The iZotope Masters Q&A Series will profile masters of various audio professions including audio for video games, broadcast, film composition, and more. In this first one Charles Deenen discusses the evolution of game design and how audio processing is better than ever:
Charles Deenen is one of the gaming industry's preeminent sound designers and mixers, with credits like the Need for Speed series, Fallout, Startrek and his support on Activision's Call of Duty: Ghosts. Since writing a sound driver for Commodore PET at the age of 13, he has left his creative fingerprints among top selling games from Electronic Arts, Interplay and Shiny, and other companies. Over the course of his career, Deenen has remained aligned with innovations in audio software, particularly iZotope's RX, which he has been using for many years. iZotope recently caught up with Deenen, who discussed the role that iZotope's RX 3 and Insight played in how his design work assisted the studio teams on Call of Duty: Ghosts.
iZotope: What role does audio play in video games?
Charles: Audio connects the real from the unreal. In film, you always start with the real -- you see a real image, a real portrayal, a real human. Audio enhances the storytelling and everything else. But in games, audio often serves as the connecting bit that makes the visuals that aren't photo-realistic (yet) real to the viewer, adding an emotional feel. For example, if you add beautiful audio to Pac-Man, it it becomes a much more emotional experience -- all through the use of audio. Try doing the same thing with a movie and it's a little trickier because you are dealing with a more realistic picture.
iZotope: Why is efficiency important in your work nowadays?
Charles: Efficiency these days is a massive thing. In the old days, people were more reasonable about time frames -- you might have three months to mix audio for a game, or six months to mix audio for a movie. But now they know you have this computer in front of you so there is a much greater expectation. When we get our trailers or game cinematics, the amount of time we can actually spend on it has to be the "computer equivalent" of those original three months or six months. So you need tools to speed up your workflow and that's where tools like RX 3 really help. Also, back in the day, we would have a large staff of editors that would go through the dialogue and remove every little tick by hand. For that, there would be months and months of work involved. If we had RX 3 back in 1991, it would have been like, "here's a batch file, run it, and come back a day after that."
iZotope: Which iZotope tools are you currently using?
Charles: I use RX 3 and Insight, mostly. Because we have to deliver mixes in multiple formats at the same time, all my mixes have to adhere to various standards and levels. I have an auxiliary computer running multiple instances of Insight so I can see exactly what my outputs look like for television broadcast, Xbox, YouTube and other mediums. Insight lets me monitor and set the proper levels for each medium quickly and provides a really good overview each time of how far we can push the levels. Since I've been using it, it has performed really well.
iZotope: How did your use of RX 3 play a role in supporting development of Call of Duty: Ghosts?
Charles: It was used in the sound design for the movies in game. For example, wanted to present scenes depicting good vs evil. So, when we came in, we were looking to deliver very natural, yet oddball, ways to portray the characters' good and evil tendencies. I went through all these recordings of thunder, water and other things that felt natural, and then heavily processed them with RX 3 and other tools. Using the Dereverb module in RX 3 Advanced, we would remove extreme broadband noise from these sounds and what was left was the grittiness, the unnatural bit.
iZotope: Did you use RX 3 in the mixing stage?
Charles: Yes. During mixes, one of the biggest problems typically is noise. Basically, every single sound effect that has a hiss or some other noise gets processed in real time through RX 3: this reduces the noise by anywhere between 3 dB and 8 dB. Take a chopper. What you really want to get is the really heavy blades -- the "chug chug chug." You have to pull out all the stops in order to get those types of sounds to be as clean as possible--to get the essence of the sound, separating everything else. For us, this is how we make our mixes clean and punchy. Without something like RX 3, this would be impossible to do.
iZotope: How do you deal with audio that comes in from multiple sources on a project?
Charles: I use iZotope Ozone 5 Matching EQ quite a lot. For example, we supported some of the dialogue in Call of Duty: Ghosts, which was recorded over multiple days, in multiple sessions with many different people when it came to the foreign languages. We had finished the original English mix and then had to match all these different languages to capture the vibe of the original English one. In order to do that, the starting point was matching the EQ with Ozone 5's Matching EQ feature. Then we applied these EQ levels to the takes in foreign languages. When we do trailers and different dialog comes in at the last minute, it can be from any source -- including phones. That happens quite a bit, and my main starting point is the Matching EQ to quickly match one to the other.
iZotope: When have you had to fix audio that was recorded less than perfectly?
Charles: On a different project, a crew had gone overseas to shoot interviews. They came back and realized that the audio had all this massive background noise and hissing. Had it not been for RX 3 to remove the noise and reverb, they would have had to go back and re-shoot everything. It would have been over the top and cost-prohibitive, if not impossible, because all of the audio had been captured at a "once a year" event. Afterwards, somebody asked me how I got the dialog to sound so crisp and intelligible, and a lot of credit went to RX3.
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