Quest 2 - First Steps

Law takes us through how he brought everything together on this truly epic project with Ian Pons Jewell and TBWA.

Virtual reality has been a fascination of mine ever since I got to check out one of the earlier headsets at No Ghost HQ around five years ago. A party was going off next door and a couple of kind indie programmers set me up with their headset and set me off pretending I’m Neo in the stylised first person shooter, ‘Super Hot’. God knows how long went by but when I took the headset off the lights were off and a poor lonesome programmer sat on his own in the dark was waiting patiently for me to finish. I walked out of there pretty set on dumping the contents of my bank account into a computer capable of running VR games, a headset, controllers, the triangulating lighthouses and a bunch of games. Fast forward to today and you can get an all-in-one wireless headset and controllers for 300 quid, no giant gaming desktop required!

When director Ian Pons Jewell and agency TBWA approached us work on what was destined to be a dream job, I managed to contain my nerdy excitement enough to stay fairly professional, casually mentioning I had a bit of an interest in the system and games. The whole commercial was to be shot from a first person perspective, a journey through seven completely unique games. Immersion was the aim of the game and audio was going to be key to that effect, keeping the action flowing and exciting while staying true to the in-game experience. Everyone was very keen to use binaural mixing and recording techniques to really push that immersive experience.

First up, it was critical that we get the real, in game assets from each of the games. Game audio is triggered and mixed dynamically which means that tons of perfect sound effects already exist and would be an essential tool in building true to experience worlds for each of the game, both for reference and to use in the actual mix. TBWA and the game studios pulled through supplying hundreds of high quality SFX direct from the games we were using.

We talked from the beginning about recording our voice actor binaurally. It’s a rarely used and pretty experimental technique, but with String and Tins’ spangly new DPA 4560 headset microphones calling to me, we decided it was worth trying. Our voice actor Danielle wore the headset for the entire recording along with a more typical ADR central microphone, giving a subtle in-the-head effect to the voice performance. Going full binaural on the voice ended up being such a disorientating experience that we opted to use the effect sparingly, but it was another useful tool to dial in.

The great Phil Kay and his team composed most of the film (the spooky sounds of The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners cue being a personal favourite) with some help from the composer from the ‘Jurassic World: Aftermath’ game and some of the extended String and Tins composer team. Being able to discuss how the music and sound design interacted directly with the composers was invaluable to the final result.

Once the edit was fairly locked we booked the excellent Julien Pirrie at The Foley Bar to record foley for us. We discussed how you needed to feel everything from the viewer/player’s perspective and decided both left and right movements needed to be recorded completely separately to give full width control over those elements in the mix. If the player is picking up a gun with their right hand while reaching for a grenade with their left we should be able to feel that difference. Foley is traditionally mixed right down the middle in movies, discussing the importance of the first person perspective in this film was crucial.

Bringing together my own sound design, in game audio, foley, music from multiple composers and mixing everything binaurally, but still ensuring everything sounded great on a phone speaker was a challenge to put it lightly. Binaural recording and mixing has implications which need to be dealt with carefully to ensure the mix sound great on every system. But finally, with months of work, problem solving, creative steers from Ian and the TBWA creative team (and a fair bit of ‘research’ with our own Oculus headset), we landed on a job I’m truly proud of.

Sound Designer: Lawrence Kendrick

Composer: Phil Kay

Foley: Julien Pirrie - The Foley Barn

Audio Producer: Laura-Leigh Smith

Director: Ian Pons Jewell

Film Producer:Jon Adams

Editor: Gaia Boretti

Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day LA

CCO: Chris Beresford-Hill

Creative Director: Kako Mendez, Jexy Holman

Creatives: Alyssa Cavanaugh, Athanasia Efthimiu

Agency Executive Producer:Tina Lam