Crash, Bang, Wallop! – Q&A with Watson Wu

Watson Wu is a Sound Designer and Master Sound Effects Recording Artist who has been creating and capturing audio content for film, television, commercials and video games since 2001.

His credits are included in top video game franchises including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Madden, Assassin’s Creed and Need for Speed. Watson has also worked in TV advertising campaigns for Mercedes-AMG and Lexus. His sound effects recordings also feature in some of the biggest Hollywood productions to dates such as Transformers and the modern cult classic, Baby Driver.

Watson is also known for his incredibly detailed and meticulously recorded and edited sound effects libraries which comprise a variety of weapons, vehicles, aircraft, watercraft, crowds, animals and ambience. These libraries have appeared in a multitude of film, TV, commercials and video games worldwide.

Having studied business, composition, conducting, voice, piano and music education at Florida International University and Miami Dade College, Watson also retains memberships to ASCAP Writer (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), PPA (Professional Photographers of America) and is a Composer for APM & West One Music publishers.

Please tell us about your earliest influences in audio before embarking on your studies at University?

I have always loved music and sound effects from movies and video games. While in 6th grade I was asked to join the school chorus. I really enjoyed learning about music and continued so during 7th and 8th grade when music was an elective. A visiting professor came to my high school and offered me a major scholarship to attend Miami Dade College. Studying there and performing in clubs really fueled the seriousness about my future.

How did you start your career in Sound Design and Sound Effects Recording? How did you ‘master’ your art?

While writing music for a game, the customer asked if I can also do sound design for the title. I tried and really liked the whole process of recording, editing, and implementing finished sounds into the game.
Instead of collecting typical recording studio gear, I focused on acquiring gear for outside sessions. Experimental recordings using various brands of gear is a great way to learn about sound. I think of recording techniques much like music. We do many rehearsals for the final performance. I remember practising piano 4-5 hours and classical singing for up to 3 hours per day. Practice, practice and more practice will lead to great sounds.

Please describe a typical working day or project. What has been the most challenging project for you or the most memorable?

Every day is different. During the past 10 years, there has been a huge demand to hire me to collect extreme sounds from various locations. One day I’m tasked to record a loud muscle car and another day I’m on a sailboat.

The most challenging projects I have dealt with are things I can’t really control. At any time I can startup a Ferrari and drive at whatever speed I desire but I can’t get a bird to sing on cue, or quiet down an area for pure natural ambience sounds.

Can you tell us more about your mixing studio? (Eg. Speaker models, configurations)

I use the original Mackie 824 monitors, Mac Pro desktop, Dell desktop, MacBook Pro laptop with recording and editing software such as Reaper, Twisted Wave, sometimes ProTools, Soundforge, and a bunch of plugins. I’m also a microphone and field recorder addict of many brands.

You’ve worked on some of the greatest video game franchises in the world – how did you get involved? Are you a fan of such games and does this influence your work?

I followed Aaron Marks’ advice from his popular book, The Complete Guide to Game Audio, and attended many game conferences. I met the right people and proved to them my skills and strong work ethics. Audio Directors are always looking for the right people to hire and to contract out work to.

I am a fan of games. My father used to own an arcade and I had a master key to Pac-Man, Harlem Globetrotters, etc games. When I have a little time I will jump on and play Need for Speed.

Yes, playing games will let me hear what other sound designers are doing and also hear what’s popular.

You’ve also worked for large corporate motor industries – do you get a full reign on your work or do you have to work to certain limitations?

I sometimes get to reign over what sounds to capture or how to design certain sounds. Most of the time I get to choose the best sounding mics for specific areas. For “Hearing Is Believing” Mercedes-AMG ad, Sound is at the foreground. This ad was only played in select Canadian theatres in Dolby ATMOS format. I was given the task to be creative and capture the best aggressive sounds from an ultra-powerful and fast AMG e63s sports sedan. It was great to work on a project where Sound reigned.

The Transformers game and Baby Driver are often used as reference material for home demo – can you explain some of the processes involved in your work for these movies and the most memorable scenes featuring your magic?

I was hired to record all the stunt car sounds for Baby Driver. We had multiple microphones in the engine compartment, the cab, and the exhausts. Throughout the entire sessions, I was seated next to the stunt driver recording Onboard perspective sounds. Instead of recording every possible sound, we were tasked to capture specific shots. When the Dodge Challenger was doing 90-degree slides towards the camera, we kept performing the slides until I was satisfied with what was captured. Moreover, when the red Subaru STI did the reverse 180 into a 270-degree drift, the stunt driver and I felt every single tense moment. They were wondering why I wasn’t sick. Well, I love doing stunts except for spinning in a circle for a long period of time.

One of my favourite moments was when I was performing Foley sounds of a seat flipping to the back position. At one take I overdid the pushing and fell to the back of the Bronco truck. Now I laugh every time I see or think about that section in the film.

Are there any upcoming projects that you can share with us?

The Underground Railroad is an Amazon TV show I got to work on. I was tasked to travel through Florida wilderness to capture sounds of natural ambience (insects, birds, wind, etc). There is so much unwanted traffic noise which caused me to travel deeper into the wilderness. I still remember dodging around large alligators and lunging poisonous snakes. The things we endure for great sounds, haha.

The next task was to rent and record a fully functional steam-powered train. I had multiple microphones and recorders all through the train and connected cars. My bucket list was completed when I got to gesture to the conductor to pulling down and make whistling sounds while the train passed me. Stay tuned and watch the show starting in the middle of May.

Finally, please list some of your favourite music tracks, video game titles, TV shows and movies?

The range of music I love is momentous. I love 16-century music from Gesualdo all the way up to 20th-century Shostavoich. Others are old blues, old jazz, rock, electronica, and film score.

Favourite games are the original Mario Brothers, original Zelda, Mass Effect series, older Need for Speed series, Call of Duty series, etc. Favourite shows are original Star Trek, The Next Generation, and certain 24 seasons. Movies are Back To The Future trilogy, Castaway, Gattaca, Indiana Jones (1-3), Mission Impossible series, Star Trek First Contact, etc.

Get in touch with us today and speak with us on how we can take your immersive audio experience to the next level.

We would love for you to visit! Contact us to book your private demonstration or for any further questions.

Book a private demonstration at Zebra Home Cinema?

We would love for you to visit! Contact us to book your private demonstration or for any further questions.