The Compressed Interview #30: Brittany Johnson-Kartes

The 30th edition of The Compressed Interview is here! I had the opportunity to talk to Brittany Johnson-Kartes, a Technical Sound Designer that currently works at Turn 10 Studios. Brittany studied a MFA in Sound Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and is currently working in video game projects.

This is what we talked about:

Threshold: Getting Started
J: How did you get started in audio? What was your first job and how did you get it?

B: My journey to be a technical sound designer was the most incredible journey but it was also a journey full of learning. I’ve never started getting serious into audio until about three years ago. I’ve been in the audio industry mostly for just pure sound design for three years. But my love for audio goes all the way back to music, when I was in high school; I was in the marching band. I absolutely lived and breathe music and so I thought that’s what I wanted to do. I thought, “I like music, I guess I should be a music teacher”. I went to Western Carolina University and I spent five years getting my music education degree, and along with that I started dabbling in commercial electronic music where I started learning that ProTools and Ableton existed; I came to love Massive, it’s one of my favorite synthesizers, and I learned about synthesis.

I had a choice as an undergrad to either go and get my music education degree or get a minor degree on electronic music, and they only give you a certificate for that. So I thought, well I spent five years so it’s probably important that I get my Bachelor’s so I let go my electronic music degree. I graduated and I ended up teaching middle school choir for two years and I loved the job, but it was extremely stressful and I constantly felt like I was doing everything I needed to do, but I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I enjoyed the job but it was mentally taxing on me. And I just knew that I was meant to be somewhere else. So, I would record my choirs and got more into technical things. After two years, I decided to take a leap and went to Savannah College of Art and Design to get my Master’s in Sound Design. I spent those two years getting my degree, I packed up and moved my family, my partner and I, we moved to Savannah, Georgia. I am extremely fortunate because my partner actually carried me through grad school. After my two years were up, I had an internship at Turn 10 Studios and after my three months there I moved to Seattle because I wanted to find work. I got offered an extension to stay. It’s quite a journey…

Attack: Things to discuss
J: When you are feeling creatively blocked, what do you do to get back in track?

B: This is something I have been working on a lot lately. I’ve asked a lot of people that I work with about what to do in this cases. When I feel creatively blocked, or if I know I should be doing sound design, but everything in my body says “absolutely not”, I am not going to do it. Also, one of my managers was a big advocate for this; he was like “if you don’t feel like doing something, don’t do it, your happiness is super-important”. If we are not feeling creative, we need to do something that’s the opposite of what we’re doing to be inspired by it. This week, a friend that’s trying to get into the industry sent me some redesigns for critique… I listened to it and I got super inspired; I was like “Wow… this is so good, I love the creativity” and thought how can I apply that to my own redesigns.

I think it’s important to spend 30 minutes a day doing something you don’t feel comfortable with. I do a lot of technical sound design, so I try to balance it out and thirty minutes a day I try to get a game clip and redesign it, only 30 minutes. So… if you are feeling creatively block it’s either don’t do that thing, go get some water or fresh air, or do something you want to do… even if it’s for one or two hours, like taking a nap or walking.

Release: Talking about the good stuff
J: What’s the next step in your career? Any project you are working on?

B: I am at Turn 10 right now; I work on the Forza team, so cars all day, every day. Forza Horizon 5 just came out; our sister Playground Studios released that game three months ago. I didn’t take part on that project but I’m super happy for them. I am working currently on another project that I can’t disclose any of the work but eventually I’ll be able to share that. It’s so much fun. I never imagined that I’d be working at a videogame studio on cars because I am not a car person… but after being there for 6-7 months, I love to explore sounds with cars.

J: What would you say is the most important thing when doing technical sound design?

B: I think the most important thing to understand in technical sound design is that everything is changing, and sometimes when you walk in as a technical sound designer you have no idea what you are looking at. A lot of it could be working through middleware such as FMOD or Wwise, you could be working on a game engine and doing visual scripting, or you could be asked to program or designing systems with your audio where you work with your programmer… So one of the most important things if you want to be a technical sound designer is to learn how to work in an engine; Unity or Unreal are great starting points. If you learn those engines you will eventually go to studios that build their own engines, and it will be easier for you to learn.

Also, understanding how games function is another thing. For example, what happens when a player hits another player. It’s not only playing one sound… You have to consider where is the punch coming from. Who are they hitting? Is it female? Is it male? Do we have them yell or grunt? Is it a knock out or just a minor hit? Do they get points? If they get points, do we have a sound for that? It gets really complicated, really quick. As a technical sound designer, part of it is your job. You can say “how can we achieve this to make the player feel like they’re there”. It’s important to know how games work, game flows, and to learn implementation. You don’t have to be a C# or C## coder, but understanding how code works will help.

The Gain
J: What are the biggest life lessons learned in your personal and professional career?

B: Personally, I’ve learned taking care of myself… That will reflect in your professional career, so for me is number 1 key. Spending time with my family and enjoy life will make you go back to work happier. In my professional career, one of the biggest life lessons I’ve been learning is that what someone says is important, but understanding why is the key to progress. I learned that from one of the composers/sound designers at Moon Studios who did Ori and the Will of the Wisps. He made that comment because when they did anything in their game, like if they fixed something, if they had new music, or sound effects… it would go to the entire studio. You will have 100 people looking at one change and making comments whether they liked it or not. That’s pretty intimidating… Some of us when we get critique on our work, we have to sit back and ask ourselves, instead of getting offended by the critique, we have to say “ok, but why are they saying this?” Critique shows that they care and that you care. If they notice that you care about what they say, that will build an even greater relationship.


I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did. Talking to Brittany was great and I really admire her work. If you want to know more about Brittany, you can visit her website, her Twitter or her LinkedIn.

Thanks for reading #TheCompressedInterview! We’ll read each other again in a couple of weeks!

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