Appearing at PAX Aus today in Melbourne, Call of Duty audio designers from Sledgehammer Games shared some interesting insight into how they made the sounds for Call of Duty: WWII.
David Swenson (Audio Director) and Michael Caisley (Lead Sound Designer) came from the San Francisco Bay Area to speak on the panel, and one of the most intriguing stories they shared was about how they captured the sounds for the the Normandy Beach landing scene in Call of Duty: WWII.
Swenson and Caisley talked about how their original idea to capture the Normandy Beach sounds was to work with the United States Coast Guard. In fact, the audio team went out with the Coast Guard, climbing into their boats and going out on the water to create more realistic-sounding water noises.
However, due to legal issues related to the rights, Sledgehammer was unable to use these sounds. In this tough position, Sledgehammer came up with a unique and inexpensive solution.
To create splashing sounds and the sound of water hitting jackets, Caisley used his own garden hose--at his house--and sprayed the water in a stream onto an old leather jacket attached to a metal chair. It was a unique and inexpensive solution that ended up with a great result with excellent sound in the final mix.
The developers also shared another story in a similar vein. To capture some of the sounds of fighter planes like the B-24 Liberator and the B-25 Mitchell, the team had a unique challenge because the planes are not widely in operation anymore. So what did they do? A local airshow near Sledgehammer's office featured classic WWII planes, giving the team an opportunity to capture the sounds. But getting close was another issue. So the audio team went to a nearby golf course and parked out on Hole 3. When the planes flew overheard, they broke out their recorders and captured the sounds in a way you probably didn't expect.
In another example, Swenson said Sledgehammer was struggling to find a way to faithfully capture the sound of a soldier walking through a creek for Call of Duty: WWII. They tried capturing the sound of a person walking in a pool, but when they got back to the tool, that's what it sounded like: a person walking in a pool, with reverberations from the edges and other unnatural elements that just wouldn't do. California, where Sledgehammer is located, was going through a drought and the nearby creeks were dry.
The team was in a tight spot, but it all worked out, as Swenson went on a camping trip further away from the office and lo and behold, there was a water-filled creek nearby he could use to capture the sound. Audio designers should always bring their recording equipment with them, wherever they go, Swenson said.
One further story involved an earlier Sledgehammer title, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Swenson struggled for a while to find the right sound for Walker Tanks, but he had a stroke of good fortune one morning. Swenson, who sleeps with his recorder on his bedside table, woke up one morning to the sound of the the garbing truck driving by. He raced outside and followed his garbage truck for "like 100 houses" to capture the various heavy and mechanical sounds of what would become the Walker Tanks,
Swenson and Caisley provided these examples, and others, to make the point that Sledgehammer's audio team is known for being crafty and smart with the resources they have. Swenson said when he first started working on Call of Duty, he thought he would have a never-ending budget and all the resources he needed. In reality, however, that wasn't always necessarily the case. So they changed mindsets to act and operate more like a startup. The team has in the past spent a lot of money on big shoots, but this comes with a lot of pressure, both Swenson and Caisley agreed.