Monday, April 16, 2012

Different...But the Same: Exploring Coherency in Audio Design

When playing a video game or watching a cartoon show do you ever notice how many different types of sounds and characters there are? Furthermore have you ever noticed that even if you aren't looking at a main character you can still make an accurate guess as to what franchise it belongs to?

Pop quiz: What show is this character from?
Don't pretend you don't know.

The same thing happens with audio. There's virtually no mistaking the "pla-king" of collecting coins in Super Mario, or the "rut-rut-ruch" sound of going down a pipe (I'm not entirely sure I spelled either of those onomatopoeias correctly).

Creating coherency between the different sound effects and music has been a challenge for me throughout this entire project. It's something I have never needed to do or even thought about having to do in previous projects. Cue the research. I listened to hours of video game audio, taking notes as I went to figure out what elements made them sound like they were "laid back" or "epic" or "insert-emotional-adjective-here".

Good news: The research worked.

Bad news: The research worked.

Pictured: Your reaction

I found exactly what I was looking for: how to make the sounds and music different from each other. My staff of Ra was too tall. I was digging in the wrong place. What I should have been observing was how the songs were related to each other. Because I learned how to make sounds and songs different, albeit inadvertently, when I modeled my songs and sounds after my research everything sounded different. Too different. So different that even I, their creator, couldn't tell that they all belonged to the same game. I was going in a wrong direction and didn't know how to find a right direction (there are multiples of each).

Then one day I looked at Diane's characters she had created for the game and I immediately noticed 3 things:

Exhibits A-D
1) They looked fantastic
2) They were each unique
3) It was 100% clear that they all belonged to the same game, cartoon, art direction, project...Whatever you want to call it, they were all a part of it.

I imediately asked her how she made them all "same, but different" she said, "I just did."
It was not helpful.

But then I prodded her brain more, asking about her process and what she thought about as she was drawing and creating. She started to talk about how when she starts drawing characters the wire frames and shapes she uses are the sa-THAT'S IT!!!!!!!!!!!!




I realized that the "sameness" comes from the starting point; the fundamentals; the building blocks. In music it's things like tempo, key, and mode. In visual art it's things like shape, color palette, and medium.
The differences come from the details; melody, harmony, and instrumentation for music, and for visuals it's hue, gesture, line, etc.

So it was time to put this little theory to the test. I made three song loops each the same tempo, duration, but each with a different beat, instrument, and melody line. The result was astounding.

1, 2, 3

At first I wasn't too sure if I had found a path to success, but when I put the new songs in the game in conjunction with some of the songs that I had not created in tandem, it was perfectly clear which songs stood out (in a negative way).

Although this is one path of solution to my problem I'm sure it could be solved in other ways. This one worked for me so I'm going to stick with it and "fix" the rest of the music and sounds of our game.

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