We here at The Reset Button got ahold of our good friend Jason Kanter. When last we saw him (in person) I believe he had just finished up work that he did on BioShock 2. So for people who want to know more about what Jason did, or you want to know more about the industry read on...
As an audio engineer, what got you into the gaming industry?
I was working in the music/record industry as a producer and tracking/mixing engineer for a long time and in the late 90’s/early 2000’s I was seeing a significant decline in record budgets. Labels were seeing decreases in sales. They started dropping bands from their roster in droves and slashing recording budgets. This was combined with the fact that bands were becoming savvier as to what studios were capable of achieving technologically. Bands would come in knowing they had a drummer that couldn’t keep time or a singer with piss poor pitch and would expect the engineer to make them sound like god. And we would but the job became more about fixing shitty performances and less about capturing great music. It was simply not why I got into making records. Overall the horizon for record making looked pretty bleak.
Then in 2003 my brother in-law, Scott Carroll, started working for Maxis/EA as an animator on “The Sims 2”. They were in need of freelance audio editors and I’ve been an avid gamer since age 13 so I jumped at the opportunity. Although editing Simlish for 12 hours a day can be somewhat maddening, I was making good money and was able to combine my passion for audio with my love for games. After finishing “The Sims 2” I decided to make the switch to games full time and haven’t looked back since.
Besides gaming what other projects have you been involved with? Will you or have you been involved in film?
I still work on music projects from time to time and I’ve also provided sound for the occasional website or new-media project but when not working on games the majority of my time is spent working on film and television. I’ve done sound for a few projects on Comedy Central like “The Awkward Comedy Show” and this crazy animated series about a crack addicted robot called “Crackatron”. Currently I’m working on co-producing a TV show with a good friend of mine, Victor Varnado, and I have a number of film projects going on. But generally I love providing sound for anything visual.
Working on games as a sound designer I’ve learned how satisfying it can be to add sound to an otherwise silent scene. Sound designers have significant influence on the weight that even a single animation can have. Every animation is like a blank canvas and you have so much freedom in the sounds you use to paint that canvas.
A few years back I got to try my hand doing sound design and re-record mixing for film on a short film called Roboto Supremo and found it immensely satisfying. Although it’s the same basic concept as providing sound for games, the gratification I get from working on film is much more immediate since it’s a linear process and everything’s right there in front of you. Plus you generally don’t have to wait several years before the project is completed. When I get the film the visual is basically complete and when I add sound to a scene it’s done. Levels might change in the mixing process but otherwise I don’t have to worry about a sound file not firing due to bad coding or the sound being dropped because the audio engine has reached its limit.
We know that you were involved with the dialogue editing of BioShock 2. What was the hardest thing you had to deal with?
The hardest part about working on “BioShock 2” was the pace. I was the lead dialogue editor and had two editors working for me. The turnarounds were pretty fast and we were getting multiple sessions every day so it was easy to have the work suddenly pile up. Plus, in addition to editing I was responsible for QC’ing every single line before I submitted it back to 2K. It was a pretty massive undertaking. I had to pull a few all nighters and by the end of it I think we were all a little burnt out but I live to tell about it. Hehe.
I’m currently lead dialogue editing “XCOM” for 2K and I’m handling it a lot better. I’ve basically tripled the number of editors working for me so I’m able to focus on the QC and file management more and do less of the actual editing myself. Getting a new editor on board is always an investment of time since I’m a meticulous bastard in terms of the way each file is edited, but it’s well worth it once I get a new editor up to speed.
Now I know you did audio work for Sims 2, Rat Race and even Barbie Diaries: High School Mystery Game . Now what exactly did you for each one of them?
On “The Sims 2” I was working as a freelance editor whereas the other two I was the in house audio director so my involvement was completely different.
“The Sims 2” was a fairly simple job. I would be sent DVD’s filled with Pro Tools sessions and every single session was a different animation voiced by one actor. The actor would do six or seven takes for each animation and I had to select the best take (or edit the best combination), clean it and bounce off the edit with the appropriate filename. Now mind you this is Simlish we’re talking about, so the actor is for all intents and purposes speaking gibberish; it’s not as if I’m listening for script accuracy or pronunciation. But listening to Simlish for 8-12 hours a day, you do start to pick up a sense of what is and is not Simlish. As crazy as it sounds there were actors that were definitely better at doing it then others.
Basically I had to watch the animation and try to get what the character is saying emotionally. Then I’d listen to each of the takes and pick the one that best matched the emotion conveyed and how the character is gesticulating.
After completing “Sims 2” I took a job as Audio Director for a small developer in NYC, Super-Ego Games. They were developing an original IP called “Rat Race”. It was supposed to be a playable sitcom set in an office so needless to say it was very character driven and there was A LOT of dialogue. While “Barbie” was a different game in that it was a licensed IP aimed at kids, it was also comedically based and character driven so it too had a lot of VO. As audio director I was in charge of all aspects of audio for both titles but the majority of my time was spent casting, recording and directing the voice actors. I also handled the majority of the sound design and edited the music as well as mixed all the cutscenes. Like audio directors for most small companies I had to wear many hats so I did whatever I had the time and skills to handle and hired staff and freelancers for everything else.
At any these gigs, did you ever get to meet a celebrity (as in a movie star)?
We had big plans on “Rat Race” to hire celebrity talent to voice guest characters in certain episodes, which would have been very exciting, but sadly that never came to fruition.
Not sure if they’re the A-list “celebrities” you were looking for but I’ve worked with some known musicians like Anthrax and Bruce Hornsby during my record making career and in the last film I worked on, “Tell Your Friends”, I got to meet Jim Gaffigan, Janeane Garofalo and Colin Quinn. I was also snubbed by Henry Rollins once… that was pretty exciting.
Any future titles that you will be adding audio skills to?
Aside from the aforementioned game “XCOM” I’m currently audio directing on an undisclosed title set in space by a small company in NYC. I’m also about to start post on the film, “Tell Your Friends”; I’m scheduled to do post for a spooky horror indie feature later this month; and I’m co-producing a TV pilot with my friend Victor Varnado. I think that’s all I have scheduled right now.
Any words of wisdom for those who want to get into the audio world?
Get an internship at a busy studio ASAP; on the job is the best way to learn the trade. While getting formal training in audio never hurts and it’s good to learn some of the nuts and bolts science behind what you do, true knowledge comes through experience and when you’re done with school you’ll still need to get that experience somewhere. If you get your foot in the door at a busy post house you may start out making coffee but you’re more likely to be thrown in on a project earlier on and there is no better teacher than experience. Then you can take all the money you saved on audio school and spend it on some nice gear.
To learn more of about Jason Kanter go to www.jasonkanter.com