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When Cakewalk released its SONAR X1 digital audio workstation (DAW), they weren't just giving composers a world-class set of audio tools; they were giving them a solution to their production challenges. Here, DIG takes a look at how two game composers have integrated the suite into their studio workflows and brought the power of SONAR to bear on their latest projects.
Composer Sean Murray started his career at the age of 19. His credits include the hit TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the games True Crime: Streets of L.A., Call of Duty: World at War and Call of Duty: Black Ops.
On his latest project, Call of Duty: Black Ops, after first laying down his orchestral tracks using sampled instruments, Murray needed to swap them out for live orchestral recordings. This called for delivering a score for a 79-piece orchestra to another recording studio for recording, and then digitally manipulating the various stems.
Cakewalk SONAR and a Mackie digital mixing board serve as the hub of Murray's studio. SONAR's complement of virtual synths and percussion, along with extensive MIDI and digital-audio recording capabilities, give him the flexibility to start composing right away.
He starts each audio cue by loading its corresponding video clip into SONAR. From there, rhythmic elements, melodic ideas or sound design elements drive the composition. "When you're writing for moving pictures and games, it's usually best to go with the first idea you have as you're looking at the video," says Murray.
Murray uses four computers: One of them runs SONAR, and the other three are dedicated to TASCAM GigaStudio sample player software, which he uses for brass, strings, percussion and for extended polyphony when he runs out of voices for a given cue.
On Black Ops, Murray was often running 110 tracks of digital audio, MIDI and orchestral recordings. He utilized SONAR's Track Folders feature to organize his score by instrument groups. For example, he put 15 string tracks in one folder, MIDI and brass tracks in another folder, audio data for 36 tracks in another, and so on.
Orchestral stems from Pro Tools were brought back into SONAR, where SONAR's battery of effects were used to, as Murray puts it, "absolutely destroy a sound beyond recognition so it's something fresh." Also used frequently were Transient Shaper, V-Vocal and the Z3TA+ virtual synthesizer that comes with SONAR.
Tim Wynn's credits as a composer span a number of television shows and motion pictures, including the hit CW series "Supernatural" and the 2010 feature film To Save a Life. His game credits include Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 and Red Faction: Guerilla. He is currently working on two unannounced titles for 2011.
As modern games strive to be more cinematic, Wynn's challenge is to enhance the storyline by writing music that adds to whatever drama is taking place. "I'm at my best when my score helps the player make an emotional connection to the story, the characters and the gameplay," says Wynn.
To accomplish that goal, Wynn needed a DAW that would allow him to import and play back video clips, while giving him the power to record and play back over 120 audio tracks and effects, as well as 30 or more stems, simultaneously.
For Command and Conquer, recording was done at Skywalker Ranch on an Avid Pro Tools system. So Wynn needed a DAW that could import stems (discreet parts of a composition saved as an individual audio element, often used in remixing) mixed in Pro Tools and further tweak them using various effects plug-ins, virtual synthesizers, synthetic percussion and instruments from multi-gigabit sample libraries.
Cakewalk SONAR became Wynn's go-to DAW. He found that it gave him the computing muscle to run multiple effects plug-ins on all of his audio tracks, and include virtual synthesizers and percussion as well as MIDI tracks in the mix -- all without having to render submixes before being able to hear the overall result.
He says he's more than satisfied with the performance of his DAW system. "With SONAR, I don't need to be so wrapped up in tech," says Wynn. "I can just worry about creating music. The computer and the software unshackle me."
Dominic Milano spent over 30 years in print, online and event media production before signing on as one of the writing muses for Rose & Her Minions. He’s worked on DV, Game Developer, Keyboard and Guitar Player magazines, as well as the Game Developers Conference.