Practice Makes Perfect

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I’m always amazed when I see musicians perform complicated pieces with a look on their face like they don’t have a care in the world. Whether they first chair in an orchestra or play lead guitar for a hair band, they have that simple look of enjoyment as they play their instruments effortlessly. As a musician, I still have to remind myself that I can perform those same songs myself, as long as I am willing to sit down with my guitar and practice. Of course, the first few passes of the song are dreadful, to say the least, but after a few times, I start to learn the chords and licks. I then get the rhythm down and start to feel the song. And then it happens: the song clicks. What follows is the same look on my face that those accomplished musicians have amazed me with time and again.

 

This same process is true of any craft, including sound design. How do you get to be a world-class sound designer? The same way you get to the Met: Practice!

Most of my friends know that I am inherently a cynic and not easily impressed. Of course, this doesn’t include my wife who insists that I’m amused by anything shiny… A month ago, I saw a post on the Yahoo Sound Design Group from Csaba Wagner, a sound designer trying to break into the biz.  He took a clip from Toy Story 2 and redid the entire sequence using sounds he created – including the voices. (you can check it out at www.csabawagner.com/ts2demo.html) Needless to say, I was very impressed. Csaba plans on using the clip as part of his reel. In the spirit of The Sound Effects Bible, I thought it would be cool if he would share some insights on his project. Here is his interview:

RV: Csaba, I loved the sound re-design that you did! Tell me about yourself.

CW: I live in a small town called Agárd, in the middle of Hungary. I’m currently unemployed, but I used to work for company called Xayron. I created special sound effects for their theatrical show. Unfortunately the show is still unfinished (due to this financial crisis), but I hope that it will be back in business soon. I’d love to finish what I’ve started there.

RV: What school did you attend?

CW: I wish I could just type in the famous 4 letters (UCLA), but I can’t. I wanted to go to college after high school, but there are no schools or courses for Sound Designer “wannabes” in Hungary. And I didn’t have the financial background to go to college in Europe or in the USA. There was only one way to learn everything about Sound Design: WATCH dvd movies, LISTEN to the soundtrack, and try to DO everything like the great masters.

RV: Did you have a mentor?

CW: I wish I had…but no. I sent emails and tried to contact many great sound designers and ask them to be my mentors, but it’s just not how things work. Nobody takes me seriously from thousands of miles away. But there is one man who brought me into the world of Sound Design: Gary Rydstrom. His work showed me the way to this magical “new dimension”. I like to consider him as my “virtual” mentor. :)

RV: Did you intern anywhere?

CW:
Not yet. But I’m about to start my internship at a great company in L.A. this September. (Knock on wood) I have fought for this for a long-long time and there’s no way I’d let this great opportunity slip out from my hands.

RV: What was your approach for re-creating the sound design? (i.e. different sound design or an emulation of Rydstrom's work?)

CW: Re-creating something that was originally created by Mr. Rydstrom is like trying to re-paint the Mona Lisa. Basically I deleted the original audio and watched the scene without sound many-many times. Then I wrote some notes and tried to find a nice combo of the very serious and the not too serious sound effects. My version does not operate with too much “cartoon like” sound effects because I wanted to make it as a short film that has nothing to do with Toy Story 2. (So it’s not just a video game that Rex plays with, but a real movie where our hero – Buzz – fights against the evil Emperor Zurg)

So basically I wanted to create something different, but I wanted the re-recording mix to be like Mr. Rydstrom’s creation. His style is so incredible, unique and inspiring. I can recognize his mix from a million.

RV: How long did the project take?

CW: I think it took about 6 days. I didn’t spend 12 or 16 hours on this each day. It was rather like 4 maybe 6 hours (tops) a day - including pre production, Foley, ‘ADR’, recording new special sound effects, building up the tracks, and creating the final mix.

RV: Who did the voices?

CW: ME. The untalented voice talent. :)

RV: What was the hardest sound to create?

CW: My own voice. :) Just kidding. Actually I don’t like my own voice. Vocalizing is okay, but using my own voice is….ahhh, please no more. I’m not an actor. I can’t play with my voice as a pro. Beside this, there wasn’t anything that I would say was “too hard to create”. I managed to find the best sound effect sources right here in my own room and the kitchen. 

RV: What was your favorite sound to create?

CW: The sound you hear when the giant “Z” door closes. There is this nice thud impact. It’s basically a toilette plunge pitched down with some reverb. The funny thing is that I used the very same sound at least 20 times in this demo to “sweeten” other sound effects, but it’s not too significant in the other scenes.

RV: Where did you record (in the field, studio, both)?

CW: Bedroom. My room is a stuffed with everything. You can barely find a clear reflecting surface, so there is basically no reverberation or any other distortion - wood ceiling, carpet on the floor, etc, so it’s basically perfect for recording. The only thing I don’t have: SPACE. But, I found a way to get everything I need in my room. (Except the old refrigerator).

RV: I heard that you contact Rydstrom to tell him about the demo. What was his feedback to your work?

CW: He was too busy in the past weeks, because he is working on his new movie (as director), and he hasn’t told me anything about the Toy Story 2 demo – yet. But he did listen to some of my earlier creations. I did a sound re-design demo from his LIFTED short animation. He liked that very much. I hope he’ll tell me his opinion about this one sooner or later.

RV: What software and plug-ins did you use?

CW: I used the Pro Tools M-Powered 7.4 software. I can’t afford to have too many plug-ins. They are too expensive. There are some basic Wave Arts and Waves plug-ins that I use; like MultiDynamics, Panorama, SoundShifter, Doubler. These tools are great.

RV: What recording gear did you use?

CW: A Zoom H4 digital audio recorder and a Sony C-74 microphone. Plus I used an AKG C1000S mic for voice recording. And that’s all of my recording tools. You would be surprised how many basic things I DON’T have: Windshield, Mount Shock, Pistol Grip…I don’t even have a mic stand or a boom pole! You can guess how tricky I have to be when I record something to avoid extra noise.

RV: Have you received positive responses from potential clients/employers?

CW: I have received tons of positive responses, but none of them came from potential clients or employers. I forgot to put this text at the end of the demo: “Looking for a job. Hire me!” :)

RV: Would you recommend re-designing a film for a reel to other upcoming sound designers?

CW: Absolutely! It’s a great way to practice and to figure out new techniques. But I’d tell them that they should try to put something extra into it. I mean, don’t try to make it exactly like the original one. Watch the scene without sound and try to imagine how you would bring it to life.

RV: What do you think of the Sound Effects Bible? Feel free to give some negative feedback here…  : )

CW: Negative? You gotta be kidding me. I LOVE IT. The best book about Sound Effects for sure. Every Sound Designer wannabe must have a copy of it. It really is a Bible. Congratulations for your excellent work; an excellent book from a great man.

RV: Stop it, you’re making me blush! Having read the book after working on your project, is there anything you learned from the book that would have helped or changed how you worked on your project?

CW: I learned billions of new things from your book. Mostly about sound effect recordings. I wish I had known all of those things before.  Plus it would have made my learning process much faster. I spent endless days in my room trying to figure out how to create cool sound effects.  This book would have saved me from those days. :) Although, I don’t regret the experience. I believe everything happened the way it was supposed to happen.

RV: What's next for you? (Job hunting, projects, studio expansion, gear purchase, etc.)

CW: I’m gonna start my internship in September. Of course I’m hunting jobs 24/7, but the only way to do it seriously is to BE THERE. As I said, nobody takes you seriously if you are thousands of miles away. I don’t have a studio – yet – but I hope that soon I’ll have my own private Sound Design room in my own house.

RV: Any other advice for fellow sound designers?

CW: Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Even if you’re told that you can’t do it.

I learned English by watching dvd movies. I used to work as a 3D modeler / CG Artist just to get closer to the movie industry and get connections to the sound department. (Sounds stupid, but it worked).

The list is very long. There are hard times when everything seems to be impossible, but I assure you, it IS possible. You can be whatever you want to be. My purpose is to be one of the greatest Sound Designers and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it come true.

RV: Thank you, Csaba. I expect to hear great things from you in the near future.

I would like to point out that there is no such thing as a ‘wannabe’ sound designer. That’s like saying that you’re only an artist if you get paid. Rubbish! I think that Csaba has proven that with his work on the Toy Story clip. I’ve worked with lots of guys who have college degrees and there work wasn’t nearly as good as Csaba’s. The bottom line is that anyone can be a sound designer. How good you’ll be as a sound designer is up to you.

If there is anyone else out there that has a cool story or project to share, let us know! Shoot us an e-mail at

Ric ViersRic Viers has worked in the film and television industry for more than ten years. His location sound credits include nearly every major television network, Universal Studios, Dateline, Good Morning America, Disney, and many others. His sound design work has been used in major motion pictures, television shows, radio programs, and video games. In 2007, Viers launched his own label, Blastwave FX, to celebrate the release of his 100th sound effects library. To date, he is considered to be the world’s largest independent provider of sound effects, with more than 150,000 sounds and more than 150 sound effects libraries to his credit. He has produced sound libraries for numerous publishers, including Apple, Blastwave FX, Sony, Sound Ideas, and The Hollywood Edge.

For more information visit www.ricviers.com.