Tony Orozco on the theme of “hibernation” in sound design

The topic of the month is hibernation.  As the winter weather comes in and things get cold, many animals go to sleep for the winter.  I decided to turn to Tony Orozco for some help. Tony Orozco is a supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer and has worked on shows such as Steven Universe, Adventure Time, The Batman, Robot Chicken, SpongeBob SquarePants, and SuperMansion.  To date, Tony has received one Emmy Award and two MPSE Golden Reel Awards, as well as several other nominations.

DS: Hi Tony, thanks for joining us today.  Can you tell us about your background in audio and how you got your start in doing sound for animated television and how you became a supervising sound editor on television shows such as Steven Universe and Craig of the Creek?

TO: Hey Doug, thanks for having me. I started my career as an intern at Hacienda Post while I was in high school. I graduated at a moment when Hacienda was busy and needed some extra hands around the office, and Tim Borquez must’ve seen my potential. At first, I would run errands, digitize videos, stripe DA 88s, organize our vault, rip DATs of SFX, clean and categorize the library. In my free time, to further my education, I would watch Tom Syslo edit. After hours, I would stay late and cut BGs, and experiment as a way to learn the quick keys. Then, I was given more responsibilities as an assistant sound editor, typically focusing on a single element of a senior editor’s project. Like footsteps on SpongeBob, or servos on Bionical. Tom Syslo would include my sounds, revise as needed and let me watch the preview back with clients to see what worked, and to learn what the client was looking for. I believe Steven Universe was the first show I officially operated as Supervising Sound Editor, and I couldn’t be more satisfied. Eventually, I took over role as re-recording mixer on Steven Universe and many other shows.

DS: The topic for the month is “hibernation”, can you think of any ways that hibernation relates to sound design?

TO: The only idea that comes to mind regarding hibernation in my experience, is occasionally when I buy some new equipment: field recorders, mics, mixers, analog stomp boxes, or plug-ins; I’ll get on a long sound design kick with no particular project in mind. Those files will occasionally sit idle for months before I find time or a reason to clean them up, name and categorize them. Sometimes I’ll build up a huge arsenal of original sounds and forget about them entirely until the right project comes along that seems like a good fit. When I start to design a new series or pilot, I like to spend a month creating new sounds.  With our busy workload and the typical weekly turn around in TV animation, it’s rare I actually have the opportunity to drop everything for a month and create new sounds. That’s when that backlog can come in handy. Some clients on some shows love having completely unique and original signature sounds going into a show, especially Sci-fi; which is my personal favorite to cut.

DS: Do you typically wait for a break in the schedule to get on a sound design kick, or does it tend to fill up your evenings and weekends when you’re already working on a show?

TO: Almost always during a slow period at the office, or during holiday. If I get some new gear or plug ins that I’m excited about, I’ll race home from work to record and experiment.

DS: Where do you turn for inspiration when doing sound design?

TO: I’ll take it from anywhere I can find it. Whenever anything breaks around the house, I record it. Sometimes, if I miss it, I might break it again just to record it. Sometimes recording objects not being broken is fun, but usually not. So during the recording stage I’m working with what I’ve got laying around. In the designing stage, I typically start with pitch, then reversing sounds, and then reverb or delay. All of that usually depends on the project I have in mind at the time. If I haven’t a project, I pretend I’m working on David Lynch’s Star Wars – Avengers crossover. When all of that fails, I turn to Sound Toys.

DS: Can you name some specific examples of shows where you revived some sounds that have been in hibernation?  Can you talk about your techniques for creating that sound design or talk about the sound design in general for those shows?

TO: When I started designing Steven Universe I had been sitting on a ton of new sounds. I had tasked myself to record a bunch of synths in Reason, then blindly layer them over a bunch of raw audio of me breaking and slamming stuff around my house/yard. Most of it was garbage, but some of it was trash. Sound design roulette is fun, but you have to remain objective. Sometimes I’ll save sounds for no reason other than it took me hours to record and I’m really stubborn about letting things go to waste. I’ll think something sounds like crap, but a year later I’ll be on the mix stage and hear a really cool sound that one of Hacienda’s editors dropped in, and discover it’s one of my throw away sounds.

DS: Can you talk about your process for cleaning up and labeling the sounds?  What techniques do you use? Do you add metadata?

TO: I really should use metadata, but who’s got time for that. I typically do my naming for me and only me, so they have names like “robot power up synthy tremolo 1”. I’m a poor influence in this area, use metadata for the greater good.

DS: Can you tell us about the sound design on Steven Universe and OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes?  What elements did you bring in to create the feel of those shows?

TO: In Steven Universe all of the character’s signature sounds were based off the idea that they are all gem based. Each character would have a different gem, rock, or crystal element: Garnet has a boulder slam mixed in to her punches, and a rock scrape mixed in to her gauntlet’s forming. Garnet’s gauntlets were created by an accidental mic stand bumping and feeding back, pitched down creating a bell tone, married to a synth blast from reason, and one more forgotten element. All of her sounds came from that same experimental recording session I mentioned earlier. Pearl has an affected crystal ring as she forms. Amethyst’s whips have rocks clacking together mixed in.

OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes sound design was very much a vision of the creators Ian Jones-Quartey and Toby Jones. They basically imagined the show sounding like a blend of Kung-Fu and Anime mixed with classic Hanna Barbera. The result, I believe, is a perfect blend of action and comedy perfectly reflecting the shows style.

DS: Do you have anything else that you would like to add?  Any advice for new people that are just starting out?

TO: Just have fun: that’s what I do. Also, try not to layer too many sounds. It’s common to grow attached to an idea of what sounds should be included in a build, but it’s easy to overdo it. When I’m layering sounds, I like to play the group of sounds on loop, and one by one mute the tracks to see what is actually benefiting the build and what’s just adding noise. If you have time and are that devoted to a sound, you can try notching out frequencies but this rarely feels necessary. Kill your darlings.

Tony Orozco on IMDb

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