Brief list of credits
Dirty bomb, Gears of war 4, The Process
Hi Mattia, thank you for taking time and doing this interview. Let’s start by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about your background in sound?
Hello, my name is Mattia Cellotto, I am a sound designer and recordist based in the UK. I have worked in the game industry for about 4 years, making sounds on games such as Gears of War 4 and Ultimate Edition. I currently work as sound designer at EA Criterion and in my spare time I love recording sounds of all kinds and creating audio libraries.
Let’s talk about your work on commercials. How did you get involved with The Process?
The Process is a short stopmotion project that aims to describe what goes into the creation of Salman Sajun’s work. Salman is an amazing filmmaker and an old friend, we have worked together on a number of projects of very different nature, this one seemed the perfect one for us to unleash all creative flair we normally confine to respect existing aesthetics, clients’ requests etc.
There are a lot of things happening in the animation. How did you balance sound with what is happening on the screen?
I think the beauty of being one man band in sound design is that you get to choose what is important and pretty much completely ignore the rest, this allows for better storytelling focus if you can get past the headache of losing perspective while working solo. When I started working as SFX editor I used to create a sound for everything, I would pay maniacal attention to perspective, searching for sounds that felt exactly 10 meters away if a given object appeared to be 10 meters away from the camera. As I started mixing my own projects I realized a lot of sounds I, as SFX editor, would put in my sessions would be simply a distraction for myself as mixer. Over time the two professions pretty much blended into one where both editing and mixing are constantly happening. Overall everything you see still has a sound, but instead of picking 10 samples to represent a given element, I now try to pick fewer sounds that truly make a concise and unique statement for that element’s core.
You have done quite a lot of sound design for commercials. How do you approach sound design for a commercial? Do you have any dos and don’ts?
The first thing that I will do before taking on any job will be to ask what the story is, what the client wants, then what the deadline is, if there’s any reference of pre-licensed material for music, whether the client might not want music at all, lastly whether the project will require VO recording. All of these questions often lead to very healthy conversations on why a given project might benefit from not having VO or music to leave more space for engaging sound design, or why the client might want to stay away from a specific aesthetic. I find this moment to be the most important in the process, a moment I would often underestimate when I started, possibly overwhelmed by the excitement of working on a new commercial, eager to start without really knowing what I was doing. I find myself to be more methodic now, and the SFX editor and mixer in me appreciate this as they get to work smarter and not necessarily harder.
To sum it up, I’d say the first of the dos is “know what you are doing”. Then again, what I like doing is adding some randomness to my process to put myself in a position where I am forced to learn something. To stay within your comfort zone really limits your creativity, so it’s nice to sometimes write a random word in Basehead and force one of the results in the session. More often than not that random sound will work, adding something that feels quite fresh to the client’s ears and which renews your passion for your own profession. This I’d sum up as a second do in “give yourself room for experimentation”, where experimentation means trying new microphones, new props to record, new plugins, new DAWS if need be.
Lastly, I think it’s important to realize that although you are creating sounds for a client’s project, it is ultimately for yourself. Most sound designers (myself included) are really passionate about their craft but sometimes get overwhelmed by deadlines or blindsided by what they assume a client’s feedback could be. I used to do that a lot, so I would often end up executing without fully understanding the questions that each project raised, hence never really nailing any edit or mix because most of my choices were too weak to create a strong piece. With time I think this has gotten better, mostly because I adopted my first do, but also because I am more and more conscious that my job is a way for me to grow as an individual, not just as sound designer. It’s kind of a broad statement but if I was to sum it up in a motto I guess it’d be something like “look for opportunities to grow in every project”.
You also worked on couple of interesting games, such as Gears of War Ultimate edition, Gears of War 4 and Dirty Bomb. How did you get involved with these projects and what were your responsibilities on these projects?
Dirty Bomb was the first project I worked on when I joined Splash Damage, a studio based in UK near London. When I joined the team I immediately started editing dialogue for the game, I then helped creating a pipeline for its implementation. I then slowly started to work on SFX, first on ambient audio, then minor character abilities. At the end of my time at Splash Damage I ended up taking the lead for the project, designing guns, implementing music and helping to create a reverb system that would work on the lower specs for the game. Dirty Bomb forced me to become a Jack of all trades, and although I am to date master of none, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Towards the end of my first year at Splash I had the chance to take a break from Dirty Bomb to help on Gears of War Ultimate Edition. For this project, I mostly worked of foley editing, SFX design plus their implementation. It was a completely different kind of project where a strong aesthetic already existed but was a bit dated and needed translation into its modern sounding version. The great thing about working on a remaster is that you have a lot less unknowns, feature creeps etc, which really helps you focus on making content the best way you can, iterate over and over with little distraction and almost never a blocker.
Lastly I worked on 5 of the 10 multiplayer maps that shipped with Gears of War 4. This was a great opportunity for me to pick up the same franchise with the added bonus of working on something new rather than a redesign. Specifically Gears 4 features some very interesting environments, from climate to setting, each map had a strong identity which separated it from any other. Supporting and expanding on maps’ authenticity was a lot of fun and another excuse for me to record sounds at work!
Let’s talk about your libraries for a bit. How do you plan your libraries?
I tend to always travel with a Sony D100, most of my libraries start like that, just by finding something interesting and recording enough of it to think a library could be a possibility. That is true for one of my libraries called Water Volumes: I was on holiday in Sao Miguel, Azores, I knew I would have wanted to record something, I bought a hydrophone for the occasion, but it wasn’t until I visited a town named Furnas that I consciously decided to make a library about steam and hot water springs. Same goes for most of my other libraries, the first recording session is always very spontaneous, lots of experimentation with microphone placement, lots of mistakes and lessons learned, in fact I almost never include the first recording session in the final release, but that’s when you get an idea of the potential of the library and understand whether you have the equipment to do a good job.
What mic techniques do you prefer to use the most?
In most cases I like capturing sounds in a hyper-realistic way. I like to think of my setup as a highspeed camera, but in sound kit form. For example, the width of ORTF makes it my favorite stereo technique, but at the same time I like to capture SFX with a strong central element so I normally pair ORTF with a couple of mics pointing straight at the source. In most cases I also like to play with proximity effect until my recording seems to be an exaggeration of reality.
Where can readers find more about your libraries?
The “libraries” section on my website is probably the best place to find all information on my collections, most of these have videos to go along with the presentation of the library so that viewers have some extra context: http://www.mattiacellotto.com/libraries/
This one is for the gear heads. Would you mind, telling us a bit about your technical setup and the gear you’re using (Hardware, Software)?
Sure! My standard setup features a couple of Sennheiser 8040 microphones (ORTF), a Neumann KMR81i and a Sanken CO100K for center image. These go straight into a Zaxcom Maxx, great machine capable of recording 4 channels at 192KHz, 24 bit, this is to make the most of the ultrasonic capabilities of the Sanken and Sennheiser mics.
As far as software goes, my DAW of choice is Reaper for flexibility and ease of use, Izotope RX is a tool I consider irreplaceable when I need to remove anything unwanted from my sounds, from birds to noise to breathing etc. Last but not least I like playing with S-Layer to create the designed section of my libraries, although this is more of a sound design tool than a mastering tool for raw content.
What has been your favorite project to work on and why?
Polarity has been the greatest challenge for me so far, so I’m afraid I’ll have to pick it as my favorite. This library forced me out outside of my comfort zone several times, for one session I drove about 700 miles in two days to record for about 2 hours, for another I travelled half a day by train with not much of an idea what would have been there to record at the end of the trip. Consistently each one of these challenges led me to meet great people, to see amazing places, to experience travelling to record sounds in a really wonderful way. After recording, during the editing process this library pushed me to set a new bar for myself, where the result would never be good enough until anything I did to the sounds would no longer improve them. Lastly, to wrap things up, I had a very old friend making the cover art for the library and a newer one making the art in 3D models for the promotional video, it was truly inspiring to see other people working on my project to help me with the visual side of things, it made me appreciate what I do even more.
Do you have any tips for aspiring field recordist and sound designers?
Be persistent, be stubborn but make sure to do so only if you truly think this is the job for you. Before becoming a sound designer I used to work in the music industry as engineer, although I loved the craft I felt like the field was simply not made for me, then when I was introduced to post production and game audio I found renewed hope that I could do something that would make me happy. I if knew my current job was a job at all when I started in the music industry, I might have avoided myself some disappointment in trying so hard in a field that I had a crush on which was not for me.
My second advice is about ego, as I have learned that in this field it is great to express yourself but it is much more powerful to support greater visions (even better when both things happen at the same time of course!). For example, I used to use my latest personal recordings on pretty much any project at any given time. I wanted to be able to sayI used one of my sounds for that specific character on that specific franchise, but through feedback I found out that in most cases those sounds didn’t truly fit, and all I was trying to do was to give my sounds a purpose instead of supporting the projects with appropriate storytelling. Always try and think about the message that needs delivering first, personal taste will come second and can still shape the execution, but don’t let personal taste limit the way you work.
Lastly I invite everyone that thinks they might like becoming a recordist or a sound designer to do so right away: a small portable recorder is all it takes for one, while for the other it is often great to grab a game or movie trailer and redesign sound for it. If you do it and find out you don’t like it that much, that’s one more certainty in life, if you do like it, then go back to point 1: be persistent.