sound design is based on events in the real world.
In terms of overall
approach, the mix should always be considered from the listeners
perspective. There is no point in creating a gigantic, wide-ranging mix
for a game if it doesnt sound good on computer speakers. Game sound
designers typically mix using low-end computer speakers and switch back
to high-quality speakers only for reference. That ensures the sound designers
have the same sonic experience as the end-users. Here are some other issues
to consider when creating sound for different types of media.
Film. No doubt about it, mixing for film is a beautiful thing. There are
no limitations on frequency response due to low sampling rates, and having
a subwoofer ensures that dramatic rumbles and explosions will be felt
as well as heard. In mixing for 5.1 surround, the center channel enhances
the clarity of the dialog, which leaves more room in the left and right
for music and effects. Finally, the surround channels can be used liberally
to enhance the mood and apparent environment size by sending ambient elements,
reverb washes, and occasional musical elements to the rear (not to mention
flyover effects). The mixs dynamic range can be quite wide, keeping
intimate scenes quiet and saving the volume for big, dramatic moments.
Game. Audio for games has improved substantially during the past few years.
With increased budgets, enhanced audio hardware, and more recognition
of the need for high-quality audio as a significant part of the game experience,
things are getting better all the time. Yet problems remain. The necessities
of data compression lead to compromises in both frequency response and
dynamic range. A typical sampling rate of 22 kHz means no frequencies
above 11 kHz, resulting in a lack of sheen, air, and crispness. The audio
is also compressed, using some perceptual coding and variable bit-depth
scheme. That step adds artifacts and reduces clarity, and its particularly
harsh on quiet sounds.
Whats more, computers have loud fans, which increase the ambient
noise floor and thus decrease the listeners dynamic range at the
computer. Finally, games tend to be loud and punchy. All those factors
lead to mixes and individual sound files that make heavy use of normalization
Web. The same computer-based limitations for games are inherent in Web-based
presentations. An additional factor is download speed, which affects durations
and increases data compression beyond that required for games. One general
suggestion: turn technical limitations into design considerations by using
very short sound files and loops.
As you can see, the audio arts outside of music have incredible depth
and richness of expression. When you open your ears to the sounds around
you, the world becomes an unending symphony of footsteps on crunchy gravel,
wind slithering through tall grasses, and cars flying by in the night.
Good sound design is based on events in the real world, and the more attuned
you are to sounds in your environment, the better you will be at providing
sound for the virtual world.
Your job is always to enhance the visual elements in the project. Be tasteful
yet subtle, and your work will best serve its intended purpose.
Please click on the following pop-up links for more information on
Nick Peck owns
Perceptive Sound Design, a post-production firm. He plays keyboards in the
Bay Area jam band Ten Ton Chicken. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
or on the Web at www.perceptivesound.com.
Magazine, March, 2001
© 2001, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved.