Asbjoern Andersen


To say that the Star Wars Battlefront game from DICE / EA has been highly anticipated is probably a bit of an understatement. In addition to the fact that it looks fantastic and, well, it’s STAR WARS! – part of what built this excitement were a series of excellent-sounding trailers and cinematics.

To get the inside-story behind the trailer sound, I managed to get in touch with the team at Source Sound Inc who did the sound for them.

And in this special A Sound Effect interview, Charles Deenen, Csaba Wagner and Thomas Brewer take you behind the scenes on the Star Wars Battlefront trailer sound – and shares what it was like working with those iconic sounds.

 

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The Star Wars Battlefront Reveal Trailer

 

Hi guys, please introduce yourselves:

CD: It’s a pleasure to chat to you guys. My name is Charles Deenen, Director for Digital @ Source Sound Inc. in Los Angeles, California, and Sound Sup on the SW BF trailers. Sound team consisted of Csaba Wagner, Braden Parkes, Colin Hart, Tim Gedemer, Mike Schapiro, Travis Prater, Erik Norris & Brent Burge. Mixing was done by Tom Brewer and myself. Music was a mixture between the classic Williams, Gordy’s music, and some trailer music adds. We had access to the game sounds as well as some part of the Lucas FX, so major credit also goes to Ben Minto, David J & the original SW Skywalker team. We worked on the SW BF trailers, cinematics, website and more. All-in-all over 100 short movies with an equivalent greater length than a feature film.

CW: I’m Csaba Wagner, co-supervising sound designer on the Star Wars Battlefront cinematics and trailers. I’ve been working as a sound designer for movies and games for 5+ years here in LA.

TB: I’m Thomas Brewer, Re-recording mixer on Star Wars Battlefront Cinematics and Trailers. I’ve been working in sound for Trailers, Games, Film and Television in Hollywood for more than 20 years, and I’ve been working for Source Sound for more than 13.
 

Star Wars Battlefront is arguably the most anticipated game in years. How did you get involved with the project?

CD: Well, I was fortunate to have worked @ EA for 9 years through which I got to know many of the wonderful folks involved with these titles. Previously I worked with this team on Battlefield trailers. You start to get a trust and short-cut language which helps speed up workflow. They knew what we could do, and that we’d take utmost care of their project. Ben Minto & Neel Upadye ended up hiring us for the Trailer Campaign, Cinematics and much more.

CW: Charles and I have been working together for several years. When he told me that I could work with him on the reveal trailer for Star Wars Battlefront, I got extremely excited, because I’m a huge Star Wars fan. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the original trilogy hundreds of times.

TB: When Charles came on board at Source Sound, he immediately started lining up bigger and bigger titles, which lead to some fortunate timing and turning some heads… eventually opening up the conversation of this one being an option. I feel really fortunate that this one materialized for us. I couldn’t be more excited!
 

What’s your workflow on a project like this?

CD: CW: On the reveal trailer we had to be very careful how we approach things. We wanted to keep the characteristics of the original sounds we all know and love, but we also wanted to take a modern twist on them. Our goal was to keep the sounds recognizable but make them big, punchy, and heavy. We applied the same recipe for the other trailers as well.

Our goal was to keep the sounds recognizable but make them big, punchy, and heavy

The other important thing was to make sure the edit was clear and tactile. I carved things out for the biggest events and you only hear the things that are crucial to tell the story. The mix of the Reveal trailer (by Charles and Tom) took this even further, making things even punchier.

TB: As an example, for the reveal trailer, the designers had been doing these really great temp mixes of the effects and foley as we went along so that created a great starting base and gave us a heavy understanding of all the materials we had already laid out before us. I started working those effects against some temp music to get the timing of everything worked out until Charles edited in the final John Williams and Gordy Haab music. After that, Charles and I worked back and forth to hone the mix down to be very precise about what the ear should follow and what part of the sound was telling the story. Both the sound design and the music were so great and detailed that each could completely stand on its own.
The sound design, many times very musical and tonal, was completely capable of carrying the emotion of the scene, so the challenge became the hand off between it and the music, not making the switch between them jarring or having the mix become overwhelming if both were playing at the same time. While we originally built the session as a 5.1 mix, the initial delivery was stereo. We later went back and turned the mix into an immersive Atmos mix, which was an incredibly fun and rewarding process.
 

When working with a gameplay trailer such as this one, how do you strike a balance between using the actual in-game audio vs adding extra elements?

CD: CW: We had the chance to get some of the game assets that were created by the super talented Ben Minto and his team. When you work on a trailer, it is inevitable to add extra elements and / or alter the in-game sound effects to have the emotional effect that the trailer demands. With each trailer, we made sure that the characteristics of the sounds remain the same, whilst we stylized them to suit the style of the trailer.

TB: I think the key is working the in-game audio against the trailer music and using that process to tell you if the in-game effect can work in the context of the trailer. In the case of Star Wars, we had a lot of great in-game source to work with. Csaba would cut in options, and Charles and I would try the different versions in the mix to see which ones gave us the best clarity and punch.

We were very careful to not ignore very key sounds that have long been established in this franchise

At times the driving music or pace of the trailer wouldn’t allow an in-game effect to work on its own without help, so it would get redesigned in order to accomplish the same intention. That being said, we were very careful to not ignore very key sounds that have long been established in this franchise. They were as key to sonically tying the trailer to the game and to the overall franchise as the music was.

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The Star Wars Battlefront Gameplay Launch Trailer

 

The trailer features so many iconic sounds – did you get to work with the original Star Wars movie material, or did you re-create them?

CD: We had the privilege to use some of the famous sounds from the original movies, but they were enhanced, cleaned up & remastered where needed. In many cases we used the original material as source, but then split out tonal from noise layers. Then we kept the tonal layers, and added higher fidelity noise layers. This was mainly done to give the ability to control the dense sound mix that often happened or was requested. We always tried to stay faithful, but enhanced it enough so that it punched more, slight bit more “2015”, was bigger feeling etc. This is a choice we made starting from trailer 1. We waited what the response was, and it was overwhelmingly positive. So our Path to the dark side had been chosen.
 


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It must have been a somewhat special feeling working with the original sounds?

CW: I remember I used to make lightsaber-buzzing sounds with my mouth as a kid. To me the sound of the lightsaber is like music. So, it was amazing to finally listen to and work with those incredible sound effects.

TB: When we got to listen to many of the original sounds isolated, I was a little taken aback at the level of emotional response I had. Just listening to the breathing of Darth Vader alone made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Many times sounds from older movies can be very dated, but most of the original sounds from Star Wars seem timeless.

CD: Since I didn’t grow up with Star Wars (as I kid I hardly ever saw movies), my experience was a tad bit different. I learned quick though, and it was incredibly fun to hear and see how Ben approached the original material. For me that’s the case with anybody’s work that we get the opportunity to dissect.

I’m happy to say that even though we recreated or replaced a fair bit of sounds, the user base experienced it as “authentic”

I feel this also gave me a “benefit” in some ways. I wasn’t emotionally attached the sounds, and would (hopefully) make choices that will make the aural experience better, vs having to stay 100% faithful, especially since the SW BF scenes didn’t all “map” to the movies with the action we were seeing (the movies are not in 1st person as an example). I’m happy to say that even though we recreated or replaced a fair bit of sounds, the user base experienced it as “authentic”
 

Of the sounds you had to re-create, what was one of the most interesting ones to do – and how did you go about making it?

CD: It was amazing to see how “common” a lot of the sounds started. Some of the “base” or element sounds have made it into commercial libraries over the years, so it was a challenge to find the element that would get us to 90%. Recreating the elements that made up the composite allowed us to make new movements, new POV’s etc. That said, the original Burtt composite was magic, so we tried to start with that magic as often as possible as the core element. Let’s say we went through a lot of flangers, phasers and detuned speed playback :)

I recreated some of the tonal elements of the AT-AT’s foot creak, for which I used the recording of an old oven that I had in my previous apartment

CW: Charles recreated the tonal sound of the speeder bikes which was excellent to achieve the sensation of high speed during the chase scene of the reveal trailer. I recreated some of the tonal elements of the AT-AT’s foot creak, for which I used the recording of an old oven that I had in my previous apartment. That sound is the most audible during the destruction scene of the AT-AT in the Reveal trailer.
 

Any personal favorite sounds or parts in the trailer?

CD: In the reveal trailer, the crash of the AT-AT sounds intimate, big, and there was one teaser (I sadly can’t recall which one) that had some great ship movements, very authentic sounding, yet 90% new. Favorite one is the Jakku Teaser where it was fully san-music. There was a 5-minute reveal trailer that only a handful of people saw during the reveal of the game. It had an awesome “under AT-AT” moment.

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The Jakku Teaser

CW: I’m in love with the scene where the Millennium Falcon shows up in the final moments of the reveal trailer. But my personal favorite is the destruction of the AT-AT. For the falling of the AT-AT, I had a metal creak recording which had somebody talking in the background. I decided to drastically slow down that part of the recording, which worked amazingly for the moments before the AT-AT hit the ground. It sounds like it’s moaning in pain.

TB: Besides working with the amazing music, my favorite sounds were those of the tie fighters. They cut through anything we worked with and always made the tie fighters sound like they were fast. I also liked the foot stomps of the AT-AT. It was a fun challenge to get them to sound big without the use of a sub woofer, but when I mixed them in Atmos, the entire room shook, and there was no doubt we were underneath a gigantic Imperial construct.
 

What is it about that original Star Wars soundscape that makes it so unique – and why does it hold up so well after all these years?

CD: I think since many sci-fi movies reach for “sci-fi” or over-processed sounds, they tend to sound a bit artificial. The human connection to those sounds is not instant.

This familiarity, as well as the injection of human performance into the sounds, is what holds up so well and allows one to connect with it

By creating them from common sounds, less synthetic, mic recorded randomization (vs created randomization) it instantly feels familiar. This familiarity, as well as the injection of human performance into the sounds, is what holds up so well and allows one to connect with it. Naturally people loved the movie as well, so the sound-scape becomes a big part of that love. The sounds had “air”, a sense of true realism, with the sensibility and wit of Burtt injected into them. Believability of the sounds in this case was critical to making you think this 1/100th size model flying into a bright light-bulb was truly the real deal.

CW: In my opinion, Ben Burtt really changed how we “sound editors” think about sound. It’s always been inspiring how he layered recordings of everyday objects to create something that sounds totally new and unique. I think the reason why these sounds hold up so well after all these years is they are all very carefully chosen and have the emotional effect that the movies demand. For example, I always have a huge smile on my face when I hear R2D2’s beeps, and I get tense when I hear Darth Vader’s creepy breathing.

TB: If you muted these sounds in the original movies, you’d actually be missing a lot of the story. With most of these sounds having roots in the organic world, they took on their own essential role of storytelling and conveying emotion, by giving life to the hundreds of inanimate objects in the Star Wars Galaxy. They didn’t just fill the space so that you could hear what you were seeing; they were many times the voice of the unwritten or unspoken. For example, it’s how we knew that R2-D2 was happy or scared. With all that, the simplest explanation for Star Wars soundscapes’ iconic and timeless status is that the sounds themselves became a character in a masterful story that itself has stood the test of time.

 

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A big thanks to Charles Deenen, Csaba Wagner and Thomas Brewer at Source Sound Inc for the story behind the Star Wars Battlefront trailers. Find out more about Source Sound here, and learn more about Star Wars Battlefront here.

 
 
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