Anne Frank VR - Sounds of the Secret Annex

Anne Frank - Sounds of the Secret Annex

Once in a while, a project comes along that makes you realize that -for all the fun and joy sound design can be- our work can also bring huge responsibilties. This was one of those projects.

Last January we were asked by Force Field VR in Amsterdam if we wanted to get involved in a VR experience about Anne Frank and her life in the Secret Annex from 1942 to 1944. 
Obviously one does not say no to a project like that, especially if it involves top actor Liev Schreiber as the narrator.

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Background

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is the original location of the Secret Annex where the Frank and Van Pels families stayed in hiding during the second World War in hopes of avoiding  the persecution of Jews by the Nazi's. Due to the historical importance of the story and how it ties into that specific location, the organization wanted to develop a way for people all around the world to experience life in the Secret Annex without having to go to the actual location.
The VR experience consists of a virtual tour, guided by Anne who reads important passages from her diary as the user clicks on interactive objects and learns about what it was like to be in hiding during the second World War.
The sound design for the largest part hinged on creating a convincing and historically accurate experience that puts the user in the correct context to experience Anne's story from her perspective.

We spent a lot of time researching what Amsterdam must have sounded like during those years and we tried to get as close to this as possbile with each detail.

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SFX

One of the very first things we wanted to do was to try and capture as much of the sonic character of the original locations as possible. Because this is a VR experience, we had decided that the stereo roomtone -the auditory "baseline" -had to be binaural.
The kind people of the organization granted our wish and allowed us to record each room of the Annex before opening hours. Needless to say this was a breathtaking and slightly intimidating experience. To stand in the actual place where this story was written and takes place, is humbling.

This proved no easy feat however. Having never visited the Annex before we anticipated that it would be a long-shot in terms of quality and as it turned out this was exactly the case. The climate control system, cleaning & maintenance crew, modern lighting, and several other factors gave us a good run for our money and we had to find the correct spots and timings to get the most out of it.
In the end we managed to capture a siginifcant amount of interesting sounds (church bells, pigeons, outside hustle & bustle) that  gave us a good perspective of what it sounded like from within the Annex in order to recreate it, and many of the roomtones turned out useable after spectral cleaning.

On top of the binaural recordings we made an impusle response of each room that helped us blend in the ambient sounds together with the roomtone.

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We had a long list of assets that we wanted to integrate, splitting them between outside and inside sources.   
Because historical accuracy was important to us, we commited to finding as much historically correct sounds as possible, ranging from the correct type of trucks used by the Germans in 1942, down to the Carillon that plays in the Westerkerk (church) next door.
During World War 2, there was a tramline going through the large street next to Anne's house, and we were able to track down a tram from the exact type (and potentially the actual tram) that was used at the time. The people of the Electric Tram Museum in Amsterdam allowed us to record several bell sounds for the experience and obviously we jumped at the opportunity. 

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One important factor in the design, we felt, was that the interior of the Annex had to feel isolating. The outside world was going without Anne being a part of it and even though she remained hopeful, she was still in hiding and terror could strike at any moment.  To emphasize this feeling of seclusion we added many common day to day life sounds. Life in the house is audible (people walking overhead, handling noise in the next room, etc), but always feels removed from the observer to keep the focus on Anne's story.

Music

The music, composed by Ramon, was based on an early draft suggested by Martin de Ronde, Creative Director at Force Field VR. 
De Ronde had decided he wanted a very basic and quiet but ominous score to support the narrator in the opening and closing sequences that expressed both hope counterpointed with a sense of impending doom.
As the story is being narrated, it progresses through different cycles of experience from Anne's perspective: she's in love but the world is at war; living in the Annex is scary but it's exciting at times as well; during the day there are trees and birds and sunshine, but at night heavy bombers and anti-aricraft guns are heard -- there is this constant tension throughout her story that resonates between hope and hopelessness, that had to be reflected in the composition. 

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While the chords progress throughout the composition and keep changing modes to reflect the ever-changing situation that the family finds itself in, the motif itself stays consistent, representing the commitment of the family to make it out alive of their ordeal. 
The composition then unfolds as it follows the narrator while he explains the constant attempt of the family to stay one step ahead of their fate. 
A drone-like ambient looms in the background, fading in and out to bring the ever-present fear of being captured by the Nazi's, and serves as a counter-point to the hopeful and melancholic main motif.
The story does not end well, and as such the score finds itself dwindling down, ending withered and almost dissonant before a reprisal where Anne's legacy is celebrated.

Vocals

Much to our amazement Force Field VR was able to secure actor Liev Schreiber who provided an intense and incredibly intimate narration to the experience. Schreiber, of Jewish hertitage himself, is one of the finest (voice) actors in Hollywood and we were lucky enough to be able to work with him.
 

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Anne Frank VR is an incredibly interesting and intimate experience that contains a more important message than any VR experience we've experienced. It's not something you go through for fun, but it is gorgeous, immersive, and carries a message that is forever relevant.

Do yourself a favor, and check out the game here.

Check out the project page here.

KIN: a highly stylized VR platformer (and an excuse to buy more synths)

Hey everyone!

We're proud to announce that KIN has been released for Rift and GearVR, and we figured it'd be cool to give a rundown of what we did to create the soundscape for this beauty created by House of Secrets.

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When we were approached to handle the sound design for this title, it became immediately clear that the creative direction of the entire game was to be highly abstract and stylized with a large dose of digital surreality and Ghibli-like magic.
Arjen van Meerten -HoS creative director- was responsible for the music, much of which was composed on an iPad in a very stream-of-consciousness way. Because this formed a very flowing, ethereal, and clearly electronic auditory backdrop, we wanted to develop a soundscape that would complement his score spectrally, but would also serve as a counterpoint to bring out the more scary and threatening aspects of this world.
After several tests and rounds of iteration, we soon decided to create a sound library mostly based on granular and subtractive synthesis.
 

Enemies
As you'll hear, many of the enemies (the so-called "Creepers") have a very squarewave-ish and bitcrushed indentity. Their nightmarish digital presence really came out well when using filtered envelopes and applying light bitcrushing -often layered through vocoders with other synthesized sounds as modulators.
 

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Many of the sounds for the lower-level enemies were originally created by jamming on a Korg Minilogue and making presets along the way. Since they're typically quite frantic and jittery we applied a lot of filter-movement, often triggered by LFO's or by manually playing with  envelope curves. This gave us about an hour's worth of source material and a stupendous amount of presets to work off of. Additionally, a lot of source material was generated using the amazing SynPlant, which allowed for many "happy accidents".
Many of the bigger enemies needed a more terrorizing presence so we did a lot of layering here. To create some sonic difference between the smaller and bigger enemies, most of these sounds were created on a Waldorf Blofeld. The cold, digital character of this beast really helped set these creatures apart. We subsequently layered many of the more expressive sounds with vocals to give them a more tangent creature-like character and draw them a little bit away from the abstract.

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Protagonists
The protagonists in the game, such as Kira and her Robot Nami, needed a more light and granular presence. Kira's footsteps are glass-samples processed through a granular synth and most of her interaction sounds use glass -or glass-like- source samples. Many of her sounds were processed through GRMTools FreqWarp.
Nami's vocals were created using resonance filters with various source files as input. Her vocals were made by tapping a microphone stand, which gives it it's bouncey character.

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Ambiences
The ambient sound design was way too much fun to work on. We tried using actual samples of beaches, valleys, and forests, but the dissonance between that and the synth-based creature sounds soon turned out to be too large, so here too we had to aim for mostly synthetic source materials.
A lot of the ambience (the rushing of trees, the roaring of the sea, the whispering of the wind) is all  filtered white noise, complimented with several types of processing and several of the more specific ambient sounds are made with Uvi Falcon.
Additionally all the distant fauna such as birds, are very basic oscillators with minor filter movement and heaps of reverb.

Anyway, we could go on and on about how much fun we had with this, but we feel you shoud check it out for yourself. 

Go and find KIN here and let us know what you think!

Check out the project page here.

 


 

Tannenberg: Eastern Front - The Sound of War

One of the most gruesome battles ever fought on the European mainland was the battle for Tannenberg, which took place during the opening months of the first World War in and around the town of Olsztyn, Poland, which subsequently resulted in the near-total destruction of the Russian army at the time.

"Tannenberg: Eastern Front" is the second installment in the "1914-1918" game series developed by Dutch developer Blackmill Games in cooperation with publisher M2H, following their critically acclaimed first release "Verdun".

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Save & Sound was asked by our close friend Niels and his talented team of sound designers in the Game Audio Squad to support them developing the audio for the game, and recreate the battlescape as it must have sounded in 1914.
Our responsiblities were developing and integrating all the self-noise generated by the player-character: footsteps, movement foley, breathing, melee foley & impact sounds, gore, and grenade foley --basically everything that emanates from the player in a first person perspective.
Most of the sourcing of the needed material was done by scouring several second-hand stores, and we did a few trips to specific locations for foley recording.
One of those trips was focused on getting as much of the different footstep & soil-contact sounds that were required for the game. This drove us to find "the quietest place in The Netherlands" so we could do outside foley recording, which was no small feat considering the small size and compact residential situations of the country.

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Ultimately we found a spot that had zero highway-noise, no airplanes (apart from the occasional Apache helicopter passing overhead towards the airforce base) and many seperate types of materials, and we spent a full  day recording al kinds of boots on all kinds of surfaces. Mics used were an Sennheiser MKH416, Line Audio CM3, and a Tascam MK100II native mic.

Since most uniforms of this era were made of wool with brass buckles and light-leather webbing, the classic heavy foley-rattle most modern shooters display didn't seem to be historically accurate, and  so we had to aim for a different approach. As softer materials don't pick up as well as heavy ones, several recordings were layered to create a fluent rythmic and convincing pattern. Recorded with a Schoeps CCM41, a wool coat and soft leather bag layered with several smaller objects seemed to get closest to what we had in our heads.

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Most of the other assets were done with studio-recordings complemented with libraries. Many of the grenade-pull sounds were created using several sets of keys and carabiner clips. Most of the gore was done with a previously created library, layered with Tonsturm's awesome Gore & Slaughter library, and melee handling was built from several whooshes from Boom libraries, complemented with the aforementioned clothing foley.

The breathing recordings were basic in its approach: there are several stages of breath and a few scenarions where breath and extertion respond in a certain way to a physical situation. The implementation of that system took a few tries to get right though. 
Breathing when sniping is easily implemented but there are many fringe scenarios that can create complex situations. For instance, when the player runs and gets to his maximum level of extertion, he pants. If he then goes through a cloud of gas he coughs, and if he then switches to sniping he needs to inhale. To make this all work and react properly we spent quite a bit of time developing a system in FMOD that can account for all these scenarios, in order to create a convincing first person perspective.

Tannenberg is currently in early acces on Steam here.

Go to the project page here

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