Heard About: Halo: Audio evolved

John Broomhall talks new-gen Halo with Paul Lipson, senior audio director for 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios
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Even for an experienced audio director like Paul Lipson, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a monumental project. 

It’s an audacious Xbox One homecoming for the franchise, encompassing Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2: Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4 in one inclusive package and unlocks early access to the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta and Halo: Nightfall – the new live-action digital series made in partnership with Executive Producer Ridley Scott and Scott Free TV.

For Lipson it was both a joy and a challenge: “I’ve been a huge Halo fan since the original Xbox release Combat Evolved, an innovative and aesthetically ground breaking title which transformed the way I look at game audio – it was a creative landmark.

“However, moving Halo 1 to 4 over to Xbox One with a brand new unified UI and at 1080p/60fps – which many said was impossible and crazy – was a Herculean task. We’re looking at four different integration schemes and audio engines that need to play nice together.

Lipson continues: “Meanwhile, Halo 2: Anniversary hitting its 10th anniversary was a massive project in itself, with a full update of all audio content: 198 minutes of all-new music, over 16,000 new sound and foley assets, and 58 minutes of all-new cinematics with all bespoke post-production content. 

“One of the coolest features in Halo 2: Anniversary is that we included both the legacy sound and the new sound – literally two complete sound trees running side-by-side. You can play the game in remastered mode, then instantly switch to the legacy content running in perfect parallel. It’s quite astounding and really showcases the power of the Xbox One and also how far game audio has come in a decade. We think fans will appreciate this feature, and it will probably spawn lots of posted DVR clips.”

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MASTERFUL MUSIC

Lipson partnered with Skywalker Sound and multiple Grammy-winning engineer Leslie Ann Jones to record 85 members of the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra (players from the San Francisco Symphony and Ballet), 40 singers from the SF Opera Chorus, and 28 singers from the Boys’ Chorus. He also commissioned two new cues from guitarist/producer Misha Mansoor (of Periphery and Animals As Leaders fame), and brought back guitar hero Steve Vai for work on the main themes. Meanwhile, Charles Deenan and his team at Source Sound handled the huge movie post-production effort.

“We have a strong relationship with the American Federation of Musicians (the largest musicians’ union in North America), and we’ve had great success recording with them,” Lipdon says. “They love games – and it’s fun to hear them come in after a night of playing Mahler or Rachmaninov and say, ‘wow, it’s so awesome to stretch out and play this amazing music’.

“The AFM players have been instrumental in helping us shape the gorgeous sound of our Halo soundtracks. Leslie Ann Jones and the Skywalker Sound team also make all the difference: their expertise coupled with one of the finest recording environments in the world really brings the music to life. I’m lucky to be working with such a talented group of people – and I think our results reflect that.”

On reflection, Lipson is stunned that the work was completed within such a tight timeline: “We never sacrificed audio quality – from the very first note recorded to the very last moment of the game mix. Bringing all of this amazing talent together and focusing our collective energies to making something this cohesive is certainly a bright moment and a satisfying feeling. We’re excited to share our results with the world – we hope you’ll join us in celebrating this next chapter in the Halo universe!”

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