Behind the Scenes: Sounds of the Big City

Times Square
Times Square is an ADD sufferer’s worst nightmare.

Like a taste of Japan dropped into the middle of Manhattan it is an audio-visual overload. Big colorful billboards, people, music, video screens, casual dining restaurants, misappropriated Presidential images — basically anything and everything to eke every last bit of attention from the throngs of tourists that bustle through daily.

Does that President look hungry to you?

Does that President look hungry to you?

Our designers captured this stunning panorama for our client’s section.  Creating a sweeping 360° experience that put our client’s name in lights, replacing all the Times Square advertisements with our client roster.  But the illusion wasn’t complete – to complete the experience we needed to bring the same attention to detail to the audio.

Here is how we did it:

Research

We can agree that Time Square is not a quiet place, but all sound is not the same. To ensure the experience is as authentic as possible, we needed to break down the sounds make up the aural landscape of the Crossroads of the World.

First, we took a look at the visuals and determined what is visibly in the scene.  You’ll need to be able to hear that.  We then added a list of the other sounds we could discern while doing the whole tourist thing.  Some of the sounds we added were:

  • Cars
  • People shouting
  • Kids
  • Tourist speaking their first languages
  • Music
  • Live performances
  • Whistles

After we created the list from above, we searched for YouTube videos — just to see if anything was missed.

Asset Mining

At this point, I knew what sounds I needed to design the audio for this section. I began my sounds hunt by digging through various sound libraries, offline as well online, using SoundSnap (http://soundsnap.com). I ended up with over 50 sounds that needed to be mixed down and properly placed into the 3-Dimensional audio space to make them sound like they are truly a part of the scene.

Creating the scene

The audio software I used was  Logic Studio Suite, particularly Logic 8 and Soundtrack. One of the requirements for this project was 3D audio. We wanted the user to make the audio respond based on the user input – as someone moved about the scene, the sounds they hear would change. This requirement often dictated how I was going to position the sounds in this 3D world. Unfortunately, this didn’t mean that I had less work, in fact, it added a few more tasks that needed to be done in order to make the illusion sound believable.

space designer2

It needs to sound like you are outside

For the sounds that were not recorded outdoors, I tweaked them using the Space Designer plugin that comes with Logic 8.  I began with one of the presets and adjusted from there so my sounds had the correct acoustics. After this, I did some channel EQ, to boost or remove certain frequencies.

In the end, I mixed my 50 individual sound bites down to 12 distinct audio tracks.

Below, is a video showing the session and all the channels and plug-ins that it has.

Preparing sounds for Flash

In order to deliver the sounds to our flash developers, I needed to provide each channel individually. This way, as the user moves about the scene, different sound files can be triggered and layered to create the 3D effect.  Logic makes this process painless, all I had to do was click on File>Export>All Tracks as Audio Files and save them as AIF audio format.

From there, it was all bright lights, big city and FLASH!