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Iain Hetherington

Sound Designer

Location: Cambridge Studio

Education: BA (Hons) Music - University of Leeds, Sound Design for Visual Media - Vancouver Film School

Hometown: Romsey, Hampshire, UK

 

What do you do at PlayStation? And what are your main responsibilities?

I am a sound designer working for the Creative Services Group. [The Creative Services Group support all our studios with their Video, Graphic design and Audio needs]

The game development aspect of my job encompasses a wide variety of responsibilities. The main focus is on the creation of sound effects and implementing them into the game. Besides sound effects, I may record dialogue, implement music systems to adaptively playback the scored music for the game to fit the action at any given time, or work on promotional videos. A game sound designer's role is highly varied requiring interaction with game designers, animators, artists and coders. This also means the tools we have to use are varied: using Maya to implement sound zones, scripting systems to control where and when sounds will be played along with the more standard tools for a sound designer such as custom built audio engines and digital audio workstations such as Pro Tools. This broad remit makes the work itself very changeable and interesting; from the traditional creativity of creating the sound effects to the logic and problem solving tasks associated with the implementation.

On top of that, the work I do with the Creative Services Group means that now-and-again I will be involved in cutting sounds to trailers for games that I have not worked on.

Why did you apply to PlayStation?

Everyone knows of the PlayStation brand and I personally have grown up on these consoles. I've always considered Sony to be at the cutting edge of game development and the titles of recent times illustrate this status beautifully. When I applied for the job I learnt that my first project would be LittleBigPlanet for the PSP. In terms of sound, this game had some really interesting features encouraging the player to manipulate sound and music in their own levels and I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to work on something truly great that I myself held in high regard. Working at PlayStation has not been a disappointment. We won a BAFTA in the Best Handheld Category for that game; not a bad project to work on, especially seeing as that was my first at Sony! 

Describe life at PlayStation.

The teams I work with are driven and passionate about games. They are a joy to work with and everyone wants to do the best job they can. With so many massively creative people, things tend to move very quickly and you have to be able to adapt to new ideas and run with them. This makes it incredibly exciting and continually challenging. It's the sort of environment that draws the best out of people in terms of generating ideas and you always feel encouraged to contribute, even if it's not your area of specialty. Most of the best feedback I get about my sounds come from people who don't really understand what I do. I was recently told an alarm sound I did sounded like a sad duck. Although this may sound ridiculous, it not only communicated that they didn't like the sound, but also the timbre of the elements they didn't like allowing me to be able to "hear" what was wrong and what they wanted.

At times it can be hard work, but this is more than compensated by the sense of achievement you get by releasing a game for one of the best known names in the computer gaming world.  

What are your favourite games?

Being a sound designer I like games with good audio and music. Sony has a great legacy in this area with games like Katamari and Vib Ribbon. Limbo is another game with audio that blew my mind recently, and also the terribly brilliant Deadly Premonition. But many of the games known for great sound are horror themed and I'm of a nervous disposition!

What advice would you give for anyone wanting to get into sound design?

Your portfolio has to be great. Short clips from games or films that you've added your own original sound to. Perhaps some demonstration of an understanding of interactive audio is always useful. One of the most important aspects which has become of integral importance with the digitization of sound and music are the fundamentals of digital audio. This is something that is often badly taught. If you don't know what a sample rate or a bit depth is then you should. A great place to start would be Curtis Roads' "Computer Music Tutorial", which has great descriptions of all these fundamental ideas. Lastly, but arguably the most important point is that you have to get on with people. Being able to take criticism constructively allows you not only to get a better job done, but also allows you to learn more about how people receive your work.

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