unity book of the dead sound design Asbjoern Andersen


Unity has released the teaser for a stunning interactive demo called 'Book of the Dead' - and, as you'll discover below, not only is it visually impressive, it sounds fantastic too.

We were curious to get the story behind the sound, and thankfully, Aleksander Karshikoff from the sound team was kind enough to tell it:


Interview by Anne-Sophie Mongeau
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Video Thumbnail

The Unity ‘Book of the Dead’ Demo

 

Hi Aleksander, thanks for doing this interview! First, could you tell us how you came to sound design this Unity Demo – were you working with the same team as the Adam Unity Demo, and was there anyone else working on the sound with you?

It is thanks to my friend and collaborator Max Lachmann who introduced me to Veselin Efremov (director) and Silvia Rasheva (producer) of the Unity Demo Team which created Adam and this time around we worked more or less in the same constellation; Pole Position was the audio production company and we had help from master coder Malte Hildingsson.
 

The sonic narrative is very well executed – the whole conversation side of the story remains hidden from view, while this mysterious universe is being revealed, leaving a lot of room for interpretation. How did this idea come to life, and what was your vision for its execution?

Story is told to a much larger extent by the constant counterpoint between picture and audio

The initial idea of separated narrative levels, picture vs sound and also within the soundscape itself (sound from the interview situation vs sounds she hears in her head during her interview) is the primary idea that the director had for this demo and that he brought forward to us when we started talking about the project. What makes it fun for us, is the fact that in this particular case story is told to a much larger extent by the constant counterpoint between picture and audio. Most of the story you puzzle together by different bits and pieces, either visual input or dialogue/sound fx. Sometimes the audio is affirmed or supported by the visuals, sometimes it is contradictory and it is this dynamic that makes it original and fun to work with.
 

Did you take care of the voice recording and mixing? If yes, how did that work and what was the workflow between you, the demo team and the actors?

We were very eager to get an intimate dialogue, so it was crucial to have the two main actors in the same room, get the dialogue flowing and let it become organic

Yes, we recorded the voices together in LjudBang, a studio in downtown Stockholm. We were very eager to get an intimate dialogue, so it was crucial to have the two main actors in the same room, get the dialogue flowing and let it become organic. Since in this case the dialogue and its performance is the most tangible source of emotion and the only thing conveying the characters state of mind, it was of the utmost importance to get it right. And our actors, Louise Ryme, Joshua Lenn (interviewer) and Stephen Rappaport (the cryptic voice) did an amazing job, channeling the feeling and meaning of the text. The recently released demo includes just a small fraction of the dialogue between the characters and as the project evolves, hopefully more interesting details will be disclosed – in that subtle and intriguing way that Vess is known for.
 

Voice recording session for Book of the Dead Demo

 

In terms of implementation, was the sound design done on a rendered file, or is there an interactive demo in the works meaning you would have to implement the sounds in Unity?

The demo is by all means an interactive project, and audio is currently partially, and will continuously, be implemented in the engine. Additional mixing and final touches were done against a rendered file, but ultimately we want all of that in-engine.
 

What were the biggest challenges of designing the sound for Book of the Dead?

It was important to establish an atmosphere, create a flow that would guide the spectator through those beautiful images

Well, it wasn’t easy to know if the thrifty way of conveying information would be enough for people to start putting together the different bits and pieces into some kind of a story, or if people would only be frustrated by not really grasping anything at all. But judging by the reception in social media, I’d say that those frustrated are widely outnumbered by those who found it engaging. And since the story in this particular version is rather encrypted, it was important to establish an atmosphere, create a flow that would guide the spectator through those beautiful images that the the demo team have created. And when one gets amazing visuals to work with, then it’s an easy job – sound just sticks to the pictures by itself!
 

 

What was the most fun part of doing the sound design of the Book of the Dead demo?

The most fun part, which by no means is done yet, is trying to go from one audible world to another, trying to anticipate when the right moment would be for the sound transition to start, how long it should be, or should it be sudden and drastic; how does one make an interference/ disruption not confusing and irritating – when you apparently lose control and are being transported against your will/not at your command. It becomes unpredictable, but how do you make it unpredictable in a good way and not just random unpredictable.

Telling this type of engaging and immersive story will always need us to let go a bit of this full-control state of mind, and we’ll need to let ourselves be guided by the storyteller

How would most of us react when your steps while walking become inaudible and focus changes only to your breathing or to something completely different and fully detached from the visuals. I’ve come to understand that this might be risky in the game sphere – in film that is business as usual – and it is only risky due to us holding the gamepad and claiming full and immediate control. Nevertheless, in my opinion telling this type of engaging and immersive story, like the BotD, will always need us to let go a bit of this full-control state of mind and we’ll need to let ourselves be guided by the storyteller. Ultimately, it is the timing of information flow, when is info disclosed, when is it held back, that makes stories interesting. I could run around in the forest for 5 minutes before I hit the trigger for the next story beat, but those 4 extra minutes it took me, will definitely disrupt the intended rhythm. Of course there are narratives where you are supposed to roam the scenery until you find the spot – but that’s a different experience – equally entertaining, but not the same.
 

Can you tell us about the sounds you used and where they came from?

Pole Position has an immense library, I have gathered a personal compilation of “fine sounds” myself during the years and as usual the largest amount of sounds are specifically recorded for the project. We had a fun recording session on the Swedish island Öland, mid-winter, few birds, normally strong winds and since “hollow” was a guiding term during the sound design, we were trying to record resonating strings and hollow objects that would become part of the soundtrack. There is a short geeky phone shot video of us doing what must be done!

Video Thumbnail

Pole Position’s field recording session for ‘Book of the Dead’

 

 

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What is behind the sound of the ‘tree-man’?

A combination between ice blocks straining and breaking and the more obvious ingredient: wood (straining and breaking).

The Book of the Dead ‘Tree-Man’

 

Is there any upcoming demo you can tell us about for which we should keep an eye out?

Book of the Dead is an ongoing project – we’ve only shown the teaser, but a lot more work remains, so we continue our collaboration with the Unity team on this demo. Meanwhile they’ve kicked off a parallel project which we’re just getting briefed on, so can’t say anything about that yet.
 

Big thanks to Aleksander Karshikoff for this interview on the sound of Book of the Dead! Learn more about the project here, meet Aleksander Karshikoff here, and the Pole Position Sound team here.

 
 

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