Rebecca Parnell is a BAFTA award-winning sound designer whose work in video games includes sound design and voice services for iOS game Rival Kingdoms, as well as Theme Park World (1999). In 2009, after starting at the legendary Pinewood Studios, Parnell broke off and founded her own company, Magicbrew, which provides sound and voice services to both the film and video game industries.
Unlike many folks in sound design who start off as musicians or composers, Parnell knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a career in sound engineering.
“In my mid-to-late teens,” she says, “I had friends in a band that had their own home studio and they introduced me to a few basics in sound engineering. I loved playing with the sampler, taking clips from various bits of media and mashing it up with effects and pitch changes. I decided over this time that I would like a career in sound engineering. I enrolled in a college vocational course in London, a BTEC National Diploma in Music Technology. The course was only in it’s second year and the department head had secured funding from a EU regeneration programme in Stratford (where the London Olympics were held), that supplied us with lots of fantastic equipment, so that we all had practical learning.”
While still in school, Parnell had the good fortune of getting work experience and then a job with Audio Interactive at Pinewood Studios (where they film the Star Wars and James Bond films).
“A friend of the family was working at Sensible Software,” she says, “and all their audio requirements were provided by Richard Joseph, who ran a company called Audio Interactive at Pinewood Studios. I spent two weeks there that summer and Richard and I got on brilliantly, we shared a similar humour, and Richard enjoyed the fresh ideas I brought in as a newbie. After I finished my course, I was offered work at Audio Interactive. We offered V.O. recording services, so I made a lot of tea, and did the dialogue editing for many titles including Codemaster’s TOCA Touring Cars and Psygnosis G-Police. I had my first go at Sound Design on Sensible’s unpublished title Sex n Drugs n Rock n Roll, it was so much fun! From that point on I knew I wanted a career in game audio design and have never looked back.”
“Pinewood is a great environment to work in,” she says. “Although the big stages (like 007) have restricted access, there were lots of other things going over, like big green screens erected. Each day we’d pass a visual effects studio on the way to the cafe for lunch, I loved seeing the moulds and models they would have stacked on the shelves by the window. Audio Interactive itself had a great location, our windows looked onto the original smaller stages used for films like the Carry On series, that were then used for advert productions, there was always something fun to look at. It was also a great opportunity to meet other sound people and have a look around the Pinewood ADR and foley studios.”
But, despite the stimulating surroundings, Parnell was eager to expand her experience.
“After a few years of working at Pinewood,” she says,” “I decided to gain experience working with the whole development team. I was employed by VIS entertainment, Criterion Games and Outerlight. Outerlight had a gap between projects where they didn’t need full time audio person, so it was a natural shift back to freelancing, working with Sony, EA, Kuju and others before forming Magicbrew in 2009, making it easier to take on multiple projects and expand the team with sub-contractors as and when needed.”
While she cherishes the freedom that being a freelancer brings, Parnell is also mindful of the difficulty of maintaining work life balance when you don’t have set hours. “I struggle with having the time to do all the things I’d love to do,” she says. “It’s healthy to live life outside of work and spend time with loved ones, it’s easy to slip into a 24-7 work life as a freelancer.”
As for her experience as a female entrepreneur, Parnell feels that things are getting better in terms of sexism, but having a solid body of work to point to also helps. “I experienced a fair amount of sexism in the industry in the earlier years of my career,” she says. “It has been better since running Magicbrew, as I am hired and respected for my expertise. The industry has changed somewhat too and individuals, teams and leaders are pretty good a self regulating, most would be mortified to be pulled up on any discriminative behavior.”
Winning a BAFTA for Theme Park World can’t hurt either.
“It really blew us away,” she says of winning. “We had so much fun working on the game, I think it resonates in the audio.” That said, Parnell refused to label any one project as her favorite. “Every project brings new learning, challenges, new people to work with and satisfying sound design.”
As for what she’s playing right now, Parnell can’t help but refer to games with excellent sound design. “I am really enjoying Playdead’s new title Inside,” she says. “Martin Stig Anderson has designed a splendidly stylistic soundtrack, pushing the contrast of light and dark with the sound, as it is with the visuals, with dramatic dynamic range and elegant choices of abstract sound. I’m also enjoying Broken Age 2, an excellent, quirky, point and click adventure with great acting performances and suitably quirky and tactile sound design.”