Spot­light on Sound

3D World - - FEATURE -

How sound played a Huge part in shap­ing sonaria’s nar­ra­tive

Ever since the re­lease of

Windy Day, Pollen Mu­sic Group co-founder Scot Stafford has served as the creative di­rec­tor of mu­sic and sound for Google Spot­light Sto­ries. The re­lease of Sonaria marks the co-di­rec­to­rial de­but of Stafford who was also the com­poser and sound su­per­vi­sor.

“To­wards the end of 2016 [GSS tech­ni­cal project lead] Rachid El Guerrab asked me to pitch an idea for a show that was sound-driven from the start: an idea from within the in­ter­nal team that would fo­cus on push­ing our au­dio tech for­ward,” re­calls Scot Stafford. “My first thought was to fo­cus on 6DOF sound. [In 6DOF view­ers can get closer to things, and look around and be­hind ob­jects]. My sec­ond thought was, ‘No way is this go­ing to feel like a tech demo!’”

A key in­spi­ra­tion was mod­u­lar synth sounds of Wed­dell seals. “I imag­ined a nearby Antarc­tic ice shelf sep­a­rat­ing the world of ‘above’ [wind, airy light­ness, ocean spray, ice crack­ing] and ‘be­low’ [im­mer­sive seal song, krill crack­ling, sub­merged dark­ness],” re­marks Stafford. “And most im­por­tantly, the abil­ity to move be­tween these worlds just by sit­ting or stand­ing. In or­der to make the ex­pe­ri­ence more sound-driven, we’d chase a dozen crea­tures through as many acous­tic en­vi­ron­ments, all of which could be iden­ti­fied by sound alone. Stafford had drawn a teardrop shape in one of his ear­li­est treat­ments which in­trigued co-di­rec­tor Kevin Dart who founded an­i­ma­tion and de­sign stu­dio Chro­mo­sphere. “Kevin wanted to build ev­ery crea­ture, and world, out of this one shape,” states Stafford. “I loved the idea, and en­cour­aged him to em­brace the shape’s 2D sim­plic­ity, even if it didn’t work from a tra­di­tional CG an­i­ma­tion stand­point.”

The sound de­sign was pri­mar­ily achieved through a mix­ture of Am­bisonic sound fields and in­di­vid­ual sound ob­jects for the en­vi­ron­ments and crea­tures. A day was spent us­ing sev­eral bou­tique mi­cro­phones (in­clud­ing a hy­drophone), a water tank and plas­tic tub­ing to cap­ture swishes,

“the Best SOUND Came from An OLD RUS­SIAN CONDENSER WRAPPED in A CON­DOM AND A YARD Of DUCT tape” Scot Stafford, creative di­rec­tor of mu­sic and sound for Google Spot­light Sto­ries

swirls and bub­bles that fol­low mo­tion on screen. “The best sound came from an old Rus­sian condenser wrapped in a con­dom and a yard of duct tape. Ah, what we do for film!” laughs Stafford. “Typ­i­cally, we record non-diegetic score in stereo, but for Sonaria I wanted to ar­range the en­sem­ble in a cir­cle around a dou­ble M/S mic ar­ray, with cel­los evenly dis­trib­uted be­tween vi­o­lins and vi­ola. This cre­ated a ra­dial sym­me­try in the mix that, as you ro­tate in 360, al­ways has an even bal­ance. I wanted this mix to fo­cus ac­cord­ing to viewer ori­en­ta­tion, so we built spe­cialised quad emit­ters that turn each vir­tual speaker up and down based on gaze an­gle.

“Our big­gest chal­lenge was def­i­nitely the seal scene in the Antarc­tic,” re­veals Stafford. “In or­der to cre­ate a con­vinc­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of cross­ing the thresh­old be­tween above and be­low the ocean, we built new au­dio fea­tures that al­low us to:

• Mix be­tween mul­ti­ple sound fields ac­cord­ing to cam­era po­si­tion – the worlds above and be­low have to­tally unique spa­tialised sound­scapes.

• Roll off high fre­quen­cies of oc­cluded sound sources, to sound ‘above’ or ‘be­low’ the ocean sur­face.

• Trig­ger sounds of sub­merg­ing or sur­fac­ing our heads as we break through the ocean sur­face. Unique sounds play at var­i­ous vol­ume lev­els de­pend­ing on the di­rec­tion we ap­proach the sur­face as well as the speed of our head move­ment.

• Move be­tween acous­tic zones. Un­der­wa­ter is highly re­ver­ber­ant; above is to­tally ‘dry.’”

Scot Stafford co-di­rected and also com­posed the sound for the project

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