surfaces of these two powerful synths. The nice thing with synthesis is that so much of it is based on the same fundamentals, so diving crazy deep into a particular synth is still pretty transferrable onto the next big thing, the Absynth or Reaktor of the 2010s. Lots to explore here.

Abstract sound design is another idea. I've got an animation lined up that's much less literal than my most recent trailer and it'd be nice to just cut loose, generate a ton of crazy source and explore some avenues I haven't yet. There's creatures, hard effects, neat vocal processing techniques, tons out there - I'm still many thousand hours away from my personal 10,000.

I'll be back around New York City for the coming holidays and am looking forward to spending some time with my family, most of whom I haven't seen for the whole year. The plan after that is to head back out West, put a few roots in Seattle and its great game development scene. Of course, a great work offer would change everything - so you never know.

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