Stephan Schutze interview

stephanschutze_thumbFind Stephan Schutze:
Official website
Sound Librarian

Brief list of credits

Official FMOD learning suite, World of Warplanes, World of Outlaws: Sprint Cars, Pirate Blast

Tell us a little about yourself and how did you get into designing sounds for games?

My journey into the games industry was a fairly long one. I had studied music at school and went on to study orchestral music at college as a French Horn player. Music had always been very important to me. After college I spent five years in the Australian Army as a musician where my skills continued to develop.

I had always loved video games since the very first space invaders game appeared in our local area, and I spent far too much time after school playing through all the latest games at the local arcades. I really experienced the evolution of game technology as I worked my way through earlier games such as Defender and Donkey Kong Junior then on to Dragon’s Lair and more advanced games. So really, two of the most important things in the world to me were music and games.

I spent some time living in and travelling Europe and UK, working in audio related jobs (and playing more games). I returned to University to study audio technology and it was after Uni that I got my first job in the games industry at the age of 27.

I spent several years as the entire audio department for a studio and it was here that I had some pretty amazing opportunities. I got to develop all the audio for many games across various platforms and I was the first person to compose and produce a full orchestra game score in Australia.

You are considered to be the leading authority on working with FMOD. When were you first introduced to FMOD?

It was a coincidence that the studio I worked for in Melbourne shared office space with the guy that was developing FMOD. So right from the very first game I worked on I was working with FMOD. Back in those days it was just the sound engine, so I did not have a lot of interaction with FMOD other than diagnosing lots of bugs. Like any piece of software if you use it often enough you find bugs and errors. I think over the years if I had $10 for every bug I have found in FMOD I would be a very rich person by now.

As the team developing FMOD worked towards more complex tool sets they would ask users for feedback on what features we wanted, so being in the same area it was natural for me to talk to them about various aspects of the program. It was from this relationship that I eventually was asked to redesign their user manual and produce a series of tutorial videos or them. So I have been using FMOD for nearly 15 years, I have had some influence in some of the features they have developed and I have had to understand it thoroughly to be able to design the manuals and training material.

Sound librarian also offers tutoring for FMOD. Could you tell us more about the course? Does your course also offer FMOD integration?

As I developed my own place in the industry I started Sound Librarian as a company. We started by creating sound effects libraries specifically focused for games and our libraries are now in every EA and Activision studio worldwide. Then we started to develop educational material.

We developed the only official FMOD Training courses which we offer online. We spent a great deal of time developing a very high quality course that goes through not just how to use FMOD, but also many core aspects of general game audio and how to get the best out of your projects. This is the only certified FMOD course in the world and we spent a lot of time talking with studios and expert users to ensure the course provided what the industry needs from users.

The course includes training in FMOD/ Unity integration and it is one of the few courses in the world that provides students with a demo game which they can work on and add their own sounds into the game as hear how their sounds work within the game. We think this is one of the most important features of our course and something all students want to be able to do.

Course information is available HERE.

What projects have you been working on recently?

I have spent a lot of time working on developing the educational material and also constantly producing new sound effects libraries, so it is only recently that I have returned to audio production for games. I am very happy to be ramping up the amount of game audio I am doing because this is what I really love doing.

Right now I am working on two projects. I am working on a game called Defect SDK which is one of the most fun projects I have ever worked on. For SDK I get to produce awesome space battleship guns sounds, lots of Sci Fi noises and I am also producing a very complex dynamic music system that is very ambitious. The music will actually be created as you create your ship. Different ship components will define how the music is layered together. Then when you are in combat your music will combine with your opponent’s music to make the final combat track. This is going to have tons of challenges to get right, but I am really enjoying pushing the boundaries of what we are capable of.

I am also working on Infinite Flight, which is a flight sim that has been available on mobile platforms for some time. I am completely redoing all their aircraft sounds to make them more dynamic and realistic. I have spent quite a lot of time working with aircraft and I have recorded some of the rarest planes in the world.

World of War Planes features some rare airplane sounds. Could you tell us more about how you recorded these necessary sounds?

I worked on WoWP because I already had the recordings they needed. I spent 2 years collecting aircraft sounds to build one of our sound libraries. This was one of the best adventures I have ever had professionally. Once I decided I wanted to create a library of aircraft sounds I started developing the contacts that would allow me to access the planes. This took nearly 12 months to do. In some cases I could get access at air shows and events, but they were often very noisy and had lots of people around, so I needed to get permission to be away from the crowds.

So after a lot of negotiation and lots of safety considerations I managed to gain access to some of the most amazing planes in the world. Over a further 18 months I recorded Spitfires, Mustangs, Korean Sabre Jets, Biplanes, Bombers and Helicopters. Most of these planes I captured recording both inside and outside during take-off landing and while in the air. This not only gave me thousands of incredible aircraft sounds, but it also gave me a very good understanding of how aircraft work and how they sound. So this has resulted in me having a pretty good understanding of how to create good aircraft sounds for games.


Do you have any audio creation techniques that resulted in something interesting?

This is my favourite aspect of recording, discovering new ways to capture sounds and stumbling on new techniques that can give you interesting results. We run a workshop every year on this to share the things that we discover. It’s easier to show some of this that to talk about it. All of our workshops have been turned into a course on location recording that we offer on our learning site.

What is the most inspiring moment in your career so far?

It’s really hard to limit something like this to a single example, so I will give you a couple.

The very first time I got to work with a real orchestra was one of the happiest days of my life. I have always loved orchestral film scores, so to be given the opportunity to have my music played by world class musicians was both humbling and incredible. There is nothing like hearing notes you have written turned into music by the talents of amazing people. I have been incredibly lucky to have done this for three projects so far and I really hope I get the opportunity to do it again in the future.

Some of my music can be heard HERE.

The second one is related to the aircraft recordings. After so long negotiating and planning it was really amazing to get so close to so many amazing planes, but for me the best will always be standing at the side of a runway when a spitfire flies directly overhead. The history and significance of that plane, and the sound, oh wow, the sound of a Spitfire!

(Trust me, play it loud!)

Audio is a very important part of video games and you have been teaching this at various conferences and panel talks during the years. What would you say to a developer that does not yet agree with this statement?

I have met many developers who claim their company only makes AAA games and yet they don’t seem to care about audio. To that I have a very simple reply.

If you buy a Rolls Royce then you expect every single component, every bolt and screw to be perfect, to be built and assembled in the best way possible. This is the same for games. A AAA game needs to have every aspect of it produced to a very high standard and have careful focus placed on its crafting and implementation. If you ignore any aspect of production then you are not making a AAA game and you never will be.

I would add to that, people tell stories, this is what we do. Sound and music are the languages of emotion. They are how we make people feel and guide them through the emotional aspects of a narrative. If you do not care about sound and music then you do not care about how people feel.

Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?

I am struggling to answer this question. Not because there have been no lessons learnt, but because there have been so MANY lessons learnt!

Communications and expectations, I think that is probably one of the most important lessons I have learnt. We need to know what people expect, and we can only do that if we communicate with them effectively. This can be between team mates in an audio department, between the audio department and the production team, or between a contractor and a client. So many of the troubles and issues I have witnessed over the years I think could have been avoided with better communication.

Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?

I have had some incredible experiences working in game audio, and I have met some incredibly talented folk as well. The trick is to always be open to new things, new ideas and new inspiration. I love playing games and seeing what others can create. Some of the games that have been released in the last few years are truly amazing and inspiring. Indy games have opened the door to allow developers to really push the boundaries without the fear of a publisher trying to enforce their will. Limbo, Machninarium, Monument Valley are simply incredible experiences. And don’t underestimate what you can learn from older games:

Get out into the world and LISTEN!
Listen to the sounds around you, how would they sound if you pitched shifted them down an octave?
What would happen in you blended the sound of a grasshopper with the sound of a tractor?
How can the natural rhythm of animal calls influence how I compose my music?
What happens if I place a 9 volt battery up against steel wool and listen very carefully?

Experience is how we learn, how we feel and how we build up a vocabulary to communicate with others. Playing, experimenting and working with audio is one of the most satisfying things I can think of and you will NEVER run out of new material to listen to and work with. Learn to love to listen and love listening to learn.