Sound Design for Visual Media Curriculum

Term 1 Course Descriptions

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a protocol in the sound industry that has expanded well beyond its music roots. Students explore the basic concepts of MIDI and also learn fundamental skills with synthesizers.

Sound design requires an in-depth knowledge of the physical properties of sound. This course introduces students to the physics of audio, specifically how analog and digital audio differ. The physics of audio are covered in depth, and students develop an understanding of “how” sound works students through the practical use of microphones – the first link in the chain of signal flow. Students then learn to set up the analog room, gaining a first-hand knowledge of the essentials of signal flow.

Working with Avid’s Protools 101 curriculum students are guided through the different windows and basic capabilities of the software, including basic editing and mixing.

The ability to work in teams and collaboratively is essential to both the Film/TV & Game industries. Students will explore how to work better and be better team-mates through this course.

Portable recording is the basis for many of the sounds in any good sound designer’s library. Students are encouraged to always be prepared to record sounds at any time. This course covers the five Ws of portable recording as well as some basics in mastering their sounds.

Students explore different portable recorders available at VFS in addition to the other microphones they are able to use throughout the year. Proper microphone technique is stressed to increase the quality of student recordings.

Post-production studio recording breaks down into two main categories: Foley and ADR. The first four classes of this course concentrate on Foley with the following three classes on ADR, including how ADR is scripted prior to recording and using that script in an ADR session. There is also a review of microphones used for these types of recordings.

This course introduces students to the concepts, theory, and basic software implementation methods and techniques essential to game audio. As a nonlinear medium, games have an underlying engine driving the sounds and visuals based on player decisions. Understanding the fundamental difference of real-time, interactive audio considerations as compared to post audio is essential. In this course students are introduced to third-party game engine software, and learn about basic triggered audio messages and functions. Students create and attach their own audio assets to scripted components in running game project prototypes in order to get their sounds functional according to real-time properties.

Term 2 Course Descriptions

This course provides a space for students to review their growing arsenal of sound design tools, applying them within the context of creative needs. Building on knowledge from previous courses, students begin exploring synthesis, MIDI and samplers in a creative manner while getting more comfortable with Pro Tools. 

Mixing is an essential part of any finished sound design piece. As the industry-standard software, Pro Tools possesses tools every mixer should know. In this course, the emphasis is on the basic setup of a mix inside Pro Tools, while also focusing on automation of basics like volume and plugins.

Post audio editing is a key part of any film or television soundscape. All sounds used in a film are edited prior to being mixed. In this course, students explore the basic elements of audio editing and develop an understanding of how to start editing each element. Defining the roles and importance of each audio element is necessary to complete the complex soundscapes of today’s films and television shows. This course starts by showing students how to find and use the “right” sound.

Production dialogue and sound are integral to the post-production audio process. This hands-on course challenges students to learn and apply the technological and soft skills required to become part of sound teams for film and television sets. Each student plays a role on a sound crew in the studio and on a set in this term and the next.

Students continue to develop their skills in Foley and ADR, working with the Acting for Film & Television program for part of the course. They also prep and review how to setup and run an ADR recording session, eventually working on a practical ADR recording session with student actors. Students' work in Foley go deeper, as they progress through in-class workshops and recording sessions led by a professional Foley artist.

Building on Intro to Game Audio, this course gets into more complex workings of game-specific audio issues and introduces industry workflows. Students discover interactive design principles, resource optimization, and problem-solving strategies. Students are taught to record and layer source materials, and are introduced to basic audio middleware tool implementation principles. Students learn about creating sound events and objects according to real-time parameters, and then must build banked data for inclusion in a running game project. These techniques serve as a basis for more interactive audio constructs and projects to come in future terms.

Students will gain a fundamental background in the principles of computer programming, which will serve to help them in the Game Audio realm. Using the Python languag, students will learn about the basics of modern programming including concepts such as variables, while and for loops, branching control structures, function definitions, data types, user input and output, data structures like lists and dictionaries, Boolean logic and file i/o.

Term 3 Course Descriptions

Students explore the MAX/MSP visual programming environment, focusing on the Max component of the software in order to build a basic procedural music engine. Topics covered in class include Max objects, messages, data flow, basic data types, pseudo random generators, MIDI formatting, encapsulation, data structures, and user interface design. The final classes introduce the MSP digital audio extension and concepts such as signals, wavetable oscillators, amplitude and frequency scaling, envelope generators, and additive synthesis.

This course is designed to orient students in the operation of the Mix Labs and the Artist Mix/Protools Dock mixing consoles as well as an introduction to Avid HDX systems used in the five surround labs at VFS.

Building on the foundations of Intro to Sound Designing, Sound Designing, students will explore manipulating sounds with real-time parameter controls as well as specialized plugins within Protools.

Building on Intro to Mixing, Mixing 2 expands how sound designers setup and mix within Pro Tools. Students review a stereo mix setup, including how to setup time-based plugins (reverbs, delays) as well as dynamic-based plugins (compressors, gates). Once students develop a more in-depth analysis of what to accomplish in a mix, they explore automation to expand their mixing capabilities and to create perspectives in a mix.

In this course, students develop some advanced techniques for audio editing. They learn more challenging, common aspects of audio editing for film and television, such as perspective editing and layering. All classes in this course are delivered in a condensed format to prepare students for the faster pace in later terms.

Building upon skills learned in the previous terms, this course is designed to expand on the previous courses around software-driven interactive audio in game development. Students are introduced to Audiokinetic’s Wwise middleware authoring software, and learn about current techniques for creating sound objects, events, soundbanks, attenuation, and support for real-time interactive variables. Students will incorporate their own recorded source materials, and implement their assets into functional Wwise software architecture in order to generate them for use within pre-fabricated game engine projects.

Students are assigned to game teams compiled from Sound Design, Game Design and Programming campuses to work on student game projects. All Sound Design students will work collaboratively with the Game Design & Programming students to complete all aspects of a game throughout the ensuing terms. The workflow closely resembles industry standard practice, and provides students with pertinent skills in working on an interdisciplinary game project, within an agile development cycle. This term serves as what will effectively be the pre-production phase of their game projects. Over the coming terms, students must work on audio to support their game team, and comply with features & deliverables to suit development milestones, as conducted in the game industry.

Term 4 Course Descriptions

One of the most demanding components of any film production is the final sound mix. Students discover how technical the process can be, in comparison to the music industry. They develop a working knowledge of the initial steps and basics of a post-production film mix.

Building on Intro to Post Mixing students develop more skills in the Film/TV mixing industry including advanced automation and workflow.

Students work on a film from Film Production students in order to gain practical collaboration experience. They are guided through the whole process, taking on the mixing process in the next term.

Building upon skills learned in term 3, students are taken through a variety of game industry genre case studies, in which they need to explore advanced interactive implementation structure using Wwise middleware. Complexity within event actions, game syncs, soundbanks, dynamic dialog and interactive music structure are examined. Students are taken through inclusive interactive sound design methods: including conceptual documentation, crafting audio object & event architecture, and finally integrating within an advanced game engine project in order to profile and adjust their audio in real-time according to game triggers and variables.

Continuing the game project cycle that began the previous term, students enter the production phase of their game projects, and need to work collaboratively with the Game Design & Programming campus students to suit production milestones and to complete the requisite audio deliverables.

Term 5 Course Descriptions

Students focus closely on how to be successful after graduation. This non-technical course prepares them with the skill set and industry knowledge to find employment in their field.

Students are introduced to the mixing consoles in the Sound Design Theatre. They learn the relevant setup features of the room and how to operate the boards, moving on to the different mixing techniques and workflow of a two-person film mix. Through in-class examples, students determine how to better serve stories with strong soundtrack work. They also mix professionally edited audio. This is a real-world scenario that prepares students to feel comfortable mixing films from the Film Production Program as well as providing clients with sound deliveries.

This course emphasises game industry agile development workflow. Students work with the instructor on an ever-changing game engine project, for which they need to create the necessary assets, middleware implementation and integration within the game construct. Source control, implementation, iteration, real-time audio mixing & engine tuning are staples of this course, which brings together elements from the previous game audio courses into practice on an evolving game project within an abbreviated production cycle.

Continuing the game project cycle from the previous terms, this serves as the post-production phase of their game project. Students are required to iterate, tune and mix their audio features, and comply with inevitable ‘Post-Alpha’ design changes to suit their game project in the final stages leading to game project completion.

Term 6 Course Descriptions

Building on the knowledge and strategies developed in Term 5, students refine their interview skills and targeted employment outcomes.

Students pick a final visual piece and create the soundscape – typically, these projects are short animated films. A series of one-to-one meetings with instructors guide them through the entire process, which builds towards a feedback session from a panel of instructors and finally an additional panel of industry professionals.

This course introduces students to techniques of Visual Communication Design and Interactive Promotion. Class time is spent working on two design projects: Identity Design and Interactive Site. Through research and development, students will create their own brand mark, and use WordPress to build a basic interactive site to showcase their Sound Design work.

Having completed the audio requirements to finalize their game projects, this term features the final review assessment, screening, and ‘post-mortem’ with the audio instructor, and work to apply any last, finishing touches to add polish to the project for subsequent portfolio inclusion.