An Interview with Nathan Brenholdt on Being a Sound Engineer for SCEA

Nathan Brenholdt (Cogswell College class of 1996) holds a BS in Music Engineering Technology and is a Sr. Sound Designer, Sony Computer Entertainment America

1.    Company name, your job title, a brief description of your job responsibilities and how long you have worked there.

I am a Senior Sound Designer at Sony Computer Entertainment America.  I have been here for 16 years.

2.    Can you give an example of what you might do on a ‘typical’ day?

A typical day is spent planning, recording, creating, editing, implementing, and reviewing sounds for our games.

3.    Can you give an example of something that surprised you about your job when you first started?

It was many years ago, but I was most surprised that my initial title was “Multimedia Specialist”, and that I received at home a generic form letter from HR saying they received my resume, and would get back to me if any positions became available – almost 2 years after I had started working at Sony!

4.    Describe your piece of the production cycle. How does what you do move the project forward?

I generally start early in the production cycle, talking with the creative director and producers about roughly what they are looking for from sound.  Often times, they really don’t know, and can only answer some basic questions about the overall game design.  Usually the type of game and overall look of the game suggest the direction of sound.  From there, I will meet with the audio programmer to design the audio engine and naming conventions.  Our design tools often don’t cover every aspect of sound, so we need additional support for things like debug displays, additional interactive audio parameter tweakers, implementation tools, and formulas for how sound travels through the environment.  Then it’s time to put together some of the main sounds, and get feedback on the overall audio design.  And the rest of the game is usually an iteration process: creating, implementing, reviewing, and tweaking the sounds, dialog, and music.  A fast iteration time is important because of the large number of changes that are made during the development cycle.

5.    How big is the team you are part of for a typical project? What kind of interaction do you have with other team members?

The basic in-game sound effects team is often still fairly small, sometimes as few as 2 or 3 people.  But those numbers can grow quickly if the game is large, or a lot of original content is required.  And once you add dialog, music, and post-production, a lot more people become involved.  A lot of additional work will get contracted out if the people aren’t required for the full project:  Foley, dialog, post-production, music sessions, editing, testing…  The numbers might jump into the hundreds, once you credit everyone involved with the audio in some way.

6.    What projects have you worked on in the past?

I have been most involved with the franchises: Twisted Metal, Syphon Filter, SOCOM: US Navy SEALs, God of War, and Uncharted.  I did a lot of work for the SOCOM games, and really enjoyed going out with the Navy many times over the years, recording their vehicles and weapons.  But with each new game and each new hardware platform come a new set of challenges, which is fun.  Also, games aren’t like movies.  The games are extremely dynamic and you have to plan for so many possibilities with a limited set of sounds and memory.

7.    What do you find most rewarding about your job?

Being able to do something that I enjoy that stays fun, challenging, and new.

8.    What advice would you give students preparing for a career like yours?

I would learn as much as you can, especially on the math, science, and engineering side.  Combine different fields.  You’ll open a lot of doors if your artistic side comes together with computer programming, scripting, engineering, business, or production.  Create your own projects.  Get involved with groups.  Apply for internships.  Measure your work against professionals or direct competition.

9.    QUOTE about how Cogswell helped prepare you for this career?

Cogswell was a great place to combine my passions for sound, music, computers and electronics.

10.  What qualities does someone need to have to be successful in this field?

The engineering, math, scripting, and project management side can be just as important as the creative side.  It’s important to be able to communicate well and adapt to changes.  And of course be able to create high-quality sounds for games!

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