Monday, March 6, 2017

Justin Lassen VR Talk at GDC 2017!

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Intel asked me to give a technical talk about “Making your games juicer with sound & music” as the theme. This year at GDC they had a “Juice Bar” theme for their developer area, so each technical talk had to fit into this “Juicy” theme.

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At the Intel “Juice Bar” people could come up and check out new developer experiences, innovator projects, get advice on technical topics from top developers and creators as well as free actual fruit juice served all day everyday.

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I have a unique Intel Innovator position because I personally work with several different development studios involved with the innovator program from all over the world. The great thing about music and sound is that most projects require one or the other (or both). Through the program I have made a lot of friends over the years that I proudly can call collaborators and partners today.

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My name is Justin Lassen and I am a Composer. Remixer. Sound Designer. Visionary. With 20+ years of experience in the music, film, tech and video game industries. In fact, it’s kind of hard to narrow down my title exactly, because I end up wearing many different hats during projects (and not all of them have to do with audio only). I guess you could say I’m a cheerleader and a firefighter. If there’s something that needs to get done in the project, I find a way.

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As an audio industry preset designer, you can hear my work in plugins, daws, loop libraries and factory content for software and hardware from all over the world. I’ve been going to NAMM for nearly 15 years (a conference for all the music and audio companies to release new products, software, hardware, etc.) I usually am on panels or giving talks or demos for different audio brands that have partnered with me or that I have worked with on their products.

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Although I have worked in so many different mediums and platforms, lately I have been working  as an award winning spatial audio designer for VR/AR/MxR projects for some awesome companies and clients. I’ve earned myself a place in the VR industry the past 4 years as respected go-to consultant and spatial audio designer on a number of projects, public and private. A lot of industry heavyweights often, officially and unofficially ask for my advice and direction on some large scale high profile projects as well as underground experiments. An honor that humbles and inspires me.

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I am passionate about Virtual Reality and the kinds of experiences that we can keep creating. I love that the VR Industry is fresh and new and so many of us help eachother on so many different projects and shows to help keep moving this thing forward!

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I showed off iZotope Neutron and iZotope Iris audio software during my talk.

The key takeaways from my talk are:

What you hear depends on how you focus your ear. We're not talking about inventing a new language, but rather inventing new perceptions of existing languages.” - Philip Glass

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1. Audio is crucially important to Virtual Reality experiences. Unlike console gaming on TV’s, PC gaming on monitors, portable gaming platforms which can have audio hooked to almost any source (a system, headphones, speakers) or even muted or turned off (like in the case of mobile games on phones), with VR you NEED spatial audio for the world to come to life, for it to be “real” to the user, much more so than art itself. Or the ‘headset’ is just another “monitor”.

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2. Don’t just download sound packs and throw them in your game. Change, edit and augment them to fit your world. Learn editing software, don’t be lazy. Too often the audio is seen as just post-production and is hastily put in towards the end of a development cycle, with much more resources and time being put into programming and art. Your sound is just as important as your code.

From the slides: “Be brave, don’t be afraid to edit and augment sounds, change them, treat sound as you would treat textures or art. Even if you got some sound asset packs, make them unique to your game experience.

Sound Asset packs are meant to be starting points, presets are meant to get you going in the right direction not the final destination. Be award winning.”

Sound is 50 percent of the movie going experience, and I've always believed audiences are moved and excited by what they hear in my movies at least as much as by what they see.” -George Lucas

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3. Treat your audio person like a partner, not just a company or person you outsource to. Just like a concept artist for matte paintings, bringing in your audio person or team early on in the process will make the final result that much better. By creating that collaboration and partnership, you have a stronger team and better product in the end.

From the slides: “Bring in your sound designer / composer at the start of making your game or VR experience. Sound isn't just post-production anymore. Sound is equally as conceptual as art and can help inform the team early on the tone and mood of the game. This also makes for less heartbreak and sets expectation management when temp tracks can't be used. Be original.”

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” - Nikola Tesla

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4. We did an overview of broad concepts of audio including psychoacoustics, infrasonics, cymatics, perception and spatialzation.

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I brought up examples like the “water cup scene” in Jurassic Park.

“Cup of Water” Scene in Jurassic Park

As well as an example in Marvel’s symphonic universe about temp tracks and post-production, and how frustrating it is for composers to have to “copy” or “mimic”  other composers temp tracks. Whether you are an unknown composer or a world famous composer, we all hate doing that!

“Temp music” example at 9:45

I can’t stress this enough:

Don't rely on temp music! Let your composer be a composer, try something new and don't ask for "make it sound like ______"

If you want it to sound like Metallica, get a budget for Metallica. If you want it to sound like Hans Zimmer, hire Hans Zimmer. These aren’t just “composers”, they are “artists” and those are their trademark sounds.

However sounding like big names IS possible and there is a huge industry for “sound alike” composers (like the karaoke industry). However, it holds back the art form of “music composition”.

Remember:

Lots of underground, indie and unknown “artists” are capable and willing to work on cool brave new projects. Give them a chance!

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this sums up the frustrations of original content creators all over the world.

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We also discussed the concept of “actual vs imaginary” sounds. “tonal vs atonal” sound. “Chords vs clusters” in composition, and how these various concepts create moods and worlds within audio, specifically in Virtual Reality experiential projects.

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At GDC 2017 this year, I worked with VR creator Tim Porter from Underminer Studios to create a “Mixed Reality Configuration Tool” which allows any web cam to align with the point of view of someone in VR to create at-home MR experiences. He asked me to bring the demo scene to life by showing me some concept artwork and direction. We went with a dieselpunk vibe and broke the soundtrack of the scene into 3 layers, Atmospheric, Psychoacoustic and Musical/Tonal. This demo was being showcased at GDC in the Intel Sky bridge area at the Juice Bar!

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Immersion therapy is also an interesting idea in Virtual Reality today. Underminer Studios asked me to create a realistic soundtrack as if you are standing at the end of a building, looking down. This was a lot more than a few layers, it was several sub-mixes of content, and during the talk we showed off the layers and built them to the final result. In Binaural hearing, this creates the illusion and impact of standing up on that ledge, just with audio. The visuals help to drive this experience home.

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This is an example of a concept artist and a composer working together to bring a world to life in the early stages of a project. Alex Ruiz is one of my favorite world-class artists who has created some of the most masterful scenes. In this piece the music builds with the creative process of digitally painting as the world literally comes to life towards the end.

Alex Ruiz–Procession (featuring Justin Lassen)

And there are of course many other ways to bring visuals and music or audio together. As VR changes the landscape of interactive content, the limits continue to lift. Imagine tiltbrush but with a musical element, painting like this:

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And an audience favorite is of course a brilliant example by composer Nigel Stanford, who created experiments to show us all an in-depth look at cymatics. Even my friends at DTS used it as a way to show off surround sound in a theatre setting when they were searching for content to show off their encoding/decoding technology.

Cymatics–Nigel Stanford

Hopefully this was a good overview of the potential of audio in virtual settings and the different techniques composers, sound designers and creators use to bring their worlds to life and make them more juicy!

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and lastly like all good producers should, I spoke about the importance of keeping your ears safe and cared for, so we had the ever-important slide reminding us all to be careful with our ears because they are the only ears we will ever have.