On December 3rd at Pyramind Studios in San Francisco, the 2009 Winter GANG Summit was held, featuring the audio team that worked on the award winning game, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Amongst those on the panel were composer, Greg Edmonson, Skywalker Sound's Director of Music Recording and Scoring, Leslie Ann Jones, SCEA's Jonathan Mayer, Scott Hanau, Mark Senasac, and Joel Yarger.
Attendees were treated to a big screen, surround sound presentation of many of the Uncharted 2 game highlights. During his presentation, SCEA's Jonathan Mayer discussed many of the challenges the team faced, and several of the techniques used in creating the interactive score. Throughout the evening team members chimed in on their roles within the creation of this score.
Leslie Ann Jones shared stories of the recording session, discussing everything from mics, mic placement and sectional placement for the session. Scott Hanau played several parts of the game for the audience, to illustrate the use of the score in various game play situations. Scott was the best man for the job, as he had spent many weeks at the Naughty Dog studios, playing thru several versions of the game, and scripting the finished musical pieces into the game play, deciding which pieces working best throughout the game.
Composer, Greg Edmonson, had many stories to share about his use of different ethnic instruments and the musicians who played them. Traditional chinese instrument, the Er-Hu, was used extensively throughout the score, played by Karen Han, whose work has been featured in just about any motion picture you've seen that has an Er-Hu in it (The Joy Luck Club, The Last Emperor). When she first came to the US (as a young, but expert Er-Hu player) she started out simply looking for violin gigs, as she figured there would be no market for her expert Er-Hu skills. After playing it on one or two recordings, quite by chance, she soon became the 'go-to' Er-Hu player in town.
Greg described the process of recording the tracks: they first recorded strings and brass at Skywalker, and then 90% of the percussion back in LA with Brad Dutz. Since the game has several exotic locales, they used a great deal of ethnic percussion to help bring a sense of place to the score. When Dutz asked Greg what he and his partner should bring to the session, Greg told him to bring all of it. So 3 cartage trucks pulled up to the studio doors and unloaded "everything". They spent a few days adding bits of live percussion to each track, using just about everything they brought with them. Apparently the cartage bill was quite enormous.
It was a treat to be able to listen to the audio team discuss their approach to this gigantic project, from the smallest of details and decisions to the steps needed to create the budget. The Uncharted 2 audio team presentation allowed for a rare and enjoyable look under the hood of a major triple A title. They could have continued for a few more hours if left to their own schedule, as everyone's enthusiasm for the project was easily evident, but the audience had some Uncharted 2 to play (which we did in one of two studio rooms at Pyramind Studios.)
If you haven't been able to attend one of these GANG Summit events, (free for GANG members, by the way), be sure to get to one if you can, as there will be more exciting summit events coming up this year.