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With that, things moved on to a discussion with SCEA's Director of Service Groups, Worldwide Studios America, David Murrant, who gave a tour of the studio's brand new editing facilities, designed to bring top-quality sound to Sony's games, across all platforms.
David Murrant: My group consists of four departments. I oversee cinematics, motion capture, sound and music, and multimedia. My last gig was managing the sound group, and as part of that we built these facilities here. We've got 22 edit rooms for sound designers to do their work. Each one is a THX 5.1 surround facility. We have two mix rooms which are 7.1 facilities. We have a foley room and a control room for that as well. That foley room is a multipurpose room. We also do a lot of recording and music, and we're starting to do more of that in-house.
This is our mix room. We do a ton of cinematics through this group each year. It's probably the equivalent of six full movies, or six hours of movies. We use John Roche from Warner Bros., who does a lot of foley for us. He's an absolute star when it comes to that. We use more and more foley work.
It's really good that you guys actually use that, because a lot of people don't seem to.
DM: The difference is huge. We never used it, and it was only in the last few years that we really [started], and we've seen the difference in quality. Plus, the music was recorded in London and Prague. We used real orchestras for this, and different composers. That's pretty much the standard we've set for a lot of our projects. That goes for the voice talent, too. We're trying to raise the bar all over the place. Everybody talks about chasing Hollywood, but we're different. As such, we're trying to make our own sound and our own direction.
Another thing that we use this room for is game mixes. We'll sit here and mix all of the elements in-game. We'll have a tester play through it, and we'll be tweaking stuff and making changes on the fly. What that does is give us a reality check at beta, where we can go, "Okay, now we've got to finally draw all of our threads together, and find all of the bugs and get them fixed."
At what point do you start implementing in-game audio?
DM: As soon as possible, really. We can see what comes up on the producers' radar, and as soon as we know that, we start to make connections with them. We have a great internal team, and we want to make sure that they're getting their audio in, both from a design and a concept [standpoint]. We then assign a person who's a lead for the lifetime of that project. Sometimes there's not a lot of work to do because there's not a lot of game assets to work with, but as soon as that starts to come online, anything we can do we'll start to pour data in. We'll use temp sounds, and then we'll move to temp dialogue and music.
Do you do much with truly interactive audio, where the player can affect it?
DM: Yeah, most obviously in music. We try to tie the music into the mood of the game, whether you're exploring or whether you're in battle. We try to make sure that the music transitions smoothly. Hopefully the player doesn't notice it, but feels it more than anything. If the scene changes, the sound should change for that scene, so that the player's perspective may be changing on the fly as well.
It's good that it's not coming in at the last phase.
DM: We couldn't do it at the last phase, but we know that there's no such thing as true post-production in video games. Everybody wants to keep changing until the last day.
This is our foley room. We use all these great foley artists, but we also want to be able to do our own. This is an eight foot by eight foot pit that we have in here, so that we can fill it with water or do whatever we want with it. We also use this space to do music and ADR. The problem that we have here is that we have F-16s flying over all day. We wanted to have a room that was isolated from that noise.
Let me show you one of the pods. This is an edit room, essentially. Each of these rooms are 5.1, THX-certified rooms. We wanted to set a standard that's used in the industry, so we could lay our mark in the sand with that. We standardized all of the equipment, so that everybody could move from room to room and know that what they're hearing is [the same]. It's a nice environment for the guys to work.
And this all got built around a year and a half ago?
DM: It just got finished at Christmas. It's still all pretty fresh. It spent two years in design and development and building. I thought it would take six months and we'd be up and running!
Another element that I haven't talked much about is the dialogue side. We have a dialogue team that mostly works in Hollywood, with our external vendors. For us, we see them as an asset that we can use. They have connections to the actors that we may want to use. The difference is in having somebody focus on looking at and reviewing scripts in the beginning. Having somebody who knows the script and is at the session and is helping with the casting process is shown in the quality of the dialogue in cinematics. They have ownership from beginning to end on the project.