Stephan Schutze is a professional sound designer and composer who has worked in the gaming industry for nearly 14 years now. Stephan is also the leading authority on the audio implantation software for games: FMOD and has recently created a teaching program entitled FMOD Studio 101. FMOD Studio 101 will be taught throughout the world in participating institutions and will provide an in-depth course that will also aim to keep the students’ interest and passion for game audio. We talk to Stephan about his history within the game audio world and gain advice and insight on applying for sound designer roles. We also discuss FMOD and FMOD Studio 101 in further detail.
How did your journey in audio begin?
Cliched as it might sound I had quite a bit of music around me as I was growing up. my mother and both my brothers played musical instruments and I was exposed to lots of orchestral music around the house. My oldest brother is also a composer and so it was not surprising that I fell into audio. I learnt brass instruments at school and then went on to college to study orchestral music.
Did you always want to work with games?
When I was younger the idea that you could “work” in games was not something I even thought of. Obviously someone was making games, but they were like Santa’s magical elves, real people didn’t get to do things like that.
I do know the exact point when I did want to work in games though. It came about from playing Mech Warrior 2. The musical sound track fro that game was extraordinary and it really opened my ears as to what was possible. That was a big motivator for me.
What is your favourite game?
So hard to pin it down to only one game, and I think it would actually be an error to do so, there are so many wonderful games that I have enjoyed for so many reasons. I’ll give you five, but not in any particular order.
Portal 2 (so much fun, wonderful story)
Bioshock 2 (yes number 2, loved the story so much and the world setting was great)
Original Legend of Zelda (So much to explore and discover)
The Elder Scrolls Series (Entire worlds, beautifully crafted)
Master of Monsters on Sega Genesis (hard to say why, have always loved this game)
What is your favourite game soundtrack?
Same as above, I simply cannot limit it to one. Unsurprisingly the list is similar to above.
Portal 2 (inspired musical creation)
Bioshock 2 (music that touches your heart)
Deus Ex (makes me want to play the game every time I hear it)
Diablo 2 (makes me want to play the game every time I hear it)
The Immortal on Sega genesis (Chip music at its absolute best)
Is there a sound/piece you’ve created that sticks with you the most?
Not so much created, but recorded. We produced a sound library of over 60 classic aircraft and the most amazing experience is standing with a sound recorder as a WW2 Spitfire flies directly overhead. The sound of that is indescribable, but incredible.
What was your proudest moment as a composer/sound designer?
To be given the opportunity to work with a live orchestra is simply the most incredible experience a composer can have. It is simultaneously humbling and ego building. Writing the score for Jurassic Park Operation Genesis and recording it with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is still the proudest moment of my career.
What was your most challenging project so far?
Developing the FMOD Studio course. I know this is not a game project, but that is what made it so challenging. We have worked so hard to produce a course that will help others get into the game industry knowing absolutely how they feel and understanding their passion to work on amazing games. Having been in the industry for nearly 14 years I had to ensure we produced a course that would not just provide the knowledge a student might need, but also inspire them to work hard and to keep hold of their passion.
What would be your major Do’s and Don’ts with showreels and sound designer applications
Best work first ALWAYS.
NEVER pad your reel, only use material that is relevant and top quality.
NEVER EVER lie about what you can and cannot do. I am amazed that some people try. You will get caught and the industry is small enough that everyone will find out.
Be passionate and confident.
What is your top tip for an aspiring game sound designers/composers?
Be yourself, be patient, and be passionate
How did you get involved with FMOD?
The game company I first worked for shared some office space with the creator of FMOD, Brett Paterson.
As a result I have been using FMOD for almost my entire career. I would often jokingly comment that I didn’t like how their user manual was written and then a few years back their marketing manager told me if I didn’t like it I should rewrite it, so I did.
From there things expanded to creating tutorial videos for them, demonstration projects and finally we agreed that Sound Librarian would produce the official educational material for FMOD. It seemed logical as I had been so closely involved with FMOD for so long.
So what is FMOD?
FMOD has several aspects to it. At the lowest level it is a game sound engine. If you think about a game engine as being the OS for a game system, then the sound engine is like a plugin that deals with all the audio. It manages how the audio works and provides functions to control 3D audio and surround sound and audio effects.
FMOD Studio is the tool set that allows sound designers and composers to create and implement audio for game projects. Its capabilities allow users to create dynamic and interactive audio while using the available game platform resources efficiently.
Why should I learn FMOD as a sound designer?
I am going to answer that in an unusual way. I am simply going to list a bunch of games that use FMOD and you can decide for yourself.
Call Of Duty
World of Warcraft
Little Big Planet
Deus Ex Human Revolution
Just Cause 2
Star Craft 2
Age of Conan
I think you can get the point I am making here.
Tell us more about FMOD 101:Resources?
When we produced the FMOD Studio 101 course we wanted to provide more than just a textbook. The game industry has so many aspects to it that all interconnect and as such we wanted to provide lots of resources that could assist students and teachers in not only learning about FMOD Studio, but in developing their knowledge, understanding and passion for all aspects of game audio.
So we have provided lots of support material that is there to provide a good foundation for new students as well as be a useful for research for trainers and even for professionals.
What lies in the future for you?
We want to continue to produce educational material and loads more resources to really raise the bar on what is available for game audio education. I am currently writing a book on game audio production that will hopefully be available before the end of the year. We are also planning this year’s recording workshop, last year was a big success and we have had people request we run it again this year, so we are organizing some interesting subject matter for that.
New sound effects libraries are on the way, an exciting new game project is also in the planning stage and of course getting ready for Game Sound Con in November in LA and GDC in 2014, so plenty to keep me out of trouble for the moment.
I am supremely lucky to be working not only in a creative career, but also doing what I love, but it is also lots of hard work. I really do believe the saying that anything worth doing is worth working for, but when you love what you do that becomes a lot easier as well.
More information on the FMOD software and FMOD 101 course can be found at Stephan’s official site: http://www.soundlibrarian.com/resources.html
Interview by Sam Hughes