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SeagateCreative Interviews Composer and Sound Designer Watson Wu

I’ve been following the work of audio composer and sound designer Watson Wu for some time. Being a veteran of the video game industry, Watson got on my radar with his work for mega-franchises Need for Speed and Madden NFL but t wasn’t until I saw a recent post he made about his sound effects library being available for sale, that inspired me to approach him about a Q&A.

Watching a guy shooting military assault rifles as a “job” always sparks some questions, right?

SeagateCreative:  What was it that first drew you to becoming a composer?

Watson Wu:  My earliest memories were that I’ve always enjoyed listening to music. At 11 years old, I was asked to join my elementary school’s music class. I liked it so much so I took it as my primary elective class year after year. I was always curious at why certain music sounded so good, which led me to try writing my own music. During late high school, a visiting professor came by and offered me a scholarship to attend Miami Dade College. Later when I attended Florida International University, I discovered that composition was my strength. This was my wake up call to become a composer.

SeagateCreative:  Do you remember what your first composition was?

WW: I think my first composition was for a band during late school. I can’t seem to remember much about it, LOL!

SeagateCreative:   When you’re on location doing field recording for sound design, what type of equipment do you use?

WW: I primarily use Sound Devices mixers and recorders to capture sounds on location. Depending on what the job requires, I can use anywhere from 4 to 22 microphones along with windshield kits (to minimize wind noise), mic stands, and super long audio cables. 

SeagateCreative:  What is your production process like? What are the steps you take when developing a new audio project? 

WW: Every production job is different so it depends on what is needed. For a British film (called 71′), the production company needed sounds of several handguns and a rifle. I found firearms that were correct for that era then rented a shooting range.

Paul Davies, the sound editor was very kind and sent me some scenes that contained gun battles. Being able to observe these, I made a judgment call on what distances and perspectives my array of microphones would be placed. I had to use a large SUV to haul loads of gear, my crew, and then recorded over two hundred rounds being sent down range. The multiple microphones were positioned for close, medium, medium far, all from the shooter’s perspective. This is done so that a close up gun shot sounds like a close up gun shot and an incoming (like being shot at) gun shot sounds like a gun incoming shot. After getting back to the studio, I then copied and pasted the sound data files to my two external hard drives. I have to use separate drives because the files are too valuable to lose. My detailed PDF recording notes with several wave files were then uploaded to my FTP server for Paul Davies to download.

On the other hand, I was contracted to record sounds of two trucks for Dodge’s Guts|Glory|Ram TV commercials. Because the production company didn’t know exactly what was needed, they had me do a complete recording of everything.

Everything means microphones in the engine compartment, in the cab, and near the exhausts. All of these are necessary to capture the sounds of startups, shutdowns, idle, revs, accelerations, decelerations, driving slow, driving fast, reverse driving, aggressive driving, passbys, foley, etc etc. The aftermath is always the same, download to two separate external drives, then upload files to an FTP server.

When the client attends the session, I would hand him an external drive when the job is complete. I stress to him to make another copy ASAP!

SeagateCreative:  What role does storage play in your work? Do you backup to an external drive or more to the cloud?

WW: I don’t like cloud storage. It’s peace of mind when I know where my data is stored. ;-)  

SeagateCreative:  How long does it take from start to finish to complete an audio project?

WW: I’ve done jobs where it only took a few hours and other jobs that took months. It all depends on what’s needed.

SeagateCreative:  What’s one unique or interesting thing that happened during the recording process? 

WW: You had to ask this question, LOL! I have many interesting stories to tell. During the Dodge Ram job, one scene required an overload sound of the truck going up the mountain. There are NO mountains here in Florida!

After beating my head to the wall, I figured out that we can use a ditch to simulate the sound of a truck driving up on a mountain. I had the truck owner go down the ditch then slowly drive up. It didn’t sound like it worked hard at all so I had him change to first gear then applied braking while driving up the ditch. That did it! We achieved the needed overload sound!! :-D

SeagateCreative:  What’s one piece of advice that you’d give for someone who’s interested in being a composer? 

WW: An aspiring composer should study everything he can to achieve his goal. I often read orchestral and choral scores to understand why certain music sound the way they do. Learn to improvise is also key. A professional composer can change his direction without being attached to what it’s already written and/or recorded. Producers will often change their minds so you’ll have to be on guard.

All great stuff! Be sure to check out Watson’s official site for news and info about his latest recording sessions or even buy some of his available sound files in his store.  Oh, and he shoots a cannon.  Yes, a cannon — from the Civil War. Check it out here.

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