Axe-Fx: Dante Fazio's Post Production Secret Weapon
by, Nov-19-2012 at 04:38 PM (2296 Views)
Axe-Fx: Dante Fazio's Post Production Secret Weapon
Interview by Cooper Carter
ďIn a post-production setting the Axe-FX II is an extremely powerful tool for processing and manipulating sounds. Utilizing the tone matching feature as well as importing your own impulse responses, and being able to record everything directly with a super clean signal makes this an acutely versatile and powerful secret weapon for sound design.Ē
Dante Fazio is a sound designer and re-recording mixer working in Hollywood. A graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, he got his start working on the fourth installment in the classic Metal Gear Solid video game series, Guns of the Patriots. He has since worked as a sound editor, mixer, and recordist on films and games including BioShock 2, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Halo Wars, and Warrior.
Dante, thanks for speaking with me. Iíd like to start off by asking you about your early interest in guitar and sound design. When did that all start?
I first started playing guitar when I was nine, and truthfully, [laughs] it was because one other guy in my class started playing, and I got jealous and wanted to play, too, but I was the one who really stuck with the interest in it. I kept on playing and eventually played in the jazz bands in middle school and high school. Then when it was time to go college, I had a deep interest in playing guitar and in audio engineering since I had been recording my band and my friendsí bands at home in my parentís basement and everything. So I chose to go to Berklee College of Music as a guitar principle and majored in Music Production and Engineering. And throughout my experience there, through internships and assisting and everything, my interests started to veer toward the post-production spectrum. Iím a huge movie buff, so being able to combine audio engineering with film seemed like a logical combination.
Film is really the perfect marriage of the mediums, isnít it?
Very much, yeah.
One of your first jobs out of school involved working on Hideo Kojimaís blockbuster video game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. How did that come about?
On MGS4 I was assisting with the recording of dialogue for the cinematics as well as in-game dialogue. There were thousands of script lines to record on that game since it had so many storylines and cinematics supporting the story. I was working with actors like David Hayter who does the voice of Snake, compiling all the elements involved and preparing them to be implemented into the game.
So, an enormous project right out of school; Iím sure that was very rewarding.
Definitely; that was with a company called Soundelux Design Music Group that I had been trying to get into for about seven months. Finally one day I got a call from them and they said ďcan you start tomorrow?Ē At the time, I was still relatively new in LA and I was working temporarily doing video game testing, which I thought would be a viable avenue into gaming sound design, which it wasnít [laughs]. So as soon as I got the call from Soundelux, I pretty much just stood up from my desk at work and walked out the door and didnít go back. It was a great opportunity, because I ended up doing Assassinís Creed, Transformers: The Game, and a couple other big projects with them, and that paved the way for me to go to POP Sound and later on to Warner Bros.
What is your experience with gear before the Axe-Fx?
Iíve been using emulation and Impulse Response (IR) technology for years. My first experience with amp modeling was with Johnson Amps, I had bought a JM250 back in 1999, I still own it actually. Iíve also used various plugins in IR territory for post-production work such as Altiverb. I was using an Orange amp for a while but I let it go because it had to be cranked and was just too loud for the environments I was working and playing in. Nowadays most of the work I do is in the box, so the majority of my gear is plugins or programs.
And where did you first hear about the Axe-Fx?
I heard about it from one of my co-workers at Warner Bros. We had a shared interest in a lot of the same bands. He was the one who introduced me to [FAS artists] Periphery, and I started listening to them and wondering what amps they were using, and he told me they were using the Axe-Fx. I actually hadnít heard of the Axe-Fx until then, at that time I was really engrossed in post-production work and hadnít been playing my guitars as much so a lot of new gear had come out without my knowledge. So I started doing research about the Axe-Fx, and then I got ahold of one to do some gaming work with.
What was the first official project you used the Axe-Fx on?
The first project was a game called XCOM: Enemy Unknown from 2K Games, which is a revamp of a 1992 strategy-based game. It was just released on October 9, 2012. Itís about an alien invasion, and the last hope for humanity is to put together an elite group of soldiers within the XCOM project. A lot of the sound design of the weapons, the UI tones in the menus, and the alien vocalizations I created were actually processed through the Axe-Fx.
Wow. So you were using the Axe-Fx more as a sound processor than a guitar processor?
Exactly, though I did use a guitar as a catalyst for some of the sounds I created, using the pick in a different way, scraping the strings, etc. Iíd put vocalizations, whooshes or mechanical sounds through it, or softsynths such as Absynth, using the presets as is or manipulating them to achieve various results that came out very well and were used throughout the game.
Incredible. So, safe to say youíre doing a lot of tweaking.
A fair amount, yeah. So many of the presets are really good right off the bat, but for others, with just a little experimentation, we came up with great stuff. One of the ways Iíve been using it a lot is with the Tone Matching feature, and I use it in a way that might not have been originally intended. You know, the usual method would be to get your local tone as close as possible to the reference material so the sonic characteristics can be cloned more easily. But I use the feature to manipulate things in a different way to create what Iíve come to call ďhappy accidents,Ē because you have no idea what the results will be. So if, as a reference signal, you use a cello or a horn or a bell or something else with a lot of harmonics instead of a standard guitar tone, it shapes the sound in a way that can result in something really unique in the end. By experimenting with different combinations Iíve made a lot of ethereal sounds for ambiences or backgrounds that are really strange and out there. Basically itís unknown how your sound will be manipulated, and a lot of the time it results in something really cool.
Wow, that sounds like something Ben Burtt would have been doing on Star Wars or something. Almost a pseudo-musique concrete technique.
Yeah, Ben Burtt is pretty much the godfather of sound design. He and Gary Rydstrom, who is known for Jurassic Park, Minority Report, and Saving Private Ryan, are the guys I really look to for inspiration in my own sound design. If they had access to an Axe-Fx, I think theyíd be pretty enthused about using it.
So youíre using the Axe-Fx in the studio a lot. What do you like most about it?
You know, the quality of the unit is just incredible. In the Axe-Fx II the quality of the effects is extremely high, especially the pitch shifting. Most processors leave a lot to be desired with pitch shifting. In the Axe-Fx, with things like the arpeggiator, the interface to use it, either in the unit or with Axe-Edit, is so easy to use. From a workflow standpoint itís incredibly intuitive.
I know a lot of our readers are going to really enjoy hearing about how youíre putting the Axe-Fx to use. Youíre using it in a lot of really interesting ways that people might not traditionally expect from what is, at least in most peopleís hands, a guitar processor. That being said, one last question, have you used the Axe-Fx in a traditional environment, live or for your personal guitar playing outside of work?
Yeah, Iíve really enjoyed using it for guitar. Iíve picked up one of the Matrix GT1000FX power amps and that runs through a Mesa/Boogie 2x12, and my main guitars are a PRS Santana II, a PRS Hollowbody II, and a Gibson Les Paul Standard. Iíve dialed in a lot of great tones with the rectifier-based amps and combinations of other amps and cabs and mic emulations for recording direct. Iíve had a ton of fun playing with friends or co-workers, just jamming out. A buddy of mine actually just asked me to let him use my Axe-Fx live for a bit.
Heís a good guy, so maybe Iíll let him use it [laughs].
Dante, thanks so much for speaking with me.
My pleasure; thank you!