Dallas Taylor (pictured above) is the founder and head sound designer of Defacto sound, an award-winning sound design and mixing studio located in Maryland. We're huge fans of both their live action and game sound work, which is why we were incredibly excited to be able to ask Dallas some questions about his process, past work, and pick his brain about designing sound for the growing field of immersive and virtual reality content.
OSSIC: If you could, please give us and our readers a brief background about yourself and your studio.
DT: I started my career in Los Angeles mixing sound for live news, entertainment, and sports programming at NBC and FOX. I later moved into post production at G4 (the now-defunct video game network), where I really got excited about how games and new technology were pushing the forefront using sound as a storytelling device.
After LA, I moved to the East Coast to work as a Senior Sound Designer/Mixer for Discovery and their family of networks (TLC, Animal Planet, Science, Investigation Discovery, and others.)
I eventually left Discovery to start Defacto Sound. My motivation was mainly to be able to work on a really wide variety of content. On any given day, we can be working on a television show, multiple promos, commercials, documentaries, trailers, games and anything else that involves sound as a storytelling tool. We’re currently at five sound designers and a producer. Our studio is based in Washington, DC, although about half of our projects come from outside the area.
OSSIC: What have been your most challenging and rewarding jobs and why?
DT: Late last year, we worked on the short film, ANOMALY. The full film is posted online here (and below). Directed by Salomon Ligthelm and Dan DiFelice, it's essentially the biblical Christmas Story set in a 1960s space race environment. The story features subjectivity, hidden meanings, and parallels throughout. These parallels and hidden meanings also extend to what we did the soundscape. We explored many different sonic directions, and all of them could have affected the story in major – and different - ways. It took a lot of experimentation and crafting, but in the end that’s what made it so rewarding. It’s definitely one of the most intentional sound projects we’ve ever worked on. We toiled over every split second.
OSSIC: You've won awards for your work on games and game trailers as well as live-action television and film. What are the major differences between working with game content versus live-action from the audio production and engineering perspective? Do you approach them differently from a creative perspective as well?
DT: With live-action sound design, everything hinges on how well we can salvage dialog recorded in less-than-ideal environments. With games, there is no on-set dialog, which means we have complete control on all fronts. When there are pristine recording conditions, we have even more ability to set mood and surroundings aurally.
On a more fundamental level, game creators typically bring sound into the process much earlier than live-action producers. With live-action, sound can sometimes be an afterthought that’s tacked on to the finishing process. I’d like to see live-action creators take more steps to involve sound earlier in the conversation.
OSSIC: With immersive video content growing at a rapid scale (virtual reality, 360 videos, etc) what are your thoughts on the future of audio creation for this medium?
DT: I’d love to see live-action, traditionally shot content merge with game programming. Wouldn’t it be great to create something that is shot in the real world in 360, but that aurally relies on hundreds of sound sources like games? Most everything that we see in 360 right now on YouTube has a flat, traditional stereo mix. When you turn your head, or move closer to an object, you’re not hearing the environment move and change as you would a first-person style game. I’m excited to see these two styles merge over time.
OSSIC: In your eyes, what are the most crucial elements for creating an immersive audio experience with any content?
DT: Sound can have a drastic affect on story and environment, and it’s essential to work out creative vision and technical challenges on the front-end, rather than tacking sound onto the finishing process. Bringing it into the conversation early on will allow your piece to have emotional dynamics. I’m not really speaking so much about music, but about the environments around us. VR is such an intriguing technology because it gets us closer to the real world. In the real world, we don’t always have a music track telling us how to feel. Sound itself affects us. The horn honk behind you, the screeching brakes, the bugs at night, the lapping waves, the creaking wood floor, the cold, whistly wind. You don’t necessarily need music to tell you that you are relaxed when you are fishing at a pond surrounded by woods or to be scared when you wake up in a creaky old house at 2 AM. Viewers can put these things together themselves when the story is compelling enough. There's a great game, called Gone Home, that sets that tone perfectly. Set inside an old house, it balances outside sounds of a storm with what it feels like, sonically, to move through the those creaky hallways. I love the ambient feel of the entire piece.
OSSIC: Let's dive into some tech. What's your hands-down favorite audio tool that you can't go without?
DT: The number one thing isn’t really a tool at all but incredible recordings. Technologically, recording equipment has changed so drastically in our lifetime that it's easy to record sounds anywhere at any time. Even a simple, cheap recorder can surpass a lot of the recording capabilities from many years ago. Incredibly clean content from people who are passionate about audio quality and fidelity is the best tool there is.
A lot of times, when we're working on the post-production side, we don't have time to second-guess the recording, so we fill our sound libraries with materials from well-trusted recordists that we know have painstakingly gone through every one of their recordings for perfect quality, clarity, and character.
The tools that we use will always continue to change, but the colors, content, and emotion that we put into our soundtracks and projects won’t. Ultimately, no matter where it comes from, or how we create it, what comes out of the speakers and how it makes the viewer feel is the absolute key.
You can learn more about Defacto Sound at their website: www.defactosound.com
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