A Conversation with OSSIC's Sally-Anne Kellaway on Audio for Interactive VR

If you made it to Game Developer Conference (GDC), chances are you may see a familiar face reppin’ OSSIC swag. Sally-anne Kellaway, a technical sound designer, is the newest edition to the team, and she comes from Australia. She is a strong voice in the indie-gaming audio scene, and she will be speaking at GDC this Tuesday. 

Needless to say, we are excited to have her join the team. Before she took off for GDC, we had a short conversation with her.

Describe how you became involved with VR audio content.

Sally-Anne: I became interested in game audio when I was studying at University. While I was getting my undergraduate in Music Technology, I was looking for my edge — something that nobody else was doing. I had a friend that was really into video games, and I used to go over to his house to check out what he was playing. One day he was playing BioShock, and I was hooked! I became so obsessed with how people created these beautiful, immersive, sometimes scary worlds.  

What about your educational and professional journey?

In Australia's summer 2008, I started to work at my first job at Sega Studios in Brisbane, which is where I grew up. In 2011, my job was redundant. While I was pretty bummed, it was good in the long run because it forced me into thinking about what was next.

That next year, I started working on projects and doing research on binaural, which I was exposed when I was an undergrad. At the time, I thought binaural, and this idea of piping in realistic sounds into your headphones was a cool, creative space to move into. I eventually went back and did my masters in acoustics and worked on a couple of psychoacoustics research projects, and became just obsessed with VR because it is the next frontier for immersive sound.

Who were some of your early mentors?

I’ve been fortunate to have a number of great mentors along the way. I got to learn from people like Mick Gordon, who just composed the new Doom game, and Jeff van Dyck, who won a BAFTA in 2001 for his work on Shogun: Total War Warlord Edition.

What has changed in VR-audio in the last year?

There has been a lot of development in both hardware and software. We have also seen the rise of ambisonics being accessible to both content creators and consumers. At this year’s CES, Sennheiser announced you would be able to buy binaural in-ear headphones and capture ambisonics recordings. Whatever you are hearing, you will be able to capture it in an immersive sound format and be able to listen back to it and feel like you are right at the moment.

What makes this Sennheiser announcement so special?

The device is something anyone can use to relive memories of beautiful places. For content creators, this technology is also really good to use to catalog for a base sound recording. Then you can return with more expensive equipment and take a more detailed recording.

What are you looking forward to at GDC 2017?

At GDC there is so much to look forward to that it’s not even funny. We sometimes affectionately call it “Party Week” because there are so many social events. They go from early in the morning to late at night. We always start out with the Game Audio Podcast meet up at Sightglass Coffee at 7 o’clock in the morning. The meet up allows dozens of like-minded sound professionals from around the world to catch up.  

Throughout the day, there are amazing talks. You can go to the Game Audio boot camp and listen to my talk on VR audio.

Are you excited for any particular talks?

You can hear from people that have worked on the latest Star Wars game right up to Owlchemy Labs’ Job Simulator. The Team from Owlchemy Labs are going through their audio process and the work that happens in the background.

In your audio boot-camp talk, you are going to be discussing workflows and process in VR audio realm. Why are these so important to your work?

When you begin to work in game audio, one of the things you learn quickly that it is difficult to pick up. It is just not about recording sounds and syncing it to a video. If you want to do it properly, it is much more complex. There is a whole layer of implementation that needs to be designed. You have to figure out what the game is going to do, what the player is going to do, and then figure out all these variations of sound that goes with those elements. The process of creating a proper game audio experience is quite complex and quite process heavy.

When you step into VR audio, you are stepping into the world that is based on traditional game audio, but it is augmented by new pieces of software and new techniques that you have to learn regarding how you think about sound and sound staging.

You just arrived in San Diego to work with OSSIC full-time as a Creative Director. What are you excited to be able to explore and experience in Southern California?  

I have never really been to San Diego before, but I have come to California a couple of times for GDC, and I have been to LA a couple of times. I never have the opportunity to explore California. San Diego is a totally new place for me. I can tell it is a fun city, and I am excited about exploring and finding out what's cool.

Thanks Sally!

You can view Sally's session at GDC today at 3:50 PM

Location:  Room 3002, West Hall

Time:  3:50pm - 4:20pm