Luca Fusi Sound Design | Implementation

5May/140

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!

15May/111

Behind – Post Sound

A quick write-up on a post project I took on with a few friends last term.

We three amigos were feeling pretty confident about our workload for Term 3 when we were approached by a graduating student from VFS' Classical Animation department about doing the sound for her final, the story of a day in the life of a young girl at play, and the magical backpack that protects her from harm throughout.

While we probably would have turned down just any old work to focus instead on our assignments, this animation was completely legit -- there was no way we could pass up a chance to get our sound on such a beautiful piece.

So we said yes, and threw ourselves into it amidst the rest of our coursework.

Going in reverse for this one. Here's the end result, and below that is some thinking/work that went into it.

Final Result

Early Planning

Our first look at "Behind" was a draft copy of the piece with temp music dropped in -- nothing locked yet, but close enough to completion that we got what the animator had in mind. The whole piece had a very Miyazaki-esque/Spirited Away sort of vibe to it, and we wanted that to come through unaffected in the final clip. Our job here was really clearly to support the visual and the mood just enough to elevate the movie, then get the hell out of the way.

Some early thoughts we had:

  • Less is more. Both the delicate visual style of BB's animation and the tone of the piece called for a really light touch from the sound department. We've been used to crazy psychic battles, fight scenes and explosions, so trying to create "soft" sounds was totally new for us. We decided early on to keep the sound effects and ambiences from being "over-real" and leave out a lot of the detail we'd otherwise put in.
  • Cede to the music. It's weird to say this, as sound people are usually jostling with the music guys to get their sounds played loudest in the final mix - but again, with a really delicate piece like this one, we had to concede that music could say a lot more than simple effects could to create the vibe we wanted. We were prepared to have our stuff played down.
  • If we can't get the crying working, we'll drop the dialogue entirely. It was a coin toss as to whether the girl was really vocalizing or not as she skips along, but we thought it'd be a great experience to get in touch with our acting campus and cast talent for the role, get some extra dialogue editing practice, etc. -- so we committed to putting dialogue in the piece, with the caveat: if it wasn't believable, if the crying felt false or got in the way, we'd strip it all out.

In all the student works (in-progress and final) I've seen so far in my time here, I've observed that dialogue is kind of a high-risk proposition. When it's good, or just average, it goes unnoticed and we simply absorb it, freeing up our brains to concentrate on the visuals/rest of the sound design that's gone into a piece. When it's bad, it hijacks our attention and basically spoils any chances of walking away from the piece thinking that it had good sound...

Recording and Editing

... Fortunately, we managed to find a couple of voice actors that fit the character we were looking for, and had one of those "Oh my God"/mutual turn-to-each-other moments after our session with Arielle Tuliao, who did the voice of the girl. That was a huge turning point in the process; after editing her stuff into sync and laying it on with our Foley, everything started feeling like it was really going to work out. Everyone else did a great job as well, with Brendan (one of the kids') voices also providing some neat source material for the bag roar when pitched down.

Apart from the music, the great majority of the sound that got played up in the final mix was our Foley -- all of it was captured with the Rode NTG-3 running through an FP33 mic pre into Pro Tools. Would've loved to have used the 416 on all that stuff, but didn't discover it until a few weeks later!

The sessions took us the better part of two days to fully record and edit. Notably "cool" Foley solutions were flicking our fingers with masking tape on them for the butterfly flaps, ripping pieces of cloth underneath a dirt pit for root tears/plucks, and a nice layer of fresh-picked green onions on our surface for some squeaky meadowy footstep details.

My buddy Gwen handled the BGs and SPFX , both of which I thought really had that soft sonic texture the piece needed, and were rich and full without being really showy.

Manuel took the animator's original Music, a simple piano melody, and really filled it out to score the entire piece with -- unfortunately, a lot of those changes didn't make it into the final mix, in favor of the director's starting piece. You gotta expect it.

Final mixes were done by a later-term student and VFS' Matthew Thomas.

Hope you enjoyed! Leave any questions or feedback in the comments.

28Mar/110

Game Audio – Trailer Music Edit

It's been a while! Our third term has been crazy busy over here, with more post audio work, lots of field recording, some on-set film collaboration stuff, Max/MSP classes and an animation I'm doing the sound for (with a few good friends) on the side. We've just passed a nice block of assignments, so I wanted to come up for air and post a piece of work before diving back in.

Game Audio II

Emotive Game Trailer Assignment: COD4

One of the realities of working at a small-scale game developer (or even some larger ones) is that if you're on-site as the sound guy, you'll occasionally get stuck with some non-developmental audio stuff to do. When the sounds have all been created and implemented and the game's headed for gold, your publisher will want promotional trailers - and you may be the guy to cut them.

For this assignment, we were to choose from a selection of popular game trailers (audio removed) and a handful of available library songs in a variety of genres, then cut, process and edit any number of those songs any way we saw fit to give some emotion to the moving image - accent cuts, create dips and valleys, all that good stuff. The artificial challenge here is that we were able to work only with the source songs as raw audio material, and couldn't bring in extra SFX to do impacts, bass dives or any other tricks we might want to use. We had to get resourceful.

In the end, I used bits and pieces from 5-6 of the potential songs to create the video below. Just a quick look at the original audio before we hit my edit:

SD49 Luca Emotive Game Trailer Sources by lucafusi

It all took off from messing with the pitch of the DnB song and realizing it sounded like a pretty cool beat in and of itself. That track was also the major component of my SPFX during the intro soldier segment and the gunshot to the screen. Here's the final result:

More in the coming days or week. Keeping busy!

14Mar/110

More Plankton

More goods from Phytoplankton after last week's session. It's great to be able to keep our skills pretty fresh with some of the amazing Native Instruments VSTs and standalone kits we've got in the Term 2 classroom, even as the rest of our program sends us further away from them. Not included is the strange, 19-minute soundscape that erupted in the middle of it all..

Locomotive

Four-parter cut up into little movements. If you want the whole thing as a seamless file, shoot me a mail or comment!

The Deep

The Sink

The Dive

The Surface

Once again, Phytoplankton is:

8Mar/110

Phytoplankton

Weapons of choice.

Weapons of choice.

Taking a moment here to link to our SD49 supergroup, Phytoplankton! A couple of friends and I get together on the weekend evenings and abuse our having a classroom that's totally kitted out with all the Native Instruments packages to experiment and jam.

Some good stuff in here from the last few weeks, cut out from a few hours of messing around:

Dinoflagellate

Chicken of the Sea

Deception, Pt. 1

Deception, Pt. 2

Also be sure to check out the Soundclouds/pages (some on the right-hand side) of the other guys (and girl) in the band:

19Dec/100

Home

One semester down, five to go!

For any of you stumbling upon this now or later, looking for information on what you're getting into with VFS' Sound Design for Visual Media program, here are the topics I remember us covering in the last couple of months. If you were hoping to simulate my Term 1 at a library somewhere, you'd want to learn:

VFS Term 1

  • Much on the physics of sound, with some psychoacoustics (the Fletcher-Munson curve, how we perceive stereo delays) and a bunch of digital audio training (definitions on a bit rate, a sample rate, why we choose the ones we do, the advantages of going higher or lower with each, Nyquist's law, etc.)
  • Lots of history about the start and rise of sound in motion pictures, how it was once recorded and edited, and more than I wanted to know re: framerate conventions and timecode
  • How to break out an ADR cue sheet from a film clip; how to set up a ProTools session to record said ADR session later
  • How to create an EDL (not that the Sound Designer will ever be the one in charge of this); how to stitch together a new production audio track from an EDL you're given, plus the last day's recordings
  • A solid familiarity with Pro Tools, including: a ton of common editing shortcuts, basic mixing, cut-pasting automation, how several of the most widely used plug-ins (EQ, Reverb) really work and how to set them up to do what your ear is looking for, creating a mix template and custom I/Os from scratch, track and region management, using AudioSuite vs. RTAS plug-ins, creating submixes, working with time code, good session submission practices
  • Signal flow, bringing the sound you want to record from a microphone all the way through a mixer and a patch bay, into the DAW you're working with
  • Basic MIDI editing
  • Basic primer on microphones and mic selection

The one thing I didn't really see stressed in class, but had confirmed, is that these classes won't teach you everything. Seems obvious, but if everyone were aware of it, our labs after-hours would be a lot fuller than they have been.

So as a tip: you want to stay around the labs and just work and work as much as possible. I've had a lot of later-term students come up to me and tell me that Term 1's for taking it easy to avoid burnout, that there'll be plenty of nights to work late once things pick up, but I don't buy it. The class is already starting to stratify a bit, with the real tryhards rising to the top and those who never seem to be around after-hours picking up a reputation for packing up.

I don't think I'm at the top of the class, but I feel like I'm close, and the people I'm sharing that tier with don't seem like competition so much as they are motivation - they make me want to work harder, stay later, spend that tuition money wisely, pick up independent projects on the side, explore avenues that we haven't even covered in class yet and just generally become a badass sound designer far ahead of schedule. I figure, start working this way now so that I'm used to it by the time the program really picks up. It can't hurt, and I'm feeling more fulfilled with my day-to-day than I have in.. maybe ever? Still having trouble believing that this will be my life once I'm through.

From last time, a little update - the music composition part of things is going well. I guess I've approached it before all the other goals because it's the scariest one, the area in which I feel I'm most "behind." Every little melody line, successful bunch of chord changes or head-nod from a fellow student feels like a major victory when I'm coming from no history there besides a bunch of long-faded piano lessons!

And just because no one's finding this site yet, here's a peek at something I did in a night right before I came home for the break. Needs a lot of work, like me revisiting the clusterfuck at the start of the song that were some chord change ideas with the choir that never got properly timed or cleaned up, and I'm not satisfied with the ending, and the drum pattern variation hasn't been done all the way yet, but.. it's something.

Hope we'll get to cover a bunch of mastering processes in the course of the year; it'd be great to take all this MIDI (which is already written) and get the patches it's feeding into really sparkling by the end of my time here. If not, I'll just have to figure it out myself.

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