When scoring incidental music a fragment at a time, as has been the call for BloodSpell, I have found it helpful to keep these pieces of music in "friendly" keys. For example, Eb Major is considered friendly with C Minor, because their scales contain all the same notes, it is only a change of emphasis and voicing that designates whether it will be perceived as its major key or its minor cousin.
This practice has been particularly handy during the "Previously On" segments which have preceded every episode since number 4. So, when the now familiar "Benedict to the Rescue" guitar riff kicks in for that segment, and perchance one of the "previous" clips is from the cathedral scene in Episode 3, the monk chant gels perfectly with the guitar riff because they were written in the same key.
This actually began as a thematic choice, something to unify my portions of the score, and only retrospect has it proved to be very practical as well.
The Magic Shop
When Jered and Gad enter the pyramid in search of Gad's arm, they find themselves in the midst of a very large collection of what look to be very noisy magic items. Several dozen unique items, by my reckoning, each tingling or pulsing or flaming or what have you. One of the things which helps immersion in scenes like this is if the viewer sees a noise emitting object over here, and then the camera turns away from it but it's still in proximity, the ears quite naturally expect to hear it over there.
The degree of clutter which would have resulted from doing this kind of pan/positioning work for every single object made it impractical to do so for the lot. What I settled on was a general (and somewhat busy) ambient bed, on top of which were individual tracks for items which came within a certain radius... say 3-4 meters. This narrowed the list of objects down to about half a dozen which really needed a signature sound.
Next, I sculpted the sound for each of these objects so that it ran with continuous duration over the entire length of that scene. Then, using fader and pan automation, I was able to make them come and go as needed while Gad and Jered moved about the chamber. I think it worked out pretty well; the result is a tingly sense that there's a lot of energy about from the imbued items, which was of course the aim.
The Tower Battle
Easily the most complicated BloodSpell battle sequence to date (at least from an audio perspective) was the magical combat between the prisoners below, and the tower guards above. Complicated not so much for the sound design itself, but instead because of the camera's activity during the battle... and I very much wanted the viewers' ears to follow wherever the camera took their eyes.
Foreground sound effects were no problem; those are what are seen on screen, and are generally right in front of the camera, so no unusual procedure was required there. But all the while during this battle, we wanted the sounds of crossbows, magic, explosions, and death, to represent all that is going on just off screen. I very much wanted there to somehow be a sense of continuity to this unseen battle, and somehow I wanted that continuity to be preserved even with the camera jumping to various locations.
First, the battle itself. I opted to start up a completely new Cubase project file, and mixdown what I needed for the battle so I could insert a simpler track into my main project (thus preserving performance as I continued to work). Here's what we're looking at as far as sources for combat noise:
Four towers of soldiers, one tower with Jered and Carrie, and a big platform below with several talented street magicians. I didn't worry too much about Jered and Carrie's tower, figuring I'd get them in their foreground moments, and they'd likely be drowned out by the other noise. That left me with four towers, and the platform.
In the mixer, the platform consisted of 2 stereo tracks for magic casting sounds, two tracks for arrow impacts, and two tracks for pain / death sounds (those arrows can hurt!). Then, each of the four towers had two tracks for crossbow shots, one track for explosions, and one track for pain / death sounds. That's twenty-two tracks, plus one stereo track for a layer of combat ambience. It sounds like a lot for such a small battle sequence, but we opted to do no music for this segment (other than the somewhat musical properties of some of the magic sounds), so everything was going to be exposed. In a sense, this background battle WAS the music, or at the very least served the same purpose.
Next, using these tracks, I constructed a logical battle sequence for imaginary combatants. By logical, I mean that if at :24 one of the tower has a volley of crossbow snaps, then a second or so later we need to hear impacts on the platform tracks (and possibly someone crying out in pain). And if magic is cast at the platform level, then one of the towers should suffer a fireball or explosion shortly after. And so on and so forth until the entire duration of the battle is "scored" very much like a music track.
The next step was to make a second pass through the battle and progressively thin out the sounds as the battle progresses, to reflect the losses incurred.
Apply pans to the towers to reflect the actual layout, and we're in pretty good shape. But we're not ready to mix this section yet. There's still the matter of the camera to deal with.
The camera moves around a great deal, but the main aspect of that movement which I needed to account for was PROXIMITY. How near / far was the camera from the different parts of the action. I wasn't terribly concerned about the vector of the camera (i.e. which direction it was pointing) because the uniform configuration of the towers made that something which could be pretty safely ignored. But I was concerned with distance, either expressed laterally or via elevation. I came up with three basic proximities for the camera throughout the battle:
Basically, the camera is sometimes at the platform level, sometimes at the tower level, and sometimes at the tower level but relatively far off. Now, how to account for that while preserving battle continuity and not going completely insane with effects automation?
What I came up with was this: I constructed three separate mixes of the battle sequence. One at the platform level, one near the tower level, and one high and far away. Each mix had an appropriate set of levels, pans, and reverbs set to communicate the appropriate distance from each sound source. Then, these three stereo mixes were brought into my main mix, and I alternated between them per the motion of the camera. Thus, the battle sounds in its scripted sequence, and yet the ambience shifts as it should with the change in visual perspective.
If you'd like to give a listen, here are the sound files referenced above. If you listen closely, you can hear the changes in perspective in the Final (Switching) version even without the visuals present.