On Wednesday, Max and I stepped into the C24 for our final mix of the Warframe sound replacement project. The thought that it was the final session was strange to both of us, having spent so much time on it. This post will be a reflection on some of the things that went right, and what could have gone better with this project. Regardless, I am very proud of the product that we have come up with. I have experienced a lot of growth as a sound designer and a mixing engineer through this project, expanding the set of tools that I am skilled with and improving my workflow immensely. As a team, I feel Max and I came very close to an industry standard product in a number of areas, from the sound design to conforming to loudness standards as well as the utilisation of surround mixing.
Without further ado, here is our final product, complete with improvements on the previous version based on the feedback we have received. This includes additional Moa and Vauban movements, a more impactful missile sequence, heavier body falls and an improved gunshot sound.
What went right
Working with Max was a great experience. He brought a lot of talent in the area of mixing, as well as producing some great sound design with his Moa landing sound, his work on the Vauban dialogue, and other effects. I also thought his work on the music for the production was a great fit, producing an excellent, tension-building score that concludes dramatically and works with the sound effects rather than against them.
It was really easy to stay on the same page with each other as well, as we stayed in contact constantly, messaging each other with ideas for sounds as well as how we could best utilise our studio sessions. We ran very diplomatic mixing sessions, and used each others’ opinions to appropriately improve the feel of the sound. This has always been a goal of collaboration for me, and working in this way with Max made the production better than if one person was to play dictator in the process.
Max and I were on board with committing to this project from before the trimester even began, so it gave us lots of time to organize who was doing which tasks, creating an asset list, and refining the scope of the project. Being organized so early on was a big positive in the whole process of the project, notably because we spent the somewhat slow start of the trimester experimenting with synthesized sounds. We also got to the end of the project and found ourselves with plenty of time to make minor adjustments and to implement some advice we got from feedback.
Sound Design (Vortex, Gunshots, Missiles, Impacts)
I feel like I really stepped up a level with my sound design in this project, and the sound design as a whole feels very close to the result that we hoped to achieve at the beginning of the project: trying to replicate the feel of the original soundscape with a fresh perspective. The first example of the success of the sound design is if you compare the result above with the work I did on the Starship Troopers project and you will notice a significantly improved gunshot sound, achieved through simplifying the mix of source materials and focusing on getting the right sounds to begin with.
As mentioned above, starting early in the trimester with our synthesized sound design also played a huge role in getting a satisfying result for the vortex sounds. In particular, having the vortex sound so early in the process allowed Max to create a moment in the music where the vortex and the synthesized layers in the music overlap and transition really smoothly. I also learnt to use the Waves Doppler plugin through this project, which was a big factor in getting a believable flight sound for the missiles when combined with the equalised pink noise and the sparkler samples. The impact sounds were also quite successful. The Moa landing sound is perfect for that moment in the clip, and once we added some weight to the body fall sounds, they work really well too.
What could’ve gone better
While I am very satisfied with the project, I feel there are a few areas where Max and I could have made it even better, and brought it more in line with an industry standard product. You can see the areas for improvement when comparing the clip with the original soundscape, as well as other science-fiction productions like Star Wars.
While we were able to create a suitable vocal for Vauban through processing, I feel like we could have gotten a more appropriate performance out of Nick in the recording process. A lot of the takes sounded similar, so we didn’t have a lot of choices when it came to editing. In hindsight, I would have asked Nick to put on his deepest voice to try and come up with a naturally boomy vocal with less digital processing, if only to satisfy my curiosity of the difference in the resulting sound through a change in process.
Monitoring Source Material Recordings
Max and I made the error of not being diligent enough about monitoring each recording of the source material on a case-by-base basis. This resulted in some weak recordings and it is a problem that I have experienced in the past, however I am working on this personal flaw. It did make the sound design process a little more difficult, however through some field recording and expending some of our time that we allocated for mixing, we were able to rectify this issue. The one thing that we didn’t get an outstanding result for was the whoosh sound for Vauban raising his guns. George Spanos, the sound designer on Warframe, released an article on his Whoosh recording techniques and it reveals just how right the conditions have to be to get a high quality result. Not only did we not have access to an area that quiet (even in studios, you have hums from lights that are drowned out for recordings of louder sounds), but the booth of the C24 is also not a large enough space to swing larger items that produce more satisfying sounds.
I firstly want to say that I am really happy with the work that Max did on the score. However, I feel like there are some moments that the original score serves better through the use of music. This is done in the original by a change of rhythm, and utilising metallic samples to make the entrance of the Moa less jarring. It kind of makes you feel like it’s there without seeing it in the video. Max and I could have communicated a little more in this regard, and is mainly because I came at the project from the perspective of a sound designer without embracing the broader picture (or soundscape) a little more. This is another area in which we could have brought the project more in line with an industry standard production.