Sound Insights from Supervising Sound Designer Tony Gibson
With a resumé that features projects from Misfits and The Last Dragon Slayer, through to Patrick Melrose and SAS Rogue, Tony Gibson’s creative and skilful approach to creating and editing sound has led him from working as a runner through to his current role of Supervising Sound Designer for TV Drama.
We caught up with Tony to talk about his sound design work and to ask for advice for sound people who are looking to develop their careers.
Getting Started In Sound Design
I started through work experience. I’m from Sunderland originally, but I had a post-production contact in London. I worked in various VFX houses, film labs and edit houses before I finally got a placement at a post-production sound studio.
I started as a runner and after a couple of years, around the same time Pro Tools really took off in post, I moved into Foley editing. As I gained more experience, I gradually transitioned into animation, documentaries and eventually drama and film. I’ve also recently started working on games.
The Most Important Sound Design Skills to Develop
Foley was vital as it really helped me to learn the equipment and software fast. Editing Foley is very similar to editing hard sound effects, but the difference is all the source sound is already there for you, your role is to manipulate the sounds and get them into sync with the picture.
Foley turnaround times are very fast, you get 2-4 days to fit an hour of Foley. Working at that pace means you have to learn the Pro Tools shortcuts and tricks quickly. It’s similar to documentaries and other short-form projects – the short turnaround times really help you to learn time management.
My Most Fun Sound Design Project
The first major one that I loved was Misfits because it was very different from anything that I was doing at the time. Up to that point, I’d been doing effects editing on police drama, period drama etc, so when Misfits came along, it was a chance to be really creative.
I’ve always been a massive comic book fan, and Misfits was all about superpowers. I designed all the powers for the main cast, and each week, a different adversary would come along with another new power, so I got to design their abilities. It was just great fun.
Misfits really let me experiment to design these weird superpower sound effects. There is no actual sound of someone turning invisible or turning back time of course, so it a great opportunity to get creative. That was my first job doing real sound design instead of just laying sound effects.
Sound Design for TV Drama with Krotos Plugins
I worked on ITV’s Beowulf, which had a lot of creatures that I needed to design the Sound FX for so I got the original Dehumaniser plugin to help. There were troll and beast sound effects for which I was manipulating my own voice with Dehumaniser to create.
Reformer Pro as a Multipurpose Sound Design Tool
Reformer Pro is my favourite Krotos tool. Being able to add layers to sound effects quickly for anything from footsteps to creature sounds is just awesome. People seem to think it’s just a Foley tool because you can perform your own sounds with to add different textures, but it’s so much more.
For example, when I was working on Truth Seekers, I had these wraith creatures to design. With Reformer Pro I was able to manipulate bird recordings I had, to create this horrendous screech sound. It’s a multi-purpose tool. It’s such a great plugin and it is really quick and easy to use!
Vocalising to Create Characterful Sounds
By vocalising sounds, you get so many different variations. If I’ve got creature sound effects to create, I’ll throw Tigers, Walruses and other animals into Reformer Pro and just experiment around with my voice. Sometimes it won’t be useful, other times it’ll be great. But those great moments are really great!
Sound Designing SAS Rogue Heroes with Krotos
Designing Desert Ambience Sound Effects
Krotos Studio was also incredibly useful for creating desert backgrounds. Instead of manually layering sounds, I was able to use Krotos Studio to produce rich, nuanced soundscapes, rich with subtle rise-and-fall movements, wind, grains of sand & foliage. Those components were important for creating immersive and realistic environments and It was great to create long 10-minute ambiences, to chop into when needed.
Building Machine Gun Sound Effects
In our weapon sound effect design for SAS, our aim was to maintain accuracy and realism, and only embellish the guns to make them more impactful. The show has an energetic and exciting tone, so while we were conscious of the historical setting, we also had creative license to enhance the excitement and intensity of the audio experience.
We recorded the actual Thompson machine guns used by the SAS at that time. I loaded these recordings into Weaponiser at different distances and added some metal layers and sub-kick elements to make them sound heavy, big and punchy. Weaponiser was amazing for that.
When you are working with rapid-fire guns, the great thing about Weaponiser is you can trigger elements as round robins so they don’t constantly repeat. It’s not often that we get to design something so explosion and weapon-heavy, and it was really fun to do!
Designing Sound Effects for Explosive Scenes
One explosive episode starts on a plane, and 60% of the soldiers die jumping from it into a storm. They are dragged through the desert while being shot at with anti-aircraft guns. There were also multiple air bases being destroyed, full of explosions and shootouts and Messerschmitts being blown up. It was basically just like a feature film in itself!
We only had three weeks per episode, so having Weaponiser to help me so that I didn’t have to layer every single element was huge. I could set the fire rate easily by timing the muzzle flashes, and then in Weaponiser syncing them with the fire rate slider, rather than syncing each flash manually. It saved me so much time.
All of the Krotos products have really good starting points in the presets. There are a lot of variables, so having something that’s been set already enables you to see what each variable is doing. Then once you get more of an understanding, you can start with a blank slate and go from there.
Krotos Studio too, with the weapon fire distance, you can shoot from a distance and then get closer and closer and closer. It inspires you to make your own presets.
My Favourite Sound Design Projects
Patrick Melrose was a really good show that I worked on. Directed by Edward Berger and starred Benedict Cumberbatch. It was set over a lengthy time scale, spanning the 60s, the 80s and the modern day. It was a really powerful drama about someone dealing with drug addiction and there were lots of really cool sound design moments to work on. For example, one moment the show would be in New York, then the next it’s in France. The huge contrasts in time and place provided really cool soundscape to work with, and it was so much fun to work on.
Critical was a great experience – Imagine 24 but in an A&E department. Each episode was set in an hour and it was all in real-time. It was incredibly gory, with lots of beeping heart monitors that needed to be at the right pitch and speed every time you saw the monitor. It had to be very precise so that was really cool. It was very challenging from a sound point of view to design sound for full-on action in a hospital setting.
Extraordinary is a project I worked on for Disney, about a world where everyone has superpowers, apart from one girl. So for someone to not have superpowers was unusual.
We aimed to make the superpowers sound natural and not too over-the-top, since they were considered the norm in this world. So we used lots of natural recordings and elements rather than using anything too over the top or synthy. That was really fun to do
Designing Sound Effects for Video Games
Total War: Warhammer 3
I’ve been a massive Warhammer fan since I was a kid so it was a dream project to create spells and soundscapes for. I did 38 cut scenes for Total War: Warhammer 3, in my garage during the lockdown, on headphones! That was a challenge. I didn’t have access to a crowd of people to record, so I had to do a lot of voices myself, so I can do a good ‘ogre’ voice now!
Video game sound design is a very different experience, with lots of reviews and back-and-forth communication. It was hard, but I enjoyed it a lot. I was able to collaborate with the talented team at Creative Assembly and receive invaluable feedback from Richard Beddow (Audio Director, Creative Assembly).
My goal was to ensure the sound design remained grounded in the game’s world and context, without being too sci-fi. The timescale was longer than what I’m used to working with too, which was awesome!
Creative Assembly wanted to incorporate spells and sound effects from the game into the cut scenes, which are like paintings with some moving elements. I had to use a lot of imagination to create the background sounds. Listening to the great work Creative Assembly did gave me so much inspiration, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to have contributed to such an amazing franchise!