Recently I had the pleasure of creating the sound design, along side Johan Deecke, for the animation 'Abomination Vault' created by Andrew Moore. Below is a transcribed conversation between Johan and myself on our process on creating the sound assets and the issues that we tackled along the way.
Ash: I was the asset builder for the real world sounds, where as you [Johan] were controlling the mood through abstract sounds. My sounds were giving the viewer the idea of being in a space.
Johan: And I took control of the mix, built some abstract sounds and incorporated all the assets into the mix.
Ash: I created very basic droplets to see if it could be done...
Johan: ...as opposed to finding a water droplet sample?
Ash: Yeah, I really liked the idea of making the whole thing with synths rather than sampling. In the sense of 'miles travelled' I felt we wouldn't have to do much to a sample and that it was cheating. The idea was building something from nothing.
Johan: I did use a sample myself, which was a 'gas meter' sound, which was heavily processed.
Ash: If I just found something on the net, there wouldn't have been a challenge.
Johan: What were the challenges?
Ash: Making it sound realistic and making it sound complex. My idea was sine waves as water drops seemed pretty pure. The biggest thing for me was using and LFO to pitch bend it.
Johan: Where'd you get that idea from?
Ash: I had to learn for it for myself. I wanted to fill out the sound so I added another oscillator and detuned it slightly. I also realised that it wasn't just a pure tone; water is complex. That gave me the idea of having a different LFO with a bit of randomness, to give it that bit of complexity. It was just a matter of getting the envelope right; a fast attack, no sustain, a short release. The initial sound, sounded like a synth, so I added reverb. I don't remember seeing water in the cavern but Andrew (the animato) wanted water drops. Where are they coming from? Do we know? Do we want to point it out, or give a clue? Maybe we shouldn't be giving a clue and just have an echo, it doesn't matter where it's coming from, so I just used the wet sound from the reverb.
I used a similar idea for the whooshes ( for passing the tiers): sine waves, pitch bends & LFO for a bit of that doppler effect. I realised this isn't an actual sound, when you got past something it's more like just pressure levels changing, so I thought that it should just be wet reverb and EQ'd it to a certain frequency.
Johan: I was thinking about mood and effects, I wanted an idea of things coming toward in loudness and clarity and then pass behind. I thought an obvious whoosh sound like wind but (a wind sample) didn't seem to work and then I found this gas sample that sounded really good. I created a bass synth in the centre that increases as you approached the bottom [of the vault]. I changed the speed of sounds as for a sense of movement and there is also automated spectral movement in the sound.
Ash: Communication of frequency ranges. I realised later, we should've had a chat about frequency ranges of assets, it's something to reflect on next time. You might have told me where you had freedom of movement, and I could have put my assets into that range.
Johan: Yeah, trying to fit your sounds, I realised we could've done things different and talk about assets, what are the (intended) bandwidths, where do they fit spectrally. In the end it was all right, some of your sound was in the 500Hz range and I didn't need a lot of that so I EQ'd it out. I also added a compressor sidechain keyed to your whooshes, which allowed for the passing sounds, like what you said about change in pressure when the levels went passed. Perhaps we should have talked about space too, not just bandwidth.
Ash: yeah, I thought about that with my reverb treatment, should we run them through the same reverb? Will they clash? We should really consider that next time.
Johan: The water droplets were in a different space to what I created but that helped to put them in a different unseen space.
Ash: Also, I think it would have been good to see the mix. If roles had've been more specified (at the beginning) then in that case I might've said I just wanted to be a second pair of ears. Sometimes you changed things without mentioning it and it was so different. I tried to be as blunt as possible and pick out what was distracting, not just an opinion. If I'm giving out opinions then I become the mixer.
Johan: You almost stood back from the mix and became the viewer/technical role in the mix. I liked your bluntness, that you called me up and said, "hey what did you do to the mix?" when I made a change. I really wanted to understand what you were hearing. It was fortunate we took to our tasks organically and assumed roles, so a bit of luck there, but definitely a bit of planning of roles and communication next time.
So What Did We Learn?
Ash: Using synths and creating something sonically that wasn't musical. Music is an easy one for me but to create these audio assets that had nothing to do with music was fascinating and really made me think about how sound works.
Johan: I agree with you. I had to think about this sense of sound but what does that mean? But also mood, not just matching visuals but something that adds to a sense of what this mood is about?
Ash: Yeah, what am I supposed to feel when I watch this?
Johan:There were challenges in how we worked too 'cause I was controlling the mix, I was getting feedback from everyone, I had to learn to interpret that feedback and mix it to everyone's information.
Ash: I had to watch the animation, 'cause when I watch something I don't just listen, I watch it and the sonic information is just helping that, I had to concentrate on the video and pick up what was distracting.
Johan: That's what I needed but it was tough working on feedback in terms of what you are hearing, I gotta really listen to what you're saying and interpret it into the mix and keep getting feedback.
This was a great experience that has prepared me for the problems that I'm bound to face in future endeavours. I believe that Johan and myself worked great as a team and are sure to work together again in the near future. The final edit of the animation can be viewed below.