BVW Round 0: Sound Design

As expected, the core course of ETC – Building Virtual World started on Tuesday of the 1st week. Unexpectedly, I was assigned to be a SOUND DESIGNER… Though I was strongly eager to be a PROGRAMMER, being a sound designer can still be a cool job.

Our assignment is choosing one of the provided clips and design their sound effects. Hmmmm… Sounds easier than other characters’ mission (the programmer has to create a game, and the artist has to model a 3D dragon and its animation…). I could complete task in time without a doubt… I thought. The experience of designing “unoriginal sound tracks” in college days for the theater helps me a lot. Then, I started my week-long journey.

Day 1, Overture

Actually I didn’t start the task until Wednesday – I played Fire Emblem IF the whole night after school :P. Then I devoted myself to the work. First of all I need to pick up a clip. There were 7 clips in the folder. After watching them all I decided to either the pixel one or the Running Pepper. Considering I’ve made couple of pixel games before, I selected the later one. Just have a try of another style.

I finally choose this demo clip, Puppet Run, a former BVW project by the senior students.
Puppet Run, a former BVW project by the senior students.

I’ve been used to set down the background music first, cause it could define the tone of the whole of the performance. William Tell Overture jumped in my mind at the first step, perhaps for the reason that it has been being used in the Hong Kong Jocky race for a long time and the game is likewise about speed.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club. The race broadcasts on TV every week, using William Tell Overture as the BGM.
Then I started analyzing the video and BGM timeline. I took notes of the video’s storyboard and the BGM’s paragraph in order to find out which movement of the song is appropriate to the clip. Find them out, then analyzed how to cut and combine them fluently. Do some polish.
That's how I analyzed roughly.
That’s how I analyzed roughly… And the English is so rough as well…

Listening sound effects in the library and picking up some of them for using based on the previous analyses come next. Actually it is a great challenge to encounter a suitable one – there are just TOO MANY pieces in the library! Some of which even have NOT a clear file name, such as “HB_001_001″…

Day 2, Record

Day 2 started by deciding which timing in the clip needs a human voice effect. Besides the opening and the events like crash or slide, I hope my work seems more like a game demo rather than a music video. So I add some random ambiance sound. For example, the characters will occasionally encourage or push the player to run faster in repeating words.

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Heading to the luxury sound booth, it’s time for choosing a sound style. Since the game is pretty entertaining, I suppose the voices should be lively and “cartoonish”. Noticed that the game happens in a wooden bathhouse, which is kind of like Japanese style, and there are Japanese on the door’s curtain at the end of the passageway, I assumed the characters should speak Japanese. In order to get rid of language barrier, shortening the lines is necessary. Using the most familiar Japanese and adding emotions in the tone helps people to understand them.

Several recording cues. I have no idea how could I understand them!
Several recording cues. I have no idea how could I understand them!

Recording in the sound booth is of great fun. Chiao-Fang was using the composing part at the same time and we soon became great partners. She helped me complete some part of the record and we discussed a lot about music. We even jammed songs there. It’s wonderful that sound designers try to help each other, cause great idea often comes from the collision of thoughts.

Day 3, Subtraction

Day 3 is all about polish. After adding too many ideas into the demo, time for subtraction. It’s important to enrich my video sounds, but it’s also essential to keep the sound clear, rather than jumble them. A great pity for deleting the amazing records though…

After adjusting all the sound and timing, the next step is to polish the vocal. I had once covered several songs, and I know using raw vocal without reverberation is inappropriate. In Audition 3.0, the BBE plugin did that job. Now in Audition CC, whose features have changed a lot, there’s another way to reverb. I followed the steps of this video to set up the reverberation. They works really well. Also, The opening vocal was adjusted carefully to be more dramatic.

Stereo balance also need polish. At the very beginning I set only 2 footstep track on left and right channel respectively, but soon noticed that it didn’t work really well. Therefore I changed my strategy to control each footstep track separately, reflecting the position of the player. It cost a lot of patient.

Our TA, Larry, suggested that the background was too loud, covering other sound effects a little bit. Thus I modified the volumes, not only the background music but the whole other ones to smooth the song. When it exported, however, everything sounds change a little bit from the origin playing in the software to the exporting file. I had to adjust the tracks in the software, explored them and then checked whether they matched each other in the best way. The same situation came when I tried to export the video. The music was slightly different when it was placed into the video and exported. Again, all tracks needed adjustment.

Day 4-6, Bonus!

Completing my assignment, I started to thinking of find something else to do. The sound booth is an amazing place thus I spent several hours there, doing improvisational composing and other stuff. Someday I was watching one of the video clips and a song hit my brain all of a sudden. The lyric just fitted the clip so perfectly that there’s not doubt to put my hand to  make a music video as a bonus immediately. It was the Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, and the video was the pixel one I had abandoned before. I rewrote the lyric a little bit and spent 3 days in recording the song. Most of the time I was considering dramatize the vocal.

Lyric after adaptation. Now it's more like a confession of a thief LOL
Lyric after adaptation. Now it’s more like a confession of a thief LOL

And things go on like this. In the last of days I did some coding and hanging around chatting with classmates. Free talks are good source of inspiration, you can always learn something new from other people!