"I had the feeling of knowing I'm in the right place and I'm in the right industry" - Alexis, Sound Designer, shares her experience of the WBD Access x Rocksteady Games Academy

Alexis Smith is a talented sound designer who is dedicated to bringing immersive audio experiences to players. One of her career highlights so far was being selected to participate in the Warners Bros. Access x Rocksteady Games Academy, an innovative program that offered aspiring game developers the chance to learn from industry veterans, gain practical skills, and work as a team on a live project. The programme curriculum was deigned and delivered by NextGen in partnership with Rocksteady and Industry tutors.

In this interview, Alexis shares her journey into sound design, her experience on the Games Academy programme, and how it helped to prepare her for her current role working as a Sound Designer with Cloud Imperium Games. Her story and insights offer valuable advice and inspiration for anyone interested in pursuing a career in game sound design or related fields. Thanks for sharing your story Alexis!

Could you please introduce yourself?

"Hi, I'm Alexis Smith and I was a part of the audio stream for the Warners x Rocksteady Games Academy programme. I'm now working as a Sound Designer at Cloud Imperium Games."  

What were you doing before the programme, and what made you apply for it?  

"I had finished my degree in Music Production the year before, so I'd been a graduate for roughly a year. During that time, I was working at my university as an audio technician, so I was primarily working in studio recording and live sound spaces, providing technical setup, guidance to students on using equipment, equipment maintenance, and stuff like that.

"While I was already working in audio, specifically game audio had always been my long-term goal. For my final project in university, I focused on sound design for games - this was the beginning of me creating a game audio portfolio to apply to jobs with. I really put my all into it and managed to interview sound designers from Supermassive Games and Rare as part of the project.

"In that year since graduating, I'd been working on developing my game sound design portfolio website and showreel. I was working on learning a lot of the game audio specific skills that my degree didn’t cover, like Wwise and Unreal. Then the programme came up and I was like, that's ideal! It covered all the key areas I felt I was lacking in on both the technical side but also in terms of building up a network within the industry. I was really excited to find out that it was UK wide, as there was support for travel and accommodation for the London bootcamps."  

What first got you interested in sound design for games?  

"I've always been very musical, growing up I was always playing instruments. Classically I played piano, violin and viola in orchestras. I also self-taught instruments like guitar, bass, drums and just whatever I could get my hands on! My grandparents are very musical and were my biggest supporters to pursue music. When I was younger, I didn’t even know sound design was a career option so initially I wanted to be a composer and continue progressing with my instruments.

"Then around age fifteen I developed severe tendonitis and was advised by my physiotherapist to stop playing all instruments for a year to give the muscles a chance to heal. It affected my writing as well, so I did a lot of my GCSEs on a computer.  

"Knowing that I physically couldn’t play these instruments anymore, but that I wanted to be in this industry and working in audio, I researched what I could do and ended up discovering the audio tech world. So, I did a BTEC in Sound Engineering and went on to study Music Production at degree level. I discovered sound design in my first year and everything just clicked for me. I just really loved all aspects of it, and for me it just really made sense to pursue it for a career."  

That must have been really tough when you had that transition from playing so many instruments to not physically being able to, how did you cope with that?

"It's something I still do physio for now, so it’s been an ongoing thing for years. I think it's one of those things that at the time was really difficult, but it kind of has this silver lining of essentially, it’s how I discovered music technology, and by extension sound design as a career pathway, which feels like a perfect fit for me."  

How was your experience on the Audio strand of the Warners x Rocksteady Games Academy?  

"I really, really enjoyed it, it was just such a wildly positive experience and was so much more than I thought it would be when I was applying for it. I remember in the interview I was asked what I’d like to get out of the programme, and I said that I was hoping to make some friends! It was the cohort on the programme and starting to feel a part of the industry that really made it for me. Then the actual content and structure of the programme itself was just really great and helped me develop some crucial skills. The opportunity to collaborate across the cohort was really invaluable.

"It was amazing to be a part of a team where everybody's dedicated to creating something really cool, and just figuring things out as a team. I think that was the best part. Plus communicating about audio to non-audio people, like communicating to an artist and what that workflow looks like, was a really valuable new experience for me."  

How did you find the in-person meetings at Rocksteady?

"The boot camps were absolutely amazing! I think the second boot camp especially for me personally. The first day was all audio focused, and we got to spend the day with the Rocksteady audio team. I think I bombarded them with so many questions, but they were really lovely about answering them all and it was just amazing!

"It was just really eye opening to get to speak to people in the industry in a more casual kind of setting.  It was a very affirming experience, by the end of it I had the feeling of knowing I'm in the right place and I'm in the right industry."  

Do you think the programme helped you prepare to apply for jobs and landing your first role in Games?  

"Absolutely. There was so much support from my mentor Marcia, and we had careers coaching sessions with Kate Lander. I actually interviewed for my current position near the end of the programme, and I talked about the programme quite a bit, it’s something they were really interested in. Especially on how collaboration worked within the team and across disciplines - paired with the use of industry standard software and workflows. The programme really gave the opportunity to learn that skill set and was a really positive environment to creatively collaborate in."

What are your main takeaways from the programme, both professionally and personally?

"On a personal level it was just very affirming that I was in the right place, and the social aspect of making friends and professional networks within the industry.

"In audio in general, not just game audio, there are very few women.  Whilst Marcia Deakin (Co-Founder, NextGen Skills Academy) and Gina Jackson OBE (Founder, Games Dev Bootcamps and SKILLfull) do not have an audio background it was my first time working with women in senior roles like that and I was surprised how much this inspired and motivated me throughout and now after the programme.

"It really widened the scope of what my career ambitions could be. Before the programme it was very much, I'm just going towards being a sound designer, and that's what I'm going to do. Then throughout the programme, especially because I spent a lot of one-on-one time with Marcia as my mentor, I realised I could do all this cool stuff as well! I hadn't previously considered the extent of what I could be capable of doing within the industry, it really increased my drive and widened the potential of what I feel I can achieve within game audio."  

And finally, do you have any advice for anyone looking to start out in games audio and sound design?  

"Getting involved in the community has been one of the most rewarding parts of entering the industry. Through various platforms like Discord, Twitter,  Airwiggles, Women in Games and more I found there were so many people willing to give portfolio feedback and general advice. As well as sharing resources and just having interesting audio nerd discussions! There are also so many accessible free online resources to help guide people getting their foot in the door of game audio like A Sound Effect and Game Audio Learning."

Thanks again Alexis! If you would like to connect with Alexis you can find her on LinkedIn.

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