Jean-Edouard Miclot, or known to his friends as "Jed", is one of those sound guys that lives and breathes his profession. If you check out his personal website he has a few videos which showcase his passion for sound and the inspiration he pulls from everyday life. I met Jed at last years E3 and he was one of those guys you could instantly see yourself bonding with. He's intelligent, funny, and just simply easy to talk to. I wanted to shoot him some questions for the forum because he had the opportunity to work on one of my favorite IPs (intellectual property) off all time, Killer Instinct.
Jed's blog: http://jedsound.com/blog/
Thanks for taking the time to feed our brains, Jed!
Hey, Jed! You just finished rebooting one of the more popular fighting games of all time, Killer Instinct. I've always wanted to work on a fighting game, how was that experience?
Hey Mike, thank you for putting these questions together. KI was indeed a blast! I remember playing the original game at my friend’s place after school but at the time, I was better at smashing the buttons than pulling ultra combos…
The fans had to wait 17 years until they saw that their most beloved franchise was coming back. Seventeen years is a very long time to imagine your perfect game and when they discovered it was being developed by a small studio called Double Helix who had never done a fighting game, they became very pessimistic... Working with a very small team was very synergetic and inspiring, but we knew we couldn't do it just on our own so we started to bring our new builds to E3, GamesCon, ComicCon, EVO and we also invited professional players to our studio which turned to be extremely helpful.
I would imagine a game like that would be deceptively tough to mix but incredibly rewarding once dialed in. Where did you pull inspiration from?
I think that the original game helped us to understand what made the franchise so popular. We have a KI cabinet here at the studio and even after 18 years, I couldn't believe how crazy loud everything sounded! Loudness wasn't such a concern at that time, in fact, I believe everyone embraced it maybe in an attempt to show how much more muscular they were than their competitors. Today, low deep announcers, heavy guitar riffs and everything else cranked at 11 sounds certainly more cheesy than anything, but it was a huge nostalgic factor that we just couldn't miss. The mix was definitely an on-going journey and it ended when they took it out of our hands. At the end, Microsoft’s sound supervisor Zack Quarles and Audio Director Boyd Post invited me to their headquarters to give a last polished pass. Zack has amazing ears and lots of experience in mixing and we both had a ball, even though he totally destroyed me!
One of the benefits from this new generation of video game consoles is increased memory and processing power. How was this used to enhance the experience for Killer Instinct?
From the beginning, it was clear that we would showcase some of the new capabilities of the console. We provide a service for our client before all and it’s our job to meet any requirements while giving a compelling and entertaining experience to our players. We thought it’d be refreshing to deliver a truly discrete surround fight that expands the encapsulated 2D plane of our stages. Impacts have discrete LFE channel and dynamic surround echoes that change according to the position of the character on the stage, it’s subtle but potent. The music reacts to the players’ inputs and changes on the beat depending on how you fight. We reward the most aggressive player with a musical chorus and we use a non-interactive sequence at the end of a fight to swap all the sound effects with musical hits, which was never done before in a fighting game. I've also used some DSP effects to give more punch to the mix, thanks to Mick Gordon who told me that trick. We also have other things like cliched real-time pitch-shifting and filtering during slow-motion events, dynamic weather ambiances and multiple announcers selectable... but nothing really new here. Having so much memory and power mostly helped us to experiment without being worried of breaking the game. We also needed a robust system that would automatically control which sound to prioritize at any given moment and Wwise was very flexible with that.
Were any of the original sounds sourced from Rare (creators of the original release) and used in the reboot?
Absolutely! The guys from Rare were super cool and helpful and I think they just wanted to see their baby revived as much as anyone. Robin Beanland transferred some backup tapes to Pro Tools for us and both Mick and I stole a few iconic recordings from it. Spinal’s original laugh is used in his taunt and his outro cinematic for example. We also recorded KI’s original announcer, Chris Sutherland, but his voice changed a bit after 18 years so we had to cheat to make him sound authentic. The re-design of the characters and their stories was quite different from the original game though. Audio had to give something fresh to the fans while still paying homage to it and Thunder was a special case. We had some Nez Perce representatives from Idaho who came to the studio for a few days and they gave us all kinds of information about their culture, their language, and their spirituality in order to make sure the character didn't become disrespectful to anyone. The studio was keen enough for me to go to Idaho to record an authentic song written for our native American character. The conditions were great, so instead of staying in a traditional soundproof studio, we went to the top of a mountain right in the Nez Perce lands surrounded by trees and wild horses. It was absolutely dead silent with no bird, crickets or traffic and the trees offered a nice echo for the loud shouts.
I've never had the opportunity to use a Kyma system and I know you use one. Have you found yourself turning to it when you can't get what you're trying to achieve within the native DAW?
Ah, Kyma I've had it for quite a few years now and even though it comes with lots of building blocks and pre-conceived ideas that anyone can use, I built my own collection of tools. Sometimes, certainly by delusion, it makes me think that I have the potential of going where no one has been before… That’s how I felt at least the first time I watched Wall-E, it was an un-heard of territory and I found it to be unbelievably credible at the same time But beware, Kyma’s endless power has a double edge sword that can quickly suck all your time and leave you with unsatisfying results. It’s not a magic box and neither the “ultimate sound design weapon” as I read it before. But it’s a very flexible and powerful tool nonetheless and I have recorded hours of it that I have now cataloged in my sfx library.
To me, it seems like it has a very specific sound. Would you say you would be able to take advantage of it on any project or does it usually lend itself better to specific genres of sound design?
Ah ah, that’s right, it has its own sound and it’s certainly for the same reason that it’s expensive too. Kyma works with dedicated hardware that only needs one sample to do any computation, whatever your sample rate is at. So everything done in real-time sounds seamless even when you’re changing the rate of a sample playback from 0.0001 to 1000 in a tenth of a second. It would probably sound terrible anyway but it’s just to give you an idea. I've used it on a Disney family movie to morph the voice of a child into a howl or to recreate a background noise from on-set recordings to fill the gaps between the takes of dialogue. I've uploaded a sample where you can hear thunder claps made from ice recordings. I can turn my voice into a sort of crow, or create eerie tones just by whistling in the microphone etc.; so for very different things. At the moment, we’re working on Fulgore who’s our last KI character and I've found some pretty cool ways to twist the organic, stay tuned.
Since Killer Instinct had some fun creatures in it I'm going to throw this one out there. What's your favorite creature sound design from any media format in the last five years?
Oh I see, you kept the hard one for the end! Well, it’s tough but I‘d say Toothless from DreamWorks’s 2010 animated movie “How to Train Your Dragon” because he had an intricate language with a wide range of emotions that cover anger, fear, courage, affection, excitement, loneliness, and joy, which actually tells us a lot about the progression of his relationship with Hiccup, the little Viking boy. Very often in games, designers create huge cliched monsters who only have been given the ability to roar, run and kill for no other reason than generating a gameplay mechanic. But there’s so much life, personality and intelligence that you can give to a creature by giving it some kind of language, you know, like in this absolutely stunning game called “The Last of …” agh, sorry, I can’t seem to remember how it’s called. Would you know Mike?