Tucked away in the hills above Hollywood on a winding street in Laurel Canyon is Scorpio Sound, a boutique music and sound design shop involved in everything from games to feature films.
Just off the crunch of a project for Atari’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines game, owner Greg Hainer took some time out to explain the myriad services the company offers. The T3 sessions are a good example; for the game’s introductory cinematic sequence, which showcased at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, the company handled sound effects and design, voice-over recording and editing, Foley and final mixing. Scorpio also did SAG casting, recording and editing for T3′s in-game dialog voice-overs.
Hainer, who’s garnered four Golden Reel Awards, including for Disney’s animated feature The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Sony’s Black Hawk Down and Paramount’s We Were Soldiers, was working as a freelance sound designer when he founded Scorpio Sound. Now, the facility encompasses two main studios, lounges, and several design and editing suites, all housed in three structures, one of which was originally built in the 1920s as a weekend hunting lodge for Hollywood’s elite.
“Building the studios was a big risk,” Hainer admits. “When I moved in, there was light coming through the holes in the roofs, no air conditioning or heat. But I liked the funky vibe. I also liked the fact that, while, strategically, it’s only a few minutes to both the Valley and Hollywood, creatively, the environment feels very far away. Laurel Canyon is pretty historic, musically speaking; musicians from Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix to Joni Mitchell have lived here. And there’s lots of local talent — many of them our clients — right in the neighborhood.”
Original music composition is Scorpio’s main focus, but voice-over work is also a mainstay of the business. Something unique the company offers is a package that includes booking, union paperwork and payroll for sessions. “It’s often difficult for companies to get consistent voice-over talent,” Hainer comments. “Often, they don’t understand all the logistics and paperwork involved. We have access to the greatest voice-over people in Hollywood, and as a SAG signatory, we can process the paperwork and take care of the headaches for them. That also helps our relationships with the talent.”
One of the studio’s recording spaces was designed with Foley in mind, with a floating floor and multiple floor surfaces. “We do larger Foley sessions on the big stages,” Hainer explains, “and just bring it back here for editing. The smaller sessions we do here. We often fight to get Foley on our sound design projects because it adds such character. Clients often think it’s too expensive, but that’s something we can help with. Doing it here, we can keep the quality up but also be economical.”
Scorpio’s business comes from many sources, from overall game producers to audio producers, agencies, production companies, composers and sound editors. “A lot of boutique sound design companies have been wiped out by all of the recent consolidations,” Hainer notes. “Our attitude to other companies is to show how they can outsource to us. We can work with them rather than compete with them. Things have changed dramatically in the film, advertising and music businesses, and in the past year, big changes have hit the gaming industry, as well. We’ve banded together and created new alliances with people who work both on- and off-site to keep the workflow up.”
The various rooms in the complex are tied to each other and to Scorpio’s sound library via a central server. Although Pro Tools and Logic Audio are part of the setup, from the beginning, Mackie equipment has been central to the studios. Both main studios are fitted with Mackie D8B mixing consoles, HUI controllers, HDR 24/96 hard disk recorders and Mackie 5.1 THX-approved surround speaker systems. Hainer notes: “We designed the studios to be able to switch very quickly between writing music, recording sessions, creating sound effects, mixing and synching to all kinds of picture.”
Besides T3, other recent gaming projects for Scorpio have included original music and sound design, voice-over, editing, orchestral recording and 5.1 mixing for the cinematic sequences in Brute Force, 40 original hip hop and funk music cues for Sony’s upcoming NBA ShootOut and voice-overs — featuring the original cartoon cast — for the Rugrats Meet the Wild Thornberrys.
“Our goal is just to do good work and hope that clients keep asking us to do more,” Hainer concludes. “We’re not the guy in the garage and we’re not the corporate guy, but we’re a bridge between them and we provide solutions for the corporate side. There’s an obvious synergy going on between media these days. Our talent and experience position us right at the center of the recent convergence of records, film, television and games.”