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  • Adi Keltsh

Horizon Zero Dawn Audio Re-Design

Updated: Jun 11

Hello, Today I will be talking a bit about the first draft of my most recent sound re-design. It has been quite a challenge due to the complex elements that I needed to create/design. Firstly, the entire re-design was done using Reaper. I have used the program quite often before for audio processing and mixing music, so was blown away by how stable (140+ tracks) and easy it was to work with a media source. In terms of ambience, I took another trip to the forest near my house and recorded some A-format Ambisonic tracks that I was able to down mix to stereo using the SoundField plugin by Rode. As a sound designer, nothing excites me more than trying to get movements and specifics to sound as organic as possible. For both human characters I used a series of belts in addition to some leather coats, although I did add an additional fur texture for Aloy (as well as some other specifics). For the Aloy’s impact sound, I used my trusty bag of potatoes layered with some kickboxing impacts I had previously recorded. Here in the Netherlands, we have trash/recycling points that are basically huge and very deep metal boxes that go into the ground. As the sound is somewhat dampened by this, I chose to record some impacts by slamming the doors of the container (I got some funny looks). As I want to keep this blog to the point, I will now talk more about the hardest part of the re-design.

The most challenging aspect of this redesign was creating the voice for the Watcher (the machine in the video). My approach was to listen to the original audio around ten to twenty times and note down the elements I hear and my original thoughts on how I would go about designing the sound. I also looked online and listened to everything I could find about the development of the audio for the game (I have attached some links below). Once I had done this, I was on my own and whatever I created would be my interpretation. Of course, I am fully aware it will never come close to the amazing work of Pinar Temiz but it was a great learning experience and motivation to continue learning and researching new sound design techniques.


While designing voices for my previous projects, I would frequently rely on using Zynaptiq Morph to interweave various audio layers. I set myself a goal to not use this plugin for this re-design and use other techniques instead. After a pleasant talk with Bjørn Jacobsen (Cujo Sound), I was informed I can use custom impulse responses (IR's) to process audio to give it various textures. So, I used this method for gluing the various organic and synthetic elements together. I recorded several custom IR's using the setup shown below!

I would play a sweep (you can play a fairly short sweep as you are not after a long reverb tail!) through a tiny bluetooth speaker and record it using a microphone. When capturing acoustic information like this, I would refrain from using Bluetooth speakers as the signal is compressed. I would also use a better speaker, but for the purpose of this exercise it could all be considered artistic choice I suppose (it's also all I had). Using the Voxengo Deconvolver (you can also use Altiverb), you are able to deconvolve your recorded audio file to create an IR that can then be used with a convolution reverb VST. I am pleased with the result I got and look forward to using this technique in the future.


As I had been planning this re-design for a while, I managed to get a hold of some contact and coil microphones. I am incredibly pleased with them and I recommend them if you are hoping to expand your arsenal and are on a tight budget. The ones I purchased can be found here: https://jezrileyfrench.co.uk/jrf-audio-supplies.php


I mainly used these microphones for designing the movement, additional SFX and voice of the Watcher within the re-design. I went around the house and started placing the coil microphones on everything connected to the mains. I got an interesting sound from them when I powered up the coffee machine and it ended up being the sound for the Watchers red eye. Play the video below to hear the raw audio!



I used a variety of winged animal voices to create the organic aspect of the Watchers voice (Vultures, Parrots, Owls, Turkeys, Emu Throat noises, Cranes and Crows), probably too many layers, but what's important is I had fun messing around with all these different sounds. I further layered these with several iterations of a Serum preset I had designed that used the various vowel oscillators to give the Watcher some synthetic vocalizations. The IR was used between elements to glue them together. At the moment, I am pleased with the result but am fully aware there are improvements that can be made! For the movement of the Watcher I used a combination of the coil and contact microphone on a printer. I also recorded some drills and sanders. As I did not have much experience using contact microphones (and recording printers), it took some time before I recorded audio I was happy with. Here is a photo of me attacking the printer while exploring the scanner area:


I can easily write ten more pages about the work that went into designing the twenty seconds of this audio re-design, although I think I've skimmed over the more interesting/technical aspects. I hope you learned something and feel free to contact me or want to share you experience(s) capturing and using your own IR's for the purpose of sound design.


Here are some of the sources I explored while working on this re-design: GDC Slides by Pinar: https://www.gdcvault.com/play/1025479/Giving-a-Voice-to-the

GDC talk by Anton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wavnKZNSYqU

Cujo Sound: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPf875J3w5I Marshall Mcgee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIAmi88akl0

Some other interesting articles:

https://blog.playstation.com/archive/2017/08/31/how-guerrilla-games-created-horizon-zero-dawns-remarkable-3d-audio-and-sound/

https://www.thesoundarchitect.co.uk/horizon-zero-dawn-interview-guerilla-games-audio-team/

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/scoring-horizon-zero-dawn

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