Friday, August 19, 2011

Studio West Strikes Hard with Captain America!

Studio West has completed the soundtrack and mix to Sega/Marvel's game trailer for Captain America!

by Mark Kirchner

Brought in again by our favorite San Diego-based animation studio, Pendulum Studios, our own Gary Miranda completed the audio for this 6-week game trailer project in both Stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound.

Now that we've done a couple projects like this with Pendulum, we wanted give you a little idea of what goes on behind the scenes with them while working on a project of this caliber.  We're only touching on a fraction of what really happens in the Pendulum workflow but it's such an interesting process, we thought we'd try and share a little of it with you.

Pendulum is a relatively small company for the amount and quality of work they produce (make sure you check out their site for other examples of their fantastic work!).  When in production on the video game trailers for Captain America and Thor, Pendulum Studios had 16-17 people at a time working on the project in various stages of completion. Overall, there were about 25 animators and visual artists that worked on the two projects. With a team of this size, the visual elements for each trailer took about 70 days to complete, or about two and half months for each 2:30 spot.

Towards the beginning of the two and a half month project, Studio West would receive a rough 90% timed animatic of the trailer.  Location dialog from the motion capture stage was usually included. Animators no longer draw every frame from scratch; they suit-up actors in those cool dotted suits we've all scene on the cover of computer magazines, and let computers connected to video cameras translate most of the actors movement captured in the Motion Capture (MoCap) Stage to computer based wireframe-type mannequins that eventually become the final animated characters.

From the rough animatics provided by Pendulum via FTP, we generally produce 70% of the sound design that is used in the trailers.  The remaining 30% is produced in the last 3-4 days prior to delivery.  Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America were all produced in 5.1 Surround Sound from the get-go, and there's a lot of information that needs to be kept track of when building sound design for surround.  Gary and Brandon could probably write volumes on the intricacies of their routing and bussing schemes!

For the Iron Man 2 trailer, Gary produced all the music for the trailer from scratch. In the case of Thor and Captain America, we received pre-edited music beds directly from Pendulum created from actual in-game music cues. For Captain America, Pendulum timed much of the animation to the music, so it was important that they have the music bed completed very early on to support all the action in the spot. It's possible that the music bed was the first thing edited together for the Captain America project. Gary did fair amount of "tightening" of their edits, but in the end, the timing remained identical to the supplied bed, so losing sync was never an issue.

Once we got into a consistent workflow with Pendulum sending newly rendered movies every few days, we would send rough mixes over to them and receive audio notes back about once a week. In the days just prior to delivery, newly rendered footage and audio notes came to us every day, and sometimes several times in one day.  Quite often, with newly rendered visuals, we'd want to take a completely different approach to the audio.  This is not always easy to do when you're under the gun with less than 48-hours till delivery.  Needless to say, things get a little stressful in those last two days. 

L-R:  Mike McCormick, Rob Taylor, Shay Goldenberg
Most of our daily interaction was with Pendulum Senior Producer Shay Goldenberg, however co-owners Mike McCormick and Rob Taylor were also very involved in providing on-going audio direction.  Michael is Director of 3D Production and Co-Creative Director and Robert is Executive Director and Co-Creative Director.  Shay was responsible for making sure our deliverables were received on time; he also interacted with Sega & Marvel funneling their feedback to us in regards to audio notes. Shay also provided much of his own direction to the project with detailed notes on how elements should sound, especially related to maintaining in-game continuity.

The gang at Pendulum is top-notch and we're glad they continue to call on us! Projects that Studio West has completed with Pendulum Studios include game trailers and in-game cinematic for Red Faction Guerilla, Singularity, Iron Man 2, Thor and now Captain America

Gary Miranda in Studio B at Studio West

Below are some questions I asked Gary about his recent work on the Captain America game trailer.

MK: What was different about the experience between Thor and Captain America?
GM: Captain America is so high action - everything is there in your face, and it needed to feel like it was in-your-face-happening. Thor was very ambient and dramatic and it almost made it harder to make less into more.

MK: Which one did you enjoy more, and why?
GM: I think I liked working on Captain America a little better. I really enjoyed putting together sounds of the soldiers getting CRUSHED! The impacts were just fun.

MK: What would you do differently on either one?
GM: I would probably mix them a little more dynamically.  A little more breathing room (with the music really) on both just to have certain elements stand out that I know are there but most people don't.

MK: What's your favorite section of the Captain America spot for sound design?
GM: Really? I have to choose which one of my kids is the favorite? I guess my two favorite spots are the ground pound and the scorcher beams. 

The ground pound (shield being slammed into the ground) was one of the first things I did when we received our first animatic. I knew exactly what I wanted for that, even before we had a decent render. That was the only thing that stayed pretty much the same from the start to final delivery.

The scorcher beams were a whole different beast. We received so many different versions of those beams. For some reason I just couldn't get exactly what was in my head out of Pro Tools. The final sounds were the result of a lot of hours playing around with different elements. There are so many subtleties and layers going there: library sounds, virtual instruments, Foley created sounds, warped sounds...a lot of tracks!

On a side note, the sound that makes me laugh every time is Bucky's gun. That is the most powerful 9mm ever! I wish mine sounded like that.

MK: How long did this project take compared to Thor?
GM: I actually had a little extra time for Captain America. From the first video, I had about 3 1/2 weeks. There were some times where I was waiting for new versions so I wasn't working full time at first. The last 2 weeks were full days just like Thor.

MK: How many tracks did you end up using on
Captain America?
GM: The track total for Captain America was 98! Almost broke the hundred barrier. It wasn't unmanageable, though. Proper setup, track organizing, color coding and routing were essential in keeping everything where I wanted it.

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