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All You Need to Know About the MPSE Awards, Video Game Edition


Video games are in the spotlight again at the 62nd Annual Motion Picture Sound Editors’ awards, but this time around, something’s different. In past years, the MPSE recognized sound editing achievement in video games in the Computer Interactive Entertainment category. This year, the category is Game Cinematics. Short videos (the opening cutscene from World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, for example) are nominated alongside the full-length titles, and some of the contenders haven’t even been released yet. As long as the “cinematic” was released in 2014, the game is eligible. While every nominee deserves recognition, the variety of formats involved makes comparisons difficult.

Let’s try anyway.

Far Cry 4

Among the 2015 MPSE nominees, Far Cry 4 stands alone. While most of the other nominees consist of pre-rendered CG cutscenes, this title displays its cinematics in-engine, rendering in real time. As such, a nomination for this game really recognizes the title’s sound design as a whole. Thankfully, the game deserves it. Through the work of supervising sound editor Chris Ove, sound designers Kevin Vail, Eduardo Vaisman, and the rest of the Ubisoft Montreal team, Far Cry 4‘s war-torn Himalayan oasis, Kyrat, feels vibrant and alive, with animals that crash through underbrush and distant machine-gun fire echoing off the hills.

Vehicle noises are particularly striking, replacing the smooth engine hum found in most games with a chunky, multi-layered clanging that makes every sharp turn on Kyrat’s winding roads feel like an adventure. Wind howls in the mountain environments, while snow crunches satisfyingly underfoot. It’s more subtle than most of the other nominees – gunfire in particular pops more than it booms, which is less satisfying but more realistic – but it gets the job done. Kyrat feels real.

Ubisoft Montreal
Produced by: Dan Hay
Supervising Sound Editor: Chris Ove
Sound Designers: Kevin Vail, Eduardo Vaisman
Supervising Foley Editor: Martin Laplante
Supervising Dialogue Editor: Philip Hunter
Foley Artists: Alexis Farand, Tchae Measroch
Sound Effects Editors: Marc Gagnon, Jean-Francois St-Pierre, Chris Groegler, Matte Wagner
Dialogue / ADR Editors:Carl Bramucci, Emmanuelle Novero
Supervising Music Editor: Jerome Angelot
Music Editor: Simon Laundry

Far Cry 4 Trailer

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

The centerpiece of Halo: The Master Chief Collection is an HD remake of the Xbox game Halo 2. For the classic’s 10th anniversary, 343 Industries pulled out all the stops, completely revamping the original graphics and soundtrack. The result is stunning. With over 5,000 brand-new effects, Halo 2 has never sounded better.

The updated version allows players to switch between the old and new soundtracks at any time, highlighting exactly how much better the new soundtrack is, particularly with regard to the game’s weapons. In the original version of Halo 2, gunfire was tinny, and most weapons sounded the same. Now, thanks to sound designers Csaba Wagner and Stuart Provine and sound effects editors Tim Walston, Justin Davey, George Pereyra, and Travis Prater, each weapon has its own sonic identity. Heavy artillery, like sniper rifles and rocket launchers, rumble with low bass, while the melee-based energy sword lets loose electronic screech when it’s swung. Halo 2’s iconic arsenal is the game’s most enduring supporting cast, and it’s a relief to see each weapon finally finding its own voice.

Blur / Microsoft / 343 Industries
Produced by:Tyler Jeffers, Frank Balson, Bonnie Ross, Dan Ayoub
Supervising Sound Editors: Charles Deenen, MPSE, Tim Gedemer, MPSE
Sound Designers: Csaba Wagner, Stuart Provine
Supervising Foley Editor: Braden Parkes
Supervising Dialogue / ADR Editor: Trygg Littlefield
Foley Artist: Gregg Barbanell, MPSE
Sound Effects Editors: Tim Walston, MPSE, Justin Davey, George Pereyra, Travis Prater

Halo Trailer

League of Legends: “A New Dawn”

“A New Dawn” is a short, six-and-a-half-minute CG animation featuring the characters of League of Legends as they do what they do best: fight. It’s a stunning, action-heavy video packed with both extravagant stunts and small character moments. There are no words, but every character feels distinct. The sound design has a lot to do with that.

According to senior sound designer Brad Beaumont in a behind the scenes video, the Riot Games Audio Team approached “A New Dawn” with a single goal: create a cinematic where “a player could close their eyes… and instantly [identify]the characters they know and love from the game.” With nine characters battling on-screen once, that’s an ambitious undertaking, yet somehow the team pulled it off.

Much of the character work was achieved via foley. According to sound editor Jay Watford, the team aimed for each character’s armor to sound different, and foley artists Gary Hecker and Gary Marullo brought these effects to life. The hulking Darius occupies the “big bad-ass armor space,” while the lithe, female warrior Leona is characterized by metals that have a light “sunshine feel”. The score helps, too. The theme for Nautilus, a walking submarine, was even recorded underwater.

The entire production adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts. Sonically, “A New Dawn” is the most impressive nominee, and the likely winner of this year’s Golden Reel Award.

Riot Games
Supervising Sound Editors: Riot Games Audio Team
Sound Designers: Riot Games Audio Team
Supervising Dialogue / ADR Editors: Riot Games Audio Team
Foley Artists: Gary Hecker, Gary Marullo
Sound Effects Editors: Riot Games Audio Team

“A New Dawn” Cinematic

Overwatch: “The Exhibit”

The full effect of Overwatch’s debut video, “The Exhibit”, isn’t something that’s easily available at home, unless you happen to have a Dolby Atmos home theater setup. Supervising sound editor Paul Menichini is adamant that Atmos technology is a key part of the cinematic’s appeal, according to A Sound Effect blog. The six minute trailer, which introduces the game’s colorful cast and superhero-esque combat, features all kinds of sweeping camera movements and moving, dynamic fight choreography that “happens to support (sometimes inadvertently) dramatic placement of sound.” “The Exhibit” blew audiences away at Blizzard’s annual convention, BlizzCon, and its sound mix was a large reason why.

Foley, headed by supervising foley editor Darrin Mann and foley artist Gregg Barbanell, also received a lot of attention. While weapon and superpower sound effects were lifted directly from Overwatch’s in-game assets, other, smaller sounds – the squeaking of the main characters’ sneakers on a museum floor, or the clanging of super-ape Winston’s heavy plastic armor – were recorded specifically for “The Exhibit.” It’s that attention to detail that grounds the game’s otherwise over-the-top, fantastic premise, and really drives home the cinematic’s emotional core.

Rollover Productions, Inc
Produced by: Caroline Hernandez, Taka Yasuda
Directed by: Jeff Chamberlain
Supervising Sound Editor: Paul Menichini, MPSE
Sound Designers: Tim Nielsen, Caroline Hernandez, MPSE
Supervising Foley Editor: Darrin Mann
Supervising Dialogue Editor: Alexander Ephraim, MPSE
Supervising ADR Editor: Andrea Toyias
Foley Artist: Gregg Barbanell, MPSE
Supervising Music Editor: Derek Duke
Music Editor: Neal Acree

“The Exhibit” Cinematic

Star Citizen

Of all the Golden Reel nominees, Star Citizen’s cinematics are probably the most fun. As a space-trading game, a large element of the title’s gameplay is purchasing new spaceships. As such, the game’s cutscenes are structured like car commercials, each one plugging a different ship.

The video for the Drake Cutlass plays out like an ad for a luxury sedan, turning a dogfight into a seductive dance, with expertly placed engine bursts and gunfire punctuating the beats of the underlying tango. The 300i cinematic presents a ship as a performance-oriented sports car, complete with majestic music and a soft, rumbling engine. The coup de grâce, however, is the advertisement for the MISC Freelancer, which flawlessly replicates the sound of a Chevy truck spot. Dialogue / ADR editor Robb Gilligan provides a narrator with a rugged, blue-collar voice, while sound designer Jay Jennings gives the Freelancer chunky, industrial sound effects. Country music guitar twangs in the background. This is a ship for the working man, gosh darn it, and it sure as hell sounds like it.

Cloud Imperium Games, LLC
Produced by: Chris Roberts, Travis Day, John Schimmel
Directed by: Chris Roberts, Martin Galway
Supervising Sound Editors: Charles Deenen, MPSE, Tim Gedemer, MPSE
Sound Designer: Jay Jennings
Sound Effects Editors: Bryan Jerden, Travis Prater
Dialogue / ADR Editor: Robb Gilligan

MISC Freelancer Cinematic Trailer

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

The Warlords of Draenor intro isn’t as fun or accessible as Blizzard’s other nominee, Overwatch’s “The Exhibit” trailer, but it’s easy to see why it was nominated nonetheless. Just like the Warlords of Draenor expansion itself, which enhances World of Warcraft’s soundtrack by adding race and terrain-specific footstep effects to the game for the first time, the video expands the fantasy world’s sonic palette. The Iron Horde’s war machines are one example. The deadly devices’ creaks and groans were created during a recording session at a local train museum, and the results were augmented by the sound of metal scraping dry ice. The end effects are equal parts familiar, grating, and eerily sinister.

Warlords of Draenor’s gruff orcs also deserve a shout-out. According to dialogue editor Andrea Toyias in a behind the scenes video, it’s hard for even the most talented voice actors to sustain an orc’s characteristic growl for an entire recording session; it’s even harder to portray depth and nuance while doing so. And while it’d be easier to take regular voice recordings and digitally manipulate them, supervising sound editor Paul Menichini refuses to do so. Orc voices aren’t just big and deep, they’re also entirely natural. He argues that a performance’s organic quality helps bring a sense of reality to World of Warcraft’s fantasy setting.

See, Blizzard doesn’t use motion-capture or facial scanning in its cutscenes, and relies on a larger-than-life animation style to bring its characters to life. The sound design, then, represents an opportunity to bring things back down to earth. Warlords of Draenor’s main character might be a “six-foot, green, angry orc who’s got daddy issues,” but his pain seems genuine, thanks to the sound team behind him.

Rollover Productions, Inc.
Produced by: Caroline Hernandez, MPSE, Taka Yasuda
Directed by: Marc Messenger
Supervising Sound Editor: Paul Menichini, MPSE
Sound Designers: David Farmer, MPSE, Caroline Hernandez, MPSE
Supervising Foley Editor: Darrin Mann
Foley Artist: Gregg Barbanell, MPSE
Sound Effects Editor: Alexander Ephraim, MPSE
Dialogue / ADR Editors: Andrea Toyias, Thomas Brewer, MPSE
Supervising Music Editor: John Kurlander
Music Editor: Neal Acree

“Worlds of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor”

But That’s Not All…

In addition to the Game Cinematics category, two video game franchises also appeared in the MSPE’s Computer Episodic vertical, which honors sound editing in a webseries. Halo Nightfall, a five-episode webseries, earned nominations for the Scott Free audio crew. Additionally, the webseries World of Warcraft: Lords of War nabbed the third nomination of the year for Blizzard and the Rollover Productions team.

Neither of these webseries are games themselves, but they continue the stories started in interactive formats (Nightfall bridges the gap between 2012’s Halo 4 and the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians, while Lords of War ties in to the Warlords of Draenor expansion pack), and their inclusion here speaks to the growing influence of gaming not just as a medium, but a legitimate cultural touchstone. You can find out who wins February 15, 2015 when the winners are announced during the MPSE awards.

Halo Nightfall Trailer

World of Warcraft: Lords of War


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