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Get to Know a Sound Designer: An Interview with Josh Bartels

Filament Games | Educational Game Developer

The great thing about Filament Games is that you have the opportunity to interact with amazingly talented people everyday. Our studio is made up of highly creative people that contribute to every aspect of the game design process. Because of our exceptionally talented team members, we’re able to take a game from conception to completion all within the walls of our studio.

Situated in a small space next to our largest conference room is perhaps the most magical room in our building – the recording studio. Inside this studio, Sound Designer Josh Bartels creates sound effects, composes music, captures voice overs, edits videos, and records and engineers the Filament Games Podcast. Using a variety of instruments and recording techniques, Josh brings our games to life.

We interviewed Josh about his role at Filament Games and how he finds the inspiration to create everything from 1920’s plant shop music to futuristic space sounds. Check out the interview below and if you have any questions for Josh, feel free to ask us via Facebook or Twitter!

What do you do at Filament Games?

As a sound designer, I get to think about music, sound effects, and voice overs. With sound effects it’s everything from button clicks to what it sounds like to be inside a world or environment. For voice overs, I get to work with some cool, talented people who provide their voices to characters if we have a narrative that requires dialogue. I also get to compose, perform, and write all of the music that goes along with our games. To sum it up, everything that comes out of your headphones or speakers comes from the sound studio.

What’s the process for working with the game teams to design sound?

Working in a studio like this means there are tons of creative people. I communicate with artists and designers who all give me different pieces of information. My role is to put into practice what everyone else is already doing. All of this means that, 99% of the time, stuff has already been created. There’s art, design docs, a script, (if there’s a larger narrative) and I get to take a look at those things and, to my best knowledge and judgement, make the thing that goes along with all that stuff. Creative problem solving is huge and I love the problems that I get to solve with music, sound, and voice over. I mean, who else gets to ask, “What does photosynthesis sound like?” or “What music should accompany digestion?”

What does photosynthesis sound like Josh?

See, to me, there’s no right answer. I think it sounds like staccato violin. It’s not like you can say no, that’s wrong, it should have been legato bass clarinet. It’s a process of creative choices, but these are the problems that I get to solve and it’s amazing. I think they’re really fun creative problems and I love asking myself those questions.

What would you say is your favorite project that you’ve worked on here?

Music is my favorite thing to do. The studio does a variety of genres of games. We do everything from 1920’s plant shop to futuristic space. Getting to work from genre to genre and test myself and test the limits of what I know how to do has been great. It’s nice when I get to land in what I love – the sweeping cinematic romantic movie scores. Most games I write a few four minute tracks that go in the background, but other than that it’s mostly sound effects and VO. But there’s been a few projects where the game requires an hour or hour and a half of just score. That’s the stuff I really like to sit down and write. It’s kind of a classical trigger that’s flipped on in my brain. I get to write for a huge orchestra. It’s a bigger, complex puzzle that I get to try and solve when I get to work on those types of games.

As you bounce around the different genres that this studio requires, are there different composers that you draw inspiration from?

Sure. The main people I pull from are movie composers. Hans Zimmer is big for me. He does a lot with simple emotions. Hans Zimmer, for those who don’t know, has done a lot of dark superhero movies – batman, superman – I think he did the score to the Lion King, too. It seems like there’s nothing he won’t do, which is something I appreciate and aim to do. I also take inspiration from the guys who do Pixar and Disney. I enjoy thinking about how I create emotion with music and how to make someone feel something with instruments. It’s a larger problem in some games than others, but it’s a fun problem to think about. How do I make someone excited about this part of the game with just music?

What’s the most challenging thing you have to do here?

The hard thing is to not just do what other composers do. A lot of times assets are already created in design documents and designers will come to me with a statement like “Make it like the Incredibles” or “Make it like James Bond music,” but that stuff already exists. In my mind I have to not just copy that and make the same thing, but make something unique and my own, but still takes from that genre.

There have been moments where our QA department comes back to me and says, “The track in this game sounds a lot like Star Wars” and I have to go back and listen to it and say “Yep, those are pretty close. I’ve been watching a lot of Star Wars trailers recently.”

I’m always walking a fine line between what’s familiar, but different.

What advice do you have for aspiring sound designers?

It takes time. It takes doing something over and over again. Creative jobs mean that you just have to create. It has to be second nature. When you’re working in a studio, as much as it’s confined and I’m working on my own, collaboration is key. Talking with artists and designers and being able to communicate with them and learn their language is very important. Knowing how to communicate within the studio, knowing different genres, and knowing how to do a wide range of styles is key. I wouldn’t have a job unless I knew how to pivot and learn new genres and instruments. I’m asked to create music that I don’t necessarily like or wouldn’t listen to on my own, but it’s something that I know how to do and can understand how it functions within a game. Learning how stuff functions like that is key.


If you’d like to hear more about what our team members think photosynthesis sounds like, check out the full length interview with Josh on the Filament Games Podcast!