I have the privilege of getting my first interview with the awesome, excellent, Watson Wu.
TTA: First off, some of your work with NFS ProStreet — this game emphasized more on the fun of the game than on the realism of driving, did this slightly different emphasis have any effect on the recording technique for the vehicles? Were there any cars that proved difficult to record well? Lastly, did you use predominately dyno-based recordings?
For ProStreet I was hired to field record passbys and help the EA team apply microphones on GT race cars in Sebring, Florida. We were capturing Corvette CR06, Cadillac, and Viper cars during their practice runs around the track, speeding at 170-190mph. The Corvette CR06s are The Loudest race cars I have ever encountered! They were like constant sustains of gun shots, painful to our ears. While many of the microphones were able to withstand the constant pounding of the high decibels, I was given from the team mic pads to cut off the extreme sounds going into my field recorder. While EA as well as a few of their external contractors sometimes use dyno-packs, I most of the time capture vehicles while in motion. Many of us believe that this recording on the go produces the more natural sound. As we have learned from years of recordings, we constantly strive to achieve better or nastier recordings with newer microphones and push the limiters to the extreme for that more aggressive sound. after all, video games and films are fiction based.
TTA: Your recent work with the title Transformers: War for Cybertron, how much creative design did you have within the project? In the DS article, Rodney refers to you as the “man with the connections” — if you’re willing to discuss, how do you go about making the connections to car owners? Given that the audio wasn’t being used in the same way as, say, a racing game, did the recording technique change? (IE were you still using a dyno, getting loops at an rpm interval? Or doing something else?)
For the title Transformers: War for Cybertron I had the pleasure to work with the great audio team from High Moon Studios. They were Outstanding! I was first given the tasks to find similar cars according to their wish list. The Audio Lead Rob Burns did a great job communicating what he wanted (with excellent Youtube examples) so I was on my way to meet up with my car contacts. I auditioned many vehicles from sports, exotics, muscles, to trucks. After the editing with correct file naming methods, I uploaded the wave files for the team to take a listen. When the team decided what they wanted, I then multi-track recorded the desired vehicles on private roads going up to 150mph and as high as 9,500RPM. All vehicles have different bodies so I often have to adjust how and where I place my microphones. With the constant change of the extreme sounds from a 2005 modified Corvette (with a ProCharger engine and aftermarket exhausts), I had to re-adjust many times the mic placements due to loud distortions. I remember thinking then “how much further am I going to place these mics away from these crazy exhausts???”. Recording these super Corvettes are now as difficult as recording many Ferrari exotics. The distortion sounds from the exhausts are really loud so it’s a fine line of do I place the mics here, or over there? My favorite was recording a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT. The owner said “you have to record this. It sounds like a Formula One race car”. Sure enough, everyone agreed and so this exotic was recorded for the Transformer character “Bumble Bee”. Funny…Rodney Gates coined some of the roads I use as “The Watson Wu Main Streets” where we did some high speed recordings. These are large quiet areas where I had assistants watching out for any potential disturbances during the runs. We used walkie talkies to communicate with each other.
Regarding Rodney Gates referring me as “the man with the connections”, this is laughable! I constantly network with like minded entrepreneurs who appreciate great technologies, ideas, cars and trucks. Some of these serious car owners really know about the sounds their cars produce. I would often ask “which of your cars do you think sound best?”. Moreover, I would also ask if they knew other approachable car owners for a test record. This is the key, ask for “approachable car owners”. Being near the Sarasota area of Florida, this is one of the wealthiest counties in America. From here down to Naples (golf capital of the world), there are numerous exotic, muscle, and truck vehicles.
TTA: What’s your favorite sounding car?
I like sounds of many cars. Abrams Main Battle Tank (it’s like a car, right?), the Bugatti Veyron is like a “Spaceship”, Ferrari Enzo, Ferrari California, Ferrari F50, High end Lamborghinis, All Porsches, especially the Carrera GT, Super Late Model stock race car, monster trucks, Classic Belaire, Camaro and Corvette muscles, etc…
TTA: What career advice would you give to someone who wants to record cars for a living?
Recording cars for a living is limited so it can be one of your many services. First read Aaron Mark’s Book “The Complete Guide to Game Audio 2nd edition as well as Ric Viers’ SFX Bible. Learn to mix by recording and/or mix live concerts, ambience, foley, and loads of experiments. These listening skills are vital. Learning music theory and ear training is also ideal.
Internship is a good idea to gain Real experiences. I unfortunately do not take on any interns. But, check with EA and other business who do.
Buy proper gear. For low budget, get a Zoom H4n and one mono shotgun mic with a blimp. For mid range budget, buy a Fostex FR2LE and a used Sennheiser MKH-416 mono shotgun mic. I sometimes buy used gear. I have never encountered a broken Sennheiser (for example) unless it has been shot or ran over. Handhelds are not field recorders so the ideal starting point is to buy at least a Fostex FR2LE. A True field recorder means you don’t have to deal with handling noise like a blimp/shotgun mic/field recorder combo. If you buy a Fostex FR2LE or the better sounding FR-2, be sure to buy a pair of mic pads as this recorder is sensitive to loud sources, like muscle cars, burn outs, weapons, etc… For high budget, buy Sound Devices 702, or higher models. Get Transcend or Lexar high speed memory cards (for both SDHC and CF cards).
TTA: Are you planning on attending GDC or similar conferences in the next year?
I might be attending GDC . For sure attending E3 in Los Angeles. I am also a regular guest speaker at SIEGECON.net every fall in Atlanta.
TTA: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you during a recording session?
Look at the end of the video I have on Youtube called “Transformers: War for Cybertron – the cars behind the video game.” Activision/High Moon Studios not only wanted engine and exhaust sounds, but they also had me record all movable parts from each of the vehicles. These were going to be used for the “Transforming” sounds of these vehicles/robots. So, when I was recording a 2005 Supercharged Corvette, the fast opening gas lid literally smacked onto my windshield blimp! I think this particular Corvette has The Fastest Opening Gas Lid in the world.
During the field recording of various U.S. Marines vehicles for the game Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, we were anticipating a big bad sounding horn from the big bad looking AAV (Amphibious Assault Vehicle). However, it sounded quite wimpy. I remember everyone saying out loud “What was that??? Where’s The Manly Horn???”
Transformers: War for Cybertron – the cars behind the video game
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising – recording the U.S. Marines battle vehicles
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GH222ruJaRo (embedding disabled)
TTA: What’s the scariest thing that’s happened to you during a recording session?
Two of the scariest things that happened during my field recording sessions were:
One – we were recording various weapons and explosions and the hill caught on fire. When the fire seemed out of control, I was imagining myself pleading Guilty in front of a judge and grand jury. Fortunately I had a good team who reacted very quickly to contain the fire. All sessions after that required many fire extinguishers.
Two – during a burn out session of the 69′ dragster Corvette for Transformers: War for Cybertron, the intense heat from the engine bay melted one of my lavalier microphones. That, was a bad day!
Recording Weapons and Explosion in Florida
TTA: And finally, where should I direct readers who want to get in touch with you?
A very special thank you to Watson for sharing his time and insight with me and the readers of TTA! Hopefully I’ll run into you at GDC 2012.