Kahl Henderson discusses his Glasgow sound studio and its work on Halo 4 – Spartan Ops
[This feature was published in the October 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad]
Savalas Sound’s method is to treat games with the high-end production values ‘that they deserve’.
Based in Glasgow, Savalas specialises in sound design, music composition and audio post-production. It creates in-game audio as well the music for game cinematics and feature films.
Some of the studio’s most recent work was on Halo 4 – Spartan Ops, for Axis Animation and 343 Industries.
“We approached this project like a sci-fi feature film,” managing director Kahl Henderson tells Develop. “With over 50 minutes of content, we had a real opportunity to create an extension to the aural universe within the main Halo 4 campaign.”
There were many environments and characters that were unique to Spartan Ops, so Savalas created a large amount of sound effects from scratch.
Henderson continues: “The real challenge was being faithful to the franchise. We wanted our sound design to stand out, but it had to feel that it was part of Halo 4. The foley was an incredibly enjoyable part of this process. The question we had to ask ourselves was: How do you create the sound of a 500lb bio-mechanical soldier? By using two beer pumps, a leather jacket, a metal belt, neoprene gloves, body armour, a canvas bag and a pair of hiking boots. Obviously.”
Savalas delivered Spartan Ops in 12 languages, which is 120 unique mixes in 5.1 sound. “Every language has tonal differences, so every mix is subtly different,” Henderson adds.
Savalas’s facilities include a Dolby Premier mix theatre, a foley stage, ADR and dialogue recording facilities, sound design and music production studios and a vast custom sound effects library.
For linear cinematics and cutscenes, it uses Avid’s Pro Tools as its primary sound design and mixing tool. A host of other tools, such as Wwise and Fmod, are employed dependent on the workflow and delivery requirements.
Before turning to plug-ins for audio shaping and processing, Savalas spends huge amounts of time on its foley stage manipulating props and playing with different types of microphones to produce unique sounds for each project.
“These sessions are essential during the early experimental development stages. Sometimes the most mundane prop can produce the most spectacular results, especially when recorded underwater using a hydrophone,” says Henderson.
To solve the problem of always needing plug-ins that don’t exist for the products it uses, Savalas is now looking to build some audio creation tools of its own.
Finally, Henderson explains why Savalas is, he believes, the right choice for developers: “We are a dedicated, specialist audio facility. Our feature film background has given us a deep and intuitive understanding of the use of sound to weave a narrative. We tell stories using sound.
“Applying this background in movies to game audio takes the soundtrack and the video game experience to another level.”
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