How did you personally get into the industry to produce sound effects?
I started as a game tester in May 1992, then moved up to level designer. Then in Feb. 1993, my best friend, Tommy Tallarico, needed a sound guy and offered me the job. I jumped at the chance and have been doing sound ever since.
What will I get paid?
I usually get paid money. Some have offered chickens in exchange for services, but I won’t accept that.
What sort of equipment do I need?
Ideally you need a PC & a Mac. Macs have always been known to be great machines for sound, but lately the PC is becoming really good at it too. Having both gives you more available tools. Some sort of synthesiser (software or hardware) and a sampler is also quite useful too for creating sounds that don’t exist. You also need a good microphone & portable DAT recorder so that you can record live sound on location. The more equipment you have which you can create sound with, the better… but this is the least you need.
What about the software I need to create and edit sound effects?
Again the rule is ‘the more the better’, but you should have Sound Forge for the PC. On the Mac I personally recommend Digital Performer since you can do multi-track midi & audio with a multitude of effects. It also can run movies with the sequence allowing you to score cinematics.
What format and medium should I supply my video game sound effects on once they are finished?
Most companies have FTP sites available now so it’s best to get a fast internet connection so that you are able to upload the sounds to them. The other option would be on CDROM and sent FEDEX. Format of the sounds depends on the platform and space available. This is a question for the programmer of the game you are working on.
When making your sound effects do you need a special acoustic room or will my bedroom/kitchen/living room do the job just as well?
A special acoustic room is nice to have… but as I look around my house I realize that it’s not a necessity. My ‘special room’ is the living room. Sometimes the closet because it’s small and has a door and tends to be pretty quiet. And with all the clothes it reduces the reflections from the walls.
Where do you begin when you make a custom sound? I really don’t know where to start! Do you start on the computer or do you make noises into a microphone?
Custom sounds can be done either way, or a combination of both. It depends on the sound. I try to hear the sound in my head first and then I gather what I need to create it. There is no wrong way to make a sound.
What happens if I need a noise from somewhere unique, like from inside the cockpit of an Indy/Formula One car, or a fighter jet in full flight? Do you make the sounds up or do you try and get the real noises?
If you need cockpit noise from a Formula One car or a jet and have the opportunity to get in it, or at least attach some mics inside then that is the way to go. Plus think of how much fun that experience would be. Once I needed the sound from inside the cockpit of a P-40 and was lucky enough to go on location and record it in flight inside the cockpit. If you don’t have that opportunity though, you have no choice but to make it up.
How do you come up with sounds to funky descriptions… “A magical arrow of ice flying through the air.”
I happen to have a magic ice arrow in my freezer from the last time I needed this sound.
Just imagine what the sound sounds like to you and then build it. Things that don’t exist in the real world are the most fun to create sound for because they can sound like anything you want. You just have to be creative and have imagination.
Is there any special techniques or programmes to help with repetitive sample changes – i.e. how do I add 10% echo or increase the volume on the 3,000 samples I’ve just made in one go?
I use Sound Forge which has batch processing for exactly this purpose.
I’ve seen sound effect libraries for sale on CD. Are they worth buying? Do you use them, or is your entire work original?
I try to get every sound library available. The more source material you have to start with the better. Sometimes I do have to create the entire game from scratch though because not everything I need is on a library. And even when I do use the library I always change the sound somehow, usually by combining it with something else to get the exact sound I want.
If I do this Freelance, will I be able to work for other mediums or industries? (Like Promotional videos, films or TV?)
Sure why not!? I have supplied sounds for games, TV, and toys. It’s still just making sound… the only requirement being that you can supply what the project needs, or are compatible with their equipment. Film & TV production generally use a Pro-Tools system with beta tapes that lock up with audio through SMPTE time-code so you would need the equipment to run all that.
In your opinion what game/s has used sound effects to the greatest effect.
System Shock 2 has probably the greatest use of sound ever. It is very haunting and creepy. You can always hear something of screen walking towards you, or moaning, hissing, creaking, screaming, etc. It’s done very well and was definitely not done as an afterthought like most games.
My other pick is probably Tony Hawk Pro Skater (which I created the sounds for). Most of the time you are playing it you don’t even notice the sound because every sound is exactly what you expect it to be.
When the game is very realistic, the sound designer’s job is to not be noticed. When I do my job right, you shouldn’t even notice the sound because it is exactly what it’s supposed to be. (This theory only works in realistic, real world type games). Anything with a fantasy element, or over-the-top Hollywood type sound should not blend into the background and instead be right in your face and memorable.
Who do you think is the best sound effects producer in the industry?
I like to think that I am the best there is… designer wise. Tommy is the best producer I know because he helps me be the best. He is able to paint a very vivid vision for the sounds I need to create so that all I need to do is make the sound match his vision. I usually do my best work when we working as a team like that. (a good music producer will usually make a musician sound better also… that is what they do)
Is it a good job, or should I just become a programmer?
If you are not a fan of sleeping daily, or sleeping at home, then you should be a programmer. If you like free time, having fun, going to the movies and calling it research, going to sporting events to record live crowds, and lots of other things related to sound…. then sound designer is the way to go.