Opinion Pieces

Opinion Pieces

PCB Productions Creates Streamlined Remote Recording Rigs for Game Production

Video games have historically served as a form of escapism, and often thrived during economic recessions or world events. This has been most evident during the 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic, where games sales increased to a global market of over $160B. 


Despite the abrupt need to work remotely, video game performance development has continued to expand as developers and creators evolved to working from home. This presented new challenges for engineers, directors and producers working in the industry, since acoustically treated enclosed facilities could also carry airborne particulates, which are the greatest concern for performers.



Los Angeles based PCB Productions has a long history in performance capture, dialog production and VO, (including the Call of Duty franchise, Spider-Man, Tony Hawk, Monster Hunter, Titanfall and Persona), and was the first studio to quickly adapt their facilities to working remotely. “We immediately established safety and working protocols for our engineers to work from home,” explains PCB CEO Keith Arem. “This not only meant relocating recording and editorial systems, but also secure methods to transfer files and client materials.”


Once the staff and engineering were secured, Arem turned his focus on working with celebrities and talent to perform remotely. “Actor’s safety was our number one concern, but we also needed to find a way to maintain the consistency and fidelity of our studio recordings.” PCB turned to leading equipment and software manufacturers Sennheiser, Neumann, Apogee Electronics, Source Elements, and Blue to strategize portable systems, that could be easily assembled by actors at home and would quickly connect back to PCB’s engineering staff. 



The result was the PCB Remote Rig, featuring Neumann TLM-103 microphones, Sennheiser HD-300 headphones, Apogee Duet interfaces, Source Elements Source Connect Pro, and Blue Yeti X talkback mics, all pre-wired into a military grade roadcases with pre-configured MacBook Pro and MacMini systems. Reflection filters, travel stands, pop filters, and accessories are also provided, allowing actors to quickly assemble the rig and record in under 10 minutes. 



PCB’s Head of Facilities, Molly Anderson, transformed her position at the studios to full time sterilizing, maintaining and transporting the rigs to actors nationwide. “Between every session, our systems are individually sanitized by hand, UV-C sterilized, inspected and packaged for the actor’s safety,” explains Anderson. “Over the past 9 months, we’ve been delivering rigs daily to our performers across the country, including New York, Texas, Atlanta, and all over California.”



Cyberpunk/Persona voice actress Cherami Leigh adds “I loved getting to see someone from the PCB team for a social distanced drop off and pickup.” Yakuza/Overwatch voice actor Greg Chun adds “our community appreciates PCB’s efforts to keep actors safe, working from home, and making sure we sound good.”



Since the start of the pandemic, many actors have also invested in professional recording equipment and sound treatment for their own home recording systems. However, this often leads to different software configurations, hardware interfaces, and acoustics from system to system.



“Consistency is key,” adds PCB co-founder and Performance Director Valerie Arem. “It’s important that the characters in our games sound like they are talking to each other, even though we are recording them individually across the country. We can’t have the villain sound different from the hero, which means every session needs the identical equipment and acoustic environment.”



Actors working at home typically have the added challenges of maintaining their recording equipment, which also places the unusual burden on actors to engineer their own recordings. PCB’s self-contained Remote Rigs are software controlled by PCB’s engineering staff who completely supervise the engineering process. “Our goal is to allow actors to focus on performing, and not have them worry about adjusting gain or self-recording themselves,” says Keith Arem, “This allows us to capture great performances, and maintain high fidelity standards for our clients.”



Andrew Alfonso, Design Consultant for Capcom’s hugely successful Monster Hunter World: Iceborne adds, “The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns put us in a very difficult situation where we weren't sure if we'd be able to meet our deadlines. We certainly didn't want to risk the health of our talent and staff either,” states Alfonso. “Thanks to PCB's remote systems, we were able to do connect from Japan to LA and do remote recording with fidelity that was the same as recording in the studio, as well as ADR recording, with instant playback checks just like we do in the studio. The process was so smooth and the results so good, if I didn't know they were recording remotely it would have been impossible to tell the difference.”



Remote recording is not without its complications and drawbacks. Varied internet speeds, router firewalls, and environmental intrusions greatly hamper remote recording sessions. Even with acoustical filters, home recording sessions are often delayed due to outside aircraft traffic, family pets, road noise, construction, and more. “We have session interruptions on a daily basis,” laments Valerie Arem. “We’ve heard neighbor’s toilets, lawnmowers, and air conditioning systems. We even had to pause recording when an actor’s next-door neighbor decided to take a shower during a session.”


COVID-19 has brought many challenges to the entertainment industry, but despite the obstacles, PCB’s Remote systems have provided a high quality, stable platform for talent and engineers to work safely and securely during one of the most difficult times in recent history. While vaccine distribution begins to roll out across the county, remote recording will help PCB and voice actors maintain their quality and remain a standard operating procedure for video games throughout the next year. 



More information about PCB and their projects can be found at www.pcbproductions.com or @pcbproductions.




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