Czech indie train simulator Mashinky was about to release on Steam and the game’s creator Jan Zeleny wanted a trailer for the release. The concept was to focus on the sentimental feelings that train sets evoke in adults so the trailer begins with a small boy playing alone with his train set in his bedroom. This suddenly transitions into in-game footage, and finally the commercial ends back in the boy’s bedroom.
I had about 20 hours to design, record and mix the trailer’s soundtrack (although I had already completed much of the in-game audio which is featured in the trailer). While I worked on the soundtrack the commercial’s visuals were recut 5 times which means the audio also had to be re-cut to maintain sync and narrative consistency.
There are only two dialogue lines in the video; the mother (off-screen) calls her son to dinner, and the boy replies to her. The small amount of lines doesn’t change the fact that they must be a believable family, the mother must appear warm and caring and the boy must be able to act! Their short conversation is supposed to remind us of cosy times in our childhood when we were safe at our family home and could lose ourselves in our play.
I researched actors on popular voiceover sites to find a pair of actors who appeared to have similar accents. I gave them a short but clear brief to describe their character and the scenario and the ‘mother’ recorded first. Once I had the final takes of her performance I had material to play to the ‘son’ during his recording session. I find that it can be invaluable to have the actual recordings of one side of the conversation to help the less experienced actor get into the moment during the recording session. I hit record and play them the other actor’s lines so they can read their part as if it’s in an actual conversation.
For this trailer I only had to layer sounds for the boy’s bedroom, as the in-game footage includes sound I had already created for the actual game. The main focus is the boy’s train set so I recorded a few tracks of myself handling a similar train set for some tactile foley sounds. I also recorded the toy gliding along the tracks. I added a few layers of ambient recordings – birds outside the window and room tone from inside a bedroom in a family home. I also added the ticking of an old grandfather clock as it sounds like it would fit in the boy’s home (the house appears to be mostly furnished with dark wood) and the sound is very evocative of home in my childhood.
For the looping in-game steam train sounds I layered 4 seperate layers to get just the right blend. I layered 2 rhythmical ‘chuffing‘ engine sounds onto the sound of wheels gliding along a track. I then gated white noise, using the rhythmical engine sound as a key in order to have some staccato broadband noise perfectly timed with the authentic location recordings that would make the rhythm stronger. I eq‘d this a little to take some of the harshness off, and once it was blended in at a low level it really helped to give the engines a strong impression.
All music for Mashinky comes from Tim Becherand, a jazz musician. As one of the first things we see is a vintage radio I wanted to process and pan the music so that it sounds like it’s coming from the radio. This was achieved by processing the sound to give it a gritty valve radio tone, to achieve this I used an amp-simulator plugin (Boscomac’s ‘The Cornet’) and then I panned the music track to the right in my DAW to match with the on-screen radio as the camera sweeps past it.
The music also changes from processed to un-processed during the transition from the boy‘s bedroom to the in-game footage. I feel that this musical transition helps to make this moment stronger.
Mix and Master
I prepare for the mix while I edit and layer sounds as I don‘t want to leave too many decisions until the end. I always work with a template session so that all individual dialogue, sound design, foley, music and atmosphere tracks go to their respective bus tracks and then to the master. With this logical layout I can create a good blend for each bus, and mixing is usually only a matter of adjusting the buses to make sure that the right sound is emphasized at the right time. While mixing I use a lot of automation and regularly listen to long sections, adjust, listen again, make a cup of tea and listen again, and then finally check it with headphones! While mixing I must find a good contrast between sections so that the entire film develops in an exciting way.
During mastering I usually use a limiter with a gentle ratio of 2:1 so it only smooths the loudest peaks, EQ for a better tonal balance, and then I usually use Izotope Ozone for adjusting the stereo width and some further loudness limiting to bring the overall level up. With limiters I have to make sure that the overall loudness isn‘t too much, and the dynamics aren‘t too squashed as this can be very fatiguing for an audience.
I’m happy with the results I achieved in a short period of time creating this trailer soundtrack. Working quickly means that you must define the most important elements and focus on those – in the end you might not have time to develop anything else. This is often the case if you’re creating and meanwhile re-cutting your work to fit with new video edits. Please watch the video below to see the results of my work.
Mashinky won awards at Czech-Slovak Game of the Year 2017.
The final trailer for Mashinky