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BloodSpell Development Updates

Episode 12 Did You Know

BloodSpell Development Updates

Episode 12 Did You Know

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The Return of the Chant

One of the things I've always admired about movie music (when it's done right) is the use of recurring themes. John Williams, composer for the Star Wars series (and a gigantic list of other big movies) is one of the masters of this craft. Every major character in the Star Wars series had a musical theme associated with them, and throughout the score, Williams would weave these themes together in an analogy which was consistently loyal to who is on screen from scene to scene. If you want to see this method deconstructed (no, John Williams was not its inventor), I recommend you give a listen to Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" with narration.

The approach we took to scoring BloodSpell did not offer many opportunities to apply this method, but I took advantage of one such instance in Episode 12. Jered is facing off with The Master atop the tower prison, and we needed some original music to set the tone. I went for a dark sense of foreboding and tension, with a gradual crescendo as the scene progressed. But I wanted the music to tie back to the roots of the story, much as the scene itself was doing. So the option I chose here was take the Lorem Ipsum chant from the cathedral in Episode 3, and layer it into the new theme we were introducing here. It's subtle - it doesn't smack you in the face - but if you listen, it's there, playing on your subconscious. To complete the tie-in, I put the original chant in there by itself over the towers scene just after the titles for Ep 12.

The musically astute will note that the original chant was in a different key than the new theme, and that is correct. I had to apply a pitch change to make it fit properly, but the source audio is the original music from Ep 3.

A Sense of Distance

Reverb can be a powerful tool (one which, incidentally, is notoriously easy to OVERUSE) to communicate not only a sense of space... but also, distance. In a music mix, subtle reverb is often used to place instruments in 3D space; in general, adding reverb pulls a source source backward in the mix (i.e. away from the listener), while your pan knob controls left-to-right positioning.

There are many attributes of both digital and analog reverb which affect the character of the sound, but perhaps the most useful for communicating distance is the PreDelay setting. Essentially, this tells the reverb unit to wait X number of milliseconds before releasing sound through its output channels. When cranked up, pre-delay can simulate a strong echo; when used more subtly, it can convey a more modest sense of distance. The usefulness of this in audio for film is huge.

When the camera cuts to Jered during the big battle scene, he shouts down to Gad to lower the platform. If you just look at what is captured in screen, Jered's spatial relationship to the battle is not immediately apparent. To reinforce the idea that he is up high, a reverb with higher-than-average pre-delay is applied to his calldown. (By higher-than-average, I mean somewhere between standing across the room from you and standing across the Thames.)

Unfortunately, this instance in Episode 12 is competing with music and background battle noise; for a more isolated instance of this technique, check out Jered's calldown in Episode 11, starting with, "If you want your freedom..."

A Big Mean Demon Thing

It is every geek sound engineer's dream to do sound design for a balrog like Karak's towering demonic friend. Naturally, I took the excuse to watch the balrog scene from Lord of the Rings a number of times for inspiration. While I found the sound before their creature appeared to be extremely effective, I wasn't particularly helped by what that film did with the creature once he appeared. It's not that it wasn't good, it just wasn't what I thought was right for our balrog.

Our balrog would not have benefited from the non-percussive elemental sounds of LOTR's, because our balrog was competing with a thrashing hard rock track. So the formula ended up being pretty simple: layered fire sounds emitting from him at all times, some nice heavy footsteps, and... me, breathing and growling with all my might. Thank you again, pitch change. It took several rehearsal takes to get things synced with his movements and yells, but once finished I was very glad I went that route versus trying to splice together pre-fabbed monster growls of any kind. This guy deserved his own unique sound.

Incidentally, if you listen closely to the sound of the demon being sent away after the battle, you'll hear the second instance of backward masking present in BloodSpell, the first being from the portal at the end of Episode 7. Forgive my memory, but I believe it was a fiercely whispered, "Go back to the pit from which you came!", reversed, and run through a pitch change and heavy chorus filter. I felt like that gave a nice sense of evil incantation, and also ups the heebeejeebee factor for anyone who ever heard "Hotel California" or "Stairway to Heaven" backwards in the eighties and never quite got over it.
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