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Starcraft: Ghost Interview: Julian Kwasneski

Julian Kwasneski Sound Designer

Julian Kwasneski started his career in game audio at LucasArts Entertainment Company, and is credited with sound design on several leading LucasArts titles. After leaving the company in 2000, he co-founded The Bay Area Sound Department with Clint Bajakian. Julian has worked on many award-winning game titles, including Starcraft: Ghost, James Bond: Everything or Nothing, Star Trek: Bridge Commander, Star Wars: Jedi Outcast, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and SOCOM: Navy Seals. His consistent sound design has been critically acclaimed by ign.com, epigamer.com, gamezone.com, Computer Gaming World, gamepro.com and others. He also has many independent film credits, including sound design for Big Love (Sundance 2000), The Upgrade (Mill Valley Film Festival 2000), and The Last Birthday Card. He has worked extensively with wireless and Internet audio technologies.

1. How much of an influence was the original StarCraft soundtrack on your work? Did Chris Metzen guide you along the production?

A lot. We are all so familiar with the sounds of the RTS that it would be criminal not to base sounds on those. Still, this is a different type of game, so you can expect to hear a lot of cool new things.

2. Will StarCraft: Ghost have specific soundtrack themes per race, and scenario-based themes?

I am not doing the music, but the ambiences are totally immersive so the player will really feel like they are “in the Space” in each of the locations.

3. Which game out of all of the games you’ve worked on, have you enjoyed creating the most or fills you with satisfaction the most?

I liked Knights of the Old Republic for the diversity of the locations and I loved creating ambiences for the different worlds. Grim Fandango was also very satisfying ambient work (I worked on the ambient beds with my partner Clint Bajakian). Jedi Outcast was cool too and of course, Ghost was a nice new challenge for me.

4. Do you reuse/recycle the old sounds from previous games where applicable, or do you start all sounds of a game from scratch?

On the Star Wars titles I’ve worked on, I always build upon the awesome sounds created by Ben Burtt and I will use the classic sounds from the films as elements to create new sounds. In some cases though, I need to start from scratch if there isn’t sufficient source sound from the movies. For example, while a certain vehicle may only make a brief appearance in a film, it may be a featured vehicle in a game. In these cases I need to recreate the vehicle sounds from scratch. Another example is the Ebon Hawk in Knights of the Old Republic. It is similar to the Millennium Falcon, but it’s way bigger and beefier. I took the Falcon sounds, added new elements like V8 motors, dragsters and thunder and created a similar but different vehicle sound.

5. How did you make those Zerg sounds, do you swallow something and yell; or are they animal sounds added and mixed with some other sounds?

I didn’t actually, these were done by Derek Duke and the Blizzard sound gang and they did an awesome job.

6. Who are the composer(s) of all the songs in Starcraft: Ghost and their career background(if available)?

Kevin Manthei

7. I assume you are involved in both voice sound editing, and sound effects of Starcraft: Ghost from what I have heard. Are you backed up by more people? Or is this a solo job?

I am doing the majority of the sound design though Derek Duke and the sound team at Blizzard have done an awesome job on all the creature sounds and many other sound effects.

8. I was wondering this one when I looked upon that Goliath model. How on Earth did you go about getting sounds for something that huge? It is hard to “recreate” I guess.

We’re still working on it, but I drew upon large machinery and hydraulics recordings and thunderous metallic foot impacts. It’s really fun to drive!

1.Hardware, what do you use? I am dying to know. We got many Sound Editing fans from a Modding Guild at WC3Campaigns, BlizzSCUMS and SAVAGE(Star Alliance) who may want to learn more from your expertise.

I am all Mac-based using a Digidesign Pro Tools TDM system with loads of plugins including everything from Waves as well and Kantos, Pitch’n Time, Bias Peak, etc. In my opinion, Digi is the only way to go. Expensive, yes. But you step into any major studio on the planet and you’ll see Pro Tools. It’s rock solid and sounds incredible.

2. Voice acting, do you normally get a batch of wave files from Blizzard studio and they want you to work with those?

Yes. I will get large batches of edited voice files and will process them to sound the way they should. I have different processes for each group of characters…the Marines sound one way, radio briefings sound another and Nova has a sound all her own.

3. What hardware do you use for voice editing?

I use Pro Tools to get the regions (files) in the ball park. Sometimes this means adding a little EQ or compression or simply a global gain change to get them to healthy levels. Then I use Bias Peak to trim them nice and tight and for the final mastering.

4. What hardware do you use for recording sounds? Do you actually go out into the wild outdoors and record stuff?

I use a Tascam DA-P1 DAT deck to do mobile recording with a variety of mics depending on what I’m doing. I absolutely get outdoors and record things. The only way to get a game to sound unique is to use unique sounds. We’ve all heard most of those library sounds a few times now and though they have their place, I like to roll my own.

5. In Starcraft: Ghost, How much of sound effects are computer generated? And how much are real recordings? Elaborate.

Some of the Protoss sounds are synth generated or some kind of other processing like granular synthesis, etc. The vast majority of what I’ve done to-date have been real-world sounds.

1. What do you use for sound editing, voice editing and music editing? (Software wise)

Digidesign Pro Tools and Bias Peak are my main tools. I use them for everything.

1. Are you in any sort of sound editors organization? Let the Starcraft Modding Sound Editors(fans) know more about it in detail.

I am a member of GANG, the Game Audio Network Guild (www.audiogang.org); but other than that, I am honestly just too busy to get involved in a lot of different organizations (though I’d love to).

1. I think we would all die to know the exact specs of some of the Starcraft: Ghost voice effects. (This is probably restricted?)

Not much to tell. Blizzard hired some real pros, they just do what they do and have great creative direction.

2. How do you go about just cleaning up and preparing for recording a simple humanoid voice? Mention examples(units–Marines, Templar, Zealot, etc.):

I didn’t record the voice, Blizzard handled that.

3. How do you get realistic effects? I doubt you bang pots and pans together.

I record things that make the types of sounds I want and combine them. It takes a lot of trial and error and often you have to leave something and come back to it if it’s just not working. It’s kind of like music….like a guitar solo. When you’re ripping a lead, your mind is slightly ahead of where you are playing. You know where you want to go and how you want that note to sound….when it happens, you go, “Ahhhh, that’s it”. Sound is the same. I see an animation and I instantly know how it should sound. The tough part is matching what’s in my head. That’s where experience comes in handy. Like a chef who knows what two things make a nice spicy sauce, I have my bag of tricks. Still, there’s often nothing better than a fresh take on something. I often run my sounds by friends and colleagues.

1. Any internet sites with forums you can recommend that contain all your sound guys, from where we can learn and interact, even talk to for advice?

Check out GANG, the Game Audio Network Guild. If it’s not there, you will find out where to look for it.

Advice on how to make it into the industry

2. I hear that you did not have a specific College education for this line of work. How exactly did you get in then? How can a young guy, like any of the fans, make it into LucasArt, BioWare and Blizzard? –This is to show fans that they don’t need to spend thousands on a College degree to be a professional in the industry. You are the role model with a great career and testimony. All you need is the talent and the guts.

Oh boy…well…there is nothing that prepares you for life like a college education. But you are correct, I did not study sound design or anything related to it. In Junior High and High School I played with synths and ganged tape decks together to make my own poor man’s multi-track recorder. In college I was in a band (and still am to this day) with my cousin and we did all kinds of sequencing. I also saw many films and would notice the details of the sound. When I graduated I worked for several Real Estate developers and was miserable. I was a stock broker with Merrill Lynch for a year, got my series 7 license and I was miserable. I even went to law school briefly and was also miserable. I ended up getting a waiting/bartending job and pursued my passion at the time which was recording, mixing and playing music.

I worked in several studios (for free) to get exposure. I bought a bunch of gear and recorded bands on my own. I wanted a job at Lucasarts and eventually found my way in as a temp in product support. I quickly advanced and got hired into the Voice department and from there, the Sound department where I absorbed everything I could. I’m sure I am being too modest so I should add that I obviously had some talent and a good ear. I kept working on numerous titles before leaving to form my own company with Clint Bajakian who was a real pioneer in game audio and a mentor of mine while at Lucasarts. I really enjoyed working there, but I wanted more variety…and I got it. You know what they say, be careful what you ask for….

2. If you could go back, how would you have changed your approach to getting into the industry?

Hmmmm…..I don’t look back. I am happy with everything I got to experience, the good and the bad.

3. Will recent technologies influence how to get noticed? Is internet a good way? Or maybe game developers hardly need new fresh sound engineers anymore, because they have all they need with Veteran engineers?

Just be persistent and get good with whatever tools you can get your hands on. I scored all the cinematics for Outlaws with a 4 channel Deck system on a Mac Quadra 650. You need to really push sometimes, and you may not always get paid….but if you stick to it, and you’re good, you’ll make it.

4. Do game designers find you, or do you find game designers in this phase of your career? Who contacts who?

Both really. I am fortunate to be friends with a lot of my clients. Sound is really a collaborative art to me and I enjoy the back and forth that often results in a great soundtrack. I am not one of those sound guys who knows everything and who take complete ownership. I’ll stand my ground when I need to, but you never know when that next brilliant idea will get suggested.

5. Have you ever considered writing some tutorials on getting started in sound creation? The web is strangely silent on the topic.

Yes, but it’s a lot of work and I tend to work 60+ hour weeks and I like to see my wife and son from time to time.

1. Do you even have time for fun things with all this work. I hear you are working on 6 games at the moment!

It’s all fun and I am lucky to be doing what I love to do. I am also lucky in that I work in my own studio, free from water coolers and senseless meetings. If I work a 10 hour day, it’s 9.5 hours of pure sound work. It also doesn’t hurt to be in a company with other people to share the heavy lifting. Still, I am pretty particular about what I am after and often can only get the sound I want by doing it myself.

2. Do you have a lot of competition in the business?

Absolutely and it keeps getting more intense. But I should add that a lot of the competition are my friends. I don’t play dirty pool…you win some, you lose some. It’s a business at the end of the day.

3. Why haven’t movie directors contacted you more often?

Movie directors don’t often play games. They also don’t move in the same circles game audio people are in (GDC, E3, etc)…though this is changing. I have done sound for quite a few short or independent films, but game audio is interesting in one respect. The skills we game audio folk rely on to score games are directly applicable to doing film work but it is not the same in reverse. While there are a lot of people who do both game and movie sound, most of the film people I have worked with had a tough time with the technical limitations of games. Short loops, 28 sample boundaries, memory budgets, sample rate conversion and the lack of a consistent linear playback can be overwhelming, even for those of us who do this every day. I should add that I like doing game sound. I like the challenges and I like the payoffs. If I wanted to do film sound, I would do film sound.

4. Have you ever done a voice acting yourself or played a role as an actor? :)

Only in small roles, like a single line for a computer or something. My recorded voice sucks!

5. Have you ever checked out the modding of games, and what do you think of their sound level?

To be honest, I haven’t…but I would love to if I had the time.

6. What are your favorite games?

This is like asking what my favorite song is, it’s just not a question I can answer. There’s too many.

Well thanks for sharing many tips and info to the fans. Many Modding Sound Editors out there are grateful to sharing questions with you and get some feedback that can teach them more about your career and that may direct them through the right tracks into the Game industry. We appreciate your time and dedication during the interview, and will keep tabs on your future projects and your sound editing organization.

Helpful links for Modders and Sound Editors:

Digidesign Pro Tools TDM system

Below are links with information, and details about this tool. You will find links to download it too.

List of Hardware and Software you may find in a Studio:

Tomas Hernandez is owner of Blizzplanet.com since 2003 posting news about World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Next-Gen MMO, Blizzard Careers, and the Warcraft film.

Blizzplanet is a leading fansite covering news about upcoming Blizzard Entertainment licensed products. I also post previews and reviews. I have interviewed book writers and Blizzard game developers.

I was previously an employee of the OGaming Network (2003), and IncGamers (2008-2010). I was a guest newsposter for GosuGamers (World of Warcraft) a few years ago and for Diablofans.com (formerly Diablo3.com)

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