Hello.  This is my blog.  If you’re looking for Impossible Acoustic the business click here.  This blog used to be just about sampling but now I write about sound design and film audio as well.  If you’re interested in sampled instruments and sound effect packs, I have a small online store hidden away behind that ‘Downloads‘ link to the right.

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Never Alone

“This is the story of Kunuuksaayuka. The story of an endless blizzard that threatens the survival of our people. A story of a dangerous and cold journey at the top of the world. A story of bravery and true friendship.” Never Alone Title Card

    My company Impossible Acoustic has just finished all the sound and music work for an upcoming PS4, Xbox and PC game called “Never Alone“. I cannot express just how beautiful, fun and unique the game is and what a rewarding experience it was for my business partner Jamie Hunsdale and I to work with the development team at E-line media. The game was conceived and is being distributed by Upper One games, the first all Native American game company. I encourage you to read more about this unique project and the story behind it’s making. In this blog post though, I’d like to share with you some of the sounds from the game and talk a little about how they were made.

FoleyTank

Within the first few weeks of our 9 months working on the game, we made two field recording trips up into the mountains to collect snow sounds. The first trip was largely unproductive since the snow was too slushy and the road noise too loud. For the second trip we drove an extra long distance to get deeper into the wilderness.  We drove Jamie’s jeep up a service road until it was too icy to go any farther and then we hiked in another quarter mile until we found a nice quiet gully. There we set up shop and recorded all the footsteps, slides and all the other sounds we thought we might possibly need. Keep in mind that at this point, only a few levels of the game were finished so we didn’t yet know the scope of the entire game.  One of the benefits of finding such a quiet spot is that we were able to mic everything from 4 to 6 feet away and still have a good signal to noise ration. The following is an example of some of the fox footsteps. For the fox we used the old trick of fitting a glove with paper clips on each finger to simulate the foxes clawed paw.

On the way home we made a spontaneous detour into a cross country skiing area parking lot. The snow plows had piled the snow up along the edges of the parking lot and they had frozen into large chunks of ice and packed snow. We spent some time kicking and throwing these chunks down into the parking lot.  These sounds ended up getting used throughout the game a lot. Like in this sound of a collapsing snow cave

These same chunks of icy snow were covered in small ice crystals about an inch tall. If you listen carefully to the ice chunk recording above you can hear them a little bit. We loaded some of the ice chunks into the jeep to try and get away from the ambient noise of the parking lot and I recorded myself scraping these crystals off onto a towel.

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This is another sound that got used a lot throughout the game; both in sound effects and in the music. It can be prominently heard in this sound

Later, back at the studio, we also played with the classic Foley technique of using cornstarch to create snow sounds. Pro tip – if you punch a pile of cornstarch it makes almost no noise and a huge mess.

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…but….if you coat your hands in it and rub them together it makes some pretty wild sounds. Or just slowly rolling your hand across a pile of cornstarch makes a great deep snow sound which we used in sounds like this one of a boulder rolling off a snow ramp.

On another day, we went to home depot and bought a bunch of wood scraps. One wooden lattice was quite large and Jamie got some funny looks in the Home Depot parking lot as he proceeded to smash and break his brand new purchase so it would fit in the car. We spent a day in the studio recording all the wood footsteps for the game and creating a library of other wood creaking and breaking sounds. We still ended up supplementing from library sounds but this gave us a great basis to work from. One sound I quite like is the sound of platforms in the Coastal Village falling off screen.  The distant echo of the wood clattering it’s way down the cliff face is what sells the sense of height at this moment in the game.

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Given that the basic plot of the game is about the heroin finding the source of a giant blizzard, it goes without saying that wind played a large roll in the game’s soundscape. I spent a lot of time creating and revising the ambiences for each level. The challenge was to create the feeling and constant presence of wind without it masking too many other sounds with white noise, without it becoming monotonous or overbearing or indistinct. I used a lot of sounds from Gordon Hempton’s fantastic winds library as well as synthesized wind sounds, some of my own field recordings, processed versions of my breath and a “snow falling” sound I made by overlapping and filtering the sound of lightly tapping on the carpet in my home studio.

Here’s the ambiance from the forest level which features all of the forms of wind I listed plus a randomized selection of tree creaks made from creaking doors and a pitched down wicker laundry basket.  Randomized raven calls round it out.

One of the more creatively challenging elements of the game were all the spirit sounds. These took a great deal of experimenting and went through many revisions.  Especially the spirit footstep sounds which I must have re-authored at least 10 times. What does it sound like to walk on a spirit? I tried a lot of things from silence, to echoes, to musical notes that changed with each step but wouldn’t you know, the thing that worked the best in the end was lightly tapping a nice fluffy pillow.

One of my favorite spirit sounds is that of the sky people. The sky people make three different sounds; an idle hovering sound that’s heard when they’re on the screen, a growling sound you only hear when you get close to the head and a grab sound when one of the characters gets caught.  There are three different hovering sounds all made from recordings of my voice, my breath and me whistling processed with convolution reverb, Reaktor effects. This sound provided a great ambient other-worldly presence but once we put it in the game, we found it didn’t localize well to the head of the spirit people and didn’t provide that “get the hell out of the way” feeling we needed. So we created the growling sound and attached it to the head of each of the sky people and used Unity’s built in doppler functionality to create a sense of movement. This ended up working very well.

The various creatures in the game were a lot of fun to design too. The Manslayer character ended up being an amalgamation of a lot of different sources. My voice, Jamie’s voice and the voice of James Nageak  who also played the Narrator all made it into the mix along with animal sounds and even some thunder.

Those are just some of the stories behind the sounds in the game.

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Ice in a vice

It’s ice.  In a vice!

Last winter,  my partner Jamie Hunsdale  and I took advantage of some freezing weather and recorded a bunch of ice sounds.  Little did we know that just a few weeks later we would be hired to do sound design and music for the game Never Alone and these sounds would come in very handy.

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Electric Toothbrush

electric toothbrush

Sound is vibration right?  So if you can get an object to vibrate it will make a sound right?  I spent some time recently driving my family crazy by seeing what objects around the house I could get to vibrate by holding an electric toothbrush against them.  I made a short song from the results.

 

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Punch Sounds Article

Film Review Out of the Furnace

 

The Wall Street Journal just published an article on the punch sound effects for the movie “out of the furnace” complete with breakdowns of one of the punch sounds and a auditory history of punch sounds in movies.  Pretty cool!  Here’s the link.  Below is a compilation of punch sounds put together by the articles author Don Steinberg.

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Romo

I recently made this sound design and musical accompaniment for the Romo ident.  Auditory logos, like their visual counterparts, are an exercise in simplicity and efficiency. Mediocre ones are quickly forgotten but the good ones take up residence in your brain and make themselves comfortable.

You’ve probably heard many of the sounds in the following video.  Many of them will instantly evoke a feeling of familiarity but can you consciously  recall their origins?

 

 

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Gravity

If you haven’t seen Gravity yet, I highly recommend you go see it right away.  Preferably in 3D and at an Atmos theater.  I’m generally not a fan of 3D.  During the blurry, headache inducing 3D previews before the movie, I was starting to regret my decision to see it in 3D but once the movie started I quickly forgot my concerns.  The 3D combined with the atmos playback made for a nearly virtual reality experience.  The directors use of long cuts and POV shots also played a huge role in the immersive experience and allowed for a lot of creative and unconventional panning.  See my previous post on sound design in single take shots.    Here’s a link to an article that talks more about this as well as more about the score and sound design in general.  Also check out the SoundWorks video embedded in the article.

 

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Recycled Thunder

recycledthunder

The back window to my house opens up right into an alleyway and when my neighbors take their recycling bins out every week, it always reminds me of thunder.  Then we had a thunderstorm and it sounded like the recycling being taken out!  Obviously there’s a connection here that needs to be explored.  The following sound clip features a thunder sound made from recycling bin sounds followed by the original un-altered sound.

 

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Synthesized Electricity

MassivePatch

A key aspect of sound design is performance.  The most common way to do this is through editing.  Much like an animator will create the illusion of a performance through the painstaking process of drawing individual frames, the sound effects editor creates the illusion of performance by editing and manipulating pre-recorded sounds.

Of course, we also have the option of performing and recording sounds live; manipulating and “playing” props live to tape the way a Foley artist does, but for some sounds that’s not a feasible option.  Take the sound of electricity for example.  I don’t want to say it’s impossible to perform this sound live (hmm future project) but suffice to say it’s not convenient.

So if editing together a performance is the second, the performing a sound live with props is the second, then the third option would be synthesis.  With synthesized sounds you have control over every parameter of the sound and those parameters can all be manipulated and performed to create some very dynamic sounds.

Here’s an example of an electricity sound I recently synthesized using NI’s Massive.  It’s actually a pretty simple patch.  It uses just one oscillator but takes advantage of Massive’s filters and modulation oscillator.  By controlling the filter cutoff, the wavetable position and other parameters, I can make the sound dip and bend however I like without any editing of the waveform.

Then, to beef up the sound and add a layer of naturalism, I pulled in some firework explosions and other sounds from my library.

In the following clip you’ll hear just the synthesized sound, then just the library sounds, then both together processed with a flanger and other effects.

 

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Bubbles in a Bowl

Sound of the Week = Bubbles in a Bowl

Here’s a short composition made from the sounds of blowing bubbles into a big glass bowl.  The piece starts with the raw recording and then the rest of the song is made from processed versions of that recording.

The Kontakt instruments I used are available for free on my downloads page.

The final set that we ultimately decided on consisted of my own violin sounds and cartoon ‘ploinks’ from an SFX library, mixed with the sound of rubbing a wet balloon.  A lot of the character’s movement and sloshing around was performed with a water balloon as well.  At one point every footstep and movement the character made had a sound but in the end we found that to be distracting so movement sounds were paired way back for the final video.

 

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Voice options for “The Mighty-T”

MightyTsmall

Finding the right sound often takes a lot of experimentation.  For the voice of the main character in the animation “The Mighty-T”, I went through many iterations before landing on something that fit the character and worked well within the context of the animation as a whole.  Here are some of the options I came up with.

The final set that we ultimately decided on consisted of my own violin sounds and cartoon ‘ploinks’ from an SFX library, mixed with the sound of rubbing a wet balloon.  A lot of the character’s movement and sloshing around was performed with a water balloon as well.  At one point every footstep and movement the character made had a sound but in the end we found that to be distracting so movement sounds were paired way back for the final video.

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