Interview with Sound Designer Wesley Slover

Wesley Slover is an audio engineer, based in Seattle, who owns Sono Sanctus, an audio production company specializing in sound and music for picture. We had the great opportunity to interview him and get more of an insight into music and sound for animation.Here is what he had to say...

What made you choose to be an audio engineer?

I was a huge "band-geek" growing up constantly playing music. I started recording at home and just kept getting more interested in it. Originally I wanted to be a record producer but quickly realized that wasn't a lifestyle that I wanted. Shortly after going to school I became more interested in sound in general.

Do you feel your education at Conservatory of Recording Sciences helped you develop the skills you needed for a job in the audio design industry?

I think so, although I really just learned the very basics of sound design. What I appreciate about the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences is it's only an 8 month program and it's focused on giving you a base knowledge where you go on to intern and learn in the industry. Most programs are a lot more expensive and tend to leave students feeling like they know a lot and that they shouldn't have to work their way up in the industry. The truth is no amount schooling is going to make someone good at sound design. It takes hundreds of hours of working to really develop those skills, but school is a really great starting point.

Why did you decide to start your own company, Sono Sactus?

 I started Sono Sanctus because I realized that there are very few audio production job positions in Seattle. I'd say that most of the sound designers here work in video games (We have a lot of big game companies here: Microsoft, Valve, Pop Cap to name a few) but it's extremely competitive. I actually interned with Matthew Johnston who was the audio director at Microsoft Game Studios with the hope of breaking into the game industry but I couldn't get in the door anywhere.

I worked in live sound for about five years while doing as much freelance and personal audio production work on the side. I did a lot of work on an all volunteer Sci Fi B-Movie called "Project London" which was a great experience and did tons of random projects. I wasn't seeing employment opportunities so I decided to find my own work. Although being a freelancer comes with plenty of anxiety I really enjoy being able to network and seek out the types of projects I'm passionate about.

What is it like working in such a small company, do you feel having other staff would help the creative process?

I really like to dialog with colleagues and friends but I don't think it would necessarily help to have staff. I run a lot of things by my good friend David Godwin. He's a really talented director, editor, and motion designer so his comments are really helpful.

I've also been assisting John Buroker of HEARby. He's pretty much a post audio legend in Seattle so I've learned a lot and occasionally bounce ideas off of him.

I try to work closely with the motion designer who's doing the project. I mostly work remotely but will send files back and forth. The designer who has been staring at the animation for weeks will often have a great perspective on the sound. I also personally want them to be really happy with it. I know motion designers put a ton of work into their projects and it's important that I honor that and give them sound that feels rewarding.

How important do you feel social networking is for your business?

It's extremely important! I've connected with the majority of my clients through Vimeo. There's not a ton of audio post work in Seattle and it can be hard to get in the door to talk with someone. With social media, motion designers and videographers seem generally eager to meet and collaborate. I earnestly enjoy the social networking part of freelancing. I love justifying the time to watch people's work and show them what I've done.

Do you feel that having more sound design knowledge, designers would create works that stands out more?

I don't think it's completely necessary but I feel like there are some things that motion designers can do to setup the sound designer to do some cool stuff. One thing is making big, punctuated movements happen on the beat of the music. For example in a video I worked on for UNICEF  there are fireworks right on beat where the music gets big and it just feels right. The firework sound helps punctuate that lifted mood and the sound, picture, and music all work together.

I wouldn't suggest that motion designers try to learn to do sound design, but it's really great when they can spend some time talking with the sound designer in pre-production. Sound is important to animation, it gives the motion impact and makes it connect. For instance I'm working on a project where I'm doing the music and sound design so I suggested the animator try to work for the most part to the tempo of the music. There's not a voice over so the hope is the music with help to establish the pacing of the storytelling and that the various elements will work closely together to communicate the story and brand.

Do you think animators could get away with less stylish animation if they have great sound effects?

I'm a little biased and your readers might hate me for this but I'll go ahead and say it anyway! I think sound design gives a lot of bang for buck. Great sound effects can really help to lift an animation and with a typical explainer the sound can be done in one or two days of animating. When considering a budget it might be worth it to compromise on the animation to make room for sound design.

What come first? The sound for animation, or animation for the sound?

Sound design almost always comes after the animation is done. If there's enough budget I think it can be beneficial to do sound design as the animation develops. Sound design contributes to the comedic timing, mood, and pacing of an animation so it will help the client and agency understand what the finished product will be like.

Where do you get your collection of sound effects from?

I have a sound library called the "SFX Bible" and a handful of small, independent libraries. I use the Arrowhead Audio balloon and swish libraries a lot for cartoon animations. If I don't have a particular sound effect I'll buy sounds through I also create a lot of my own sounds using synths and by recording things. I just finished a project that I made about 200 sounds for using the synths in Reason.

What is the process of sound design?

I work in a DAW (digital audio workstation) called pro tools, it's really popular for sound designers in film making. I import the video and go through my library to imagine up a sound aesthetic that works well with the animation and brand. Sometimes I see a video and know exactly what I want to do, sometimes I'll try lots of different types of sounds and see what works. For example I just worked with an animation that had sort of a paper cut out / fabric texture vibe to it. Instead of using mostly literal sounds I used sounds made with fabric and cardboard boxes so it would match the character of the animation.

I usually do about 10-15 seconds as a proof of concept so I can get feedback and make sure that the agency likes the direction. Once they sign off on an aesthetic I'll go through and edit sounds for the whole piece. I tend to use combinations of sound recordings to create something that is more rich and has more character than just one sound file. If you want I can send some screenshots to demonstrate.

After creating the sounds I need to mix the sound effects, music, and voice over. Mixing is sort of like a puzzle trying to make all of the frequencies fit together without masking or covering up the other sounds. I go through the video and adjust things so they're in place, use EQ and compression to make things fit together. The last step is to bring up the over all volume so the quiet parts are easier to hear if the viewer isn't watching with good speakers or in a noisy environment.

This is a screen capture of the pro tools session for J-Scott's Animation Sequence Project. You can see the video here The animation is only 10 seconds so you can see that the sound editing is pretty dense.

Where do you generally pick up the inspiration for the work you do?

Mostly from vimeo, film, and music. I subscribe to MOG so I can stream tons of different music which is helpful.

Do you feel that you have a style?

I think my style is to create specific sound aesthetics that fits with the visuals. That makes most of my work sound distinct but the commonality is that I try to create sounds that are rich and complex. Since I also produce music I think musically. The mood, flow, and sound quality is most important to me.

Do you think there are trends in sound design?

Yes but I think they're less obvious than graphic design. For example I think "Transformers" and "Dubstep" are having a lot of influence on sound design right now but I haven't really been doing sound design long enough to be able to say what are really trends.

What pieces of work do you like?

Oh man, I have a lot of favorites but I'll try to jot down a few related to motion graphics

I love "Resonance". There are such great, interesting, and moody sounds created by some of the world's best commercial sound designers. Also anything that Hecq does blows my mind. I love his music and sound design.

I'm a huge fan of everything Echolab touches. I particularly love the style of these EA videos.

These spots are crazy and amazing.

The Washington Lotto "Department of Imagination" spots are hilarious and the sound really pushes the humor.

The 2011 Pause Fest Titles by Radium and the 2012 Titles by Echoic are all amazing and have probably inspired me more than any other videos.

What would be your dream job to work on?

A dream job would be invited to participate in a project like "Resonance" that's highly collaborative and creative. I'd also really just love to collaborate with my favorite sound designers and have a chance to learn from them.

And what are your thoughts on the future of sound design? I

think sound design is going to continue to gain more recognition in the industry. IConsumers are getting better headphones and speakers (for example the new iPod earbuds are significantly better than before) which is going to make the audio quality that much more important. It's similar to what's happening with visuals. TVs and cameras getting so much better that it raises expectations.

What is your typical work day?

My work days are all over the place at this point. Since I've only been in business since July a lot of my time is spent expanding my client base. To cut down on costs I have a simple space where I work on my laptop and headphones. When I'm ready to mix I go to a studio with nice speakers and plugins. I hope to purchase a full studio in the next year or two but good equipment and sound treatment is very expensive.

How much of your day do you spend on social networks or websites like vimeo in comparison to actually creating the effects?

A lot. I actually like to jump back and forth between working on a project, email, and social networking. I find that it helps me keep perspective on the the project and keeps my business moving forward.

Does the work you do professionally give you the satisfaction in creating sound or do you need to expand it into other areas of your life?

My favorite thing about this phase is how much time I can justify doing personal projects. I've collaborated with several great motion designers and those projects allow me to get really creative.

I also work on a webseries with some friends called "Dynamo". It's a lot of work but a lot of fun because I love all the people I'm working with and I think it's really impressive what we're doing with a $700 camera and some computers. If any of your readers use Blender they should check it out since most of the vfx are done with it. You can see it here

What three things could you not live without?

Altiverb, Vimeo, and good coffee!


And finally... Do you have any advice for people trying to get into the industry?

My advice is to do lots of work and stay humble. Try to start working with people who are roughly at the same level as you and as you develop your skills go from there. If you want to work with motion designers find motion graphics on Vimeo that don't have sound and ask if you can make sounds for them. Usually the designers get pretty excited about it! I'm not as big of a fan of redoing audio from a video that had audio before, to me that doesn't help you build new relationships and build a concept from scratch.

Also plan on doing a ton of personal/collaboration projects. A really good way to tell whether it's worth it to keep at this career is if working on free projects is a chore or something you get excited about. It's a very competitive field so you have to really love it.

One last tip is get in touch with some people in the industry. I love meeting people who are interested in what I do so send me an email. I've also reached out to several pros and I've been surprised how friendly a lot of them were.

We would like to thank Wesley for his great insight into the world of sound creation. And what great tips to end with.

On a final note, Wesley is creating this great concept with 99 frames where animators and sound designers work together in the competition. He says 'Since 99 frames are so short they are a great opportunity for me to work quickly, creatively, and get a chance to work with a variety of designers. My goal is to do 99 of them for free on a first come first serve basis. So the first 99 designers who email me and send me a link to their video will get free sound design for their entry.' It will enable you lot to collaborate with a great sound designer who will help enhance your work. If you wish to contact Wesley regarding this, please contact him via his website.

Posted: Thu 29th Nov 2012

Tags: Interviews, audio, business, designer, effects, interview, mixing, sound


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