Written by Anthony Moore, Dan Beckwith, Mark Hills & Phil Bolland. Videos and photos courtesy of Factory Studios
Established in 1997, Factory is an award-winning sound design and audio facility based in London. With a highly skilled team of sound designers headed up by Founding Partner and Creative Director, Anthony Moore, Factory has created some of the most revered and awarded commercial work of recent years.
With a passion for promoting the craft of creative sound design, Factory’s work has been globally recognised by the likes of the Cannes Lions, BAFTA, D&AD, Clios, Music & Sound Awards and the British Arrows to name but a few.
Projects of note include an impressive body of work created for Honda with films such as ‘Hands’, ‘Ignition’, ‘Paper’ and ‘The Other Side’. The company has also been involved with every John Lewis Christmas campaign since the launch of the iconic ‘Long Wait’ back in 2011. Last year saw Factory working as part of the team that helped to create the stunning ‘We’re The Superhumans’ campaign for Channel 4.
As Factory celebrate their 20th anniversary, the sound design specialists have a whole host of interesting projects lined up for the remainder of 2017. Factory’s new Dolby Atmos suite is ever popular as clients begin to realise the true potential of immersive sound design. The company have also pushed forward with their long form work and have two major feature films in production which are due for release in 2018.
A Sound Effect caught up with Factory Sound Designer’s Dan Beckwith, Mark Hills and Phil Bolland to find out more about their work, their processes and what it takes to make award-winning sound for advertising…
Dan Beckwith – Sound Designer, Factory
‘We open on an underwater shot in a large indoor swimming pool. We wait anxiously. Through the still, reflective surface of the water, we can make out a person ready to dive in. Suddenly, as the diver crashes into the water, we are transported though a series of currents via flashing imagery until the diver emerges, floating peacefully in an otherworldly landscape.’
This is the kind of imagery that can be conveyed in a script or a directors treatment for a TV commercial.
At Factory, we always encourage clients to involve us as early as possible on a project. Being able to see the script allows us to start forming our own ideas on sound design, which can then be fed into the creative team as they prepare to shoot. More often than not, the projects that think about the sound from their inception, usually sound pretty amazing by the end. From the moment we are briefed by our client, we immediately start to think about creating our soundscape…
What sound design techniques will we use?
Will the sound design lead the story?
Will the piece involve music?
Will I need to record locations, Foley, bespoke effects, or perhaps our Head of Transfer talking with his head in a bucket of water?
With every job at Factory, we always look to meet with the creative team and director to talk through their thoughts on sound and their overall vision for a project. This gives us a chance to explore the sound design possibilities together and create a plan to make their project sound as amazing as it possibly can. Because that’s what it all comes down to, making your client excited about their sound and the process ahead.
Exploring sounds and ideas is often what makes a project great
From here, we begin to schedule the job with our bookings producers. It’s vital that we allocate the correct amount of time required to create our sound design. We often encourage clients to allow us the time to experiment, especially on more abstract sound design briefs. Exploring sounds and ideas is often what makes a project great. Never be afraid to get it wrong before you get it right. Experimentation can often lead to better, more exciting concepts.
At Factory, we always encourage collaboration across our work. This is why you will often see two sound designers allocated to a project. This methodology allows for greater creativity and more flexibility on a job. As the old adage says, four ears are better than two!
We have recently completed a new spot for Volkswagen entitled ‘The Button‘ with sound design and mix from myself and Anthony Moore.
WW – The Button, Audio by Factory Studios
We hit upon the idea of grading the sound design to match the era and feel of each scene
This project saw us working closely with the creative team as we set about creating six very different feeling movie scenes within one commercial. With a brief centered upon bringing to life the genres of Sci-Fi, espionage, action-thriller, adventure, blaxploitation and horror; we hit upon the idea of grading the sound design to match the era and feel of each scene. Hence, the 1930’s horror section was mixed in mono and then degraded using an old, worn out tape effect. The Sci-Fi sequence was built to sound grand and futuristic, whilst the blaxploitation scene was warmed up with some tape fuzz and a cheeky Wilhelm scream thrown in for good measure. Having our creative team on board and excited about this concept from the outset was invaluable to the success of the project.
Mark Hills – Sound Designer, Factory
As a Sound Designer at Factory, I am very aware of how music can be one of the most powerful cinematic devices available to us. It has the power to dictate the story, emotion and pace of a film. If used correctly, music has the potential to create a lasting impression with an audience for years to come.
In November 2011, John Lewis released the now iconic Christmas TV commercial ‘The Long Wait’ , with the sound lovingly brought together here at Factory. John Lewis had been releasing popular Christmas adverts for many years, but this time around something was different.
John Lewis – The Long Wait, Audio by Factory Studios
The film was a phenomenal success for a great number of reasons, but one integral component that people couldn’t stop talking about was the music. A hauntingly beautiful cover of The Smiths ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’ by Slow Moving Mille was absolutely fundamental to the success of the campaign.
Not only did it push the John Lewis Christmas ads to the forefront of popular culture, but it also inspired a new genre of advertising which has been influencing the visual and musical styles for brands ever since. As such, the choice of song for the John Lewis Christmas campaign seems to create as much hype and anticipation as the film itself.
So knowing it’s potential, how do we ensure that music is given the full care and attention it deserves in a TV commercial?
On certain jobs, we are fortunate enough to work with composed tracks specifically written for the film, where the music follows the action and fits perfectly with the content on screen. However, more often than not, we are working with existing pieces of music which require intricate editing.
Music editing is one of the most valuable and important aspects of our job
Music editing is one of the most valuable and important aspects of our job. Taking an existing piece of music and cutting it to work with the story and feel of the film is where things get really fun. In ideal scenarios, we’re able to mix the music from supplied stems which provides us with an even greater level of creative freedom.
Stem mixing affords us the opportunity to pick and choose what elements of the music we want to hear, or even remove the parts we do not. It allows us to create more complicated edits seamlessly and it opens up a world of possibilities for surround sound mixing.
With the introduction of Dolby Atmos we can literally surround and immerse the audience completely into music, which is exactly what we did with our recent Vue ‘This Is Not A Cinema‘ project. By working with stems of ‘The Rift’ by Solomon Grey, we were able to creatively pan pads and musical motifs through the cinema to totally immerse the viewer in the experience. Our aim was for the sound to invoke a physical reaction from our audience through this use of movement and some clever frequency manipulation. On watching the first few playbacks, we had our client stating that the ‘hairs on the back of the neck’ were indeed tingling! Job done.
Vue – This Is Not A Cinema, Audio by Factory Studios
At Factory, we always strive to go further than just placing a piece of music over a film and making it match the timings. It’s incredibly satisfying to sound design to the rhythm of a track; or to take a sound effect and transpose it to match the key of the music. In a busy mix, tricks like these can often help the mix come together, as opposed to a multitude of layers merely sitting on top of each other.
It’s this kind of attention to detail which, when all combined, creates a truly crafted piece of work
One of my favourite examples of how perfectly music and sound design can work together is Virgin Media’s ‘9.58’ commercial. The basis of the advert is to provide the audience with ten examples of just how fast 9.58 seconds really is. Starting with a gunshot from a starter pistol, the music, visuals and sound design all begin to synchronise to the rhythmic tempo of the digital stopwatch. The soundtrack continuously builds with the advert, allowing each scenario to give a slightly different twist on the music. At the end of every 9.58 seconds, the starter pistol fires again and we begin a new scenario. Throughout the film, individual sound effects are repeatedly timed to the rhythm of the beat which becomes a key motif throughout. It’s this kind of attention to detail which, when all combined, creates a truly crafted piece of work.
Virgin Media – 9.58, Audio by Factory Studios
The commercial world of sound design also sees us working regularly with voice artists. I’ve always been of the opinion that a good voiceover talks to the audience, not at them. O2’s ‘Follow The Rabbit’ commercial is a great example of this. Softly spoken, it invites you into its world and instead of forcing you to listen, it actually makes you want to listen.
O2 – Follow The Rabbit, Audio by Factory Studios
A great voiceover starts with the performance, and the best way to ensure that an artist achieves their best is to ensure they are comfortable and happy
A great voiceover starts with the performance, and the best way to ensure that an artist achieves their best is to ensure they are comfortable and happy. Talking through a script with them, addressing any potential issues or confusion, and being open to suggestions of how they want to work is vital. Once you’ve set your level and everybody is ready, you can pretty much press record and let them do the hard work.
Asking a voiceover to read with a smile or playing music lightly in the background can entirely change a performance. From a technical side, the sound engineers job is to ensure that the recording is clean, and to keep an eye out for issues such as noise being picked up on the mic, plosives and very importantly, to keep an eye on the timings. Wherever the mix is played, the goal is to ensure the voiceover sounds clean, clear and effective. After-all, a voiceover is there to be heard.
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Phil Bolland – Sound Designer, Factory
Here at Factory, we are very fortunate to work on creative, exciting and constantly challenging briefs. As a Sound Designer, it’s our mission to fully realise the sonic vision of the director and creative team as we set out to make their soundscape and film come alive.
Our ethos at Factory is anchored around the idea that great sound design is always about great story-telling. Sound design must always enhance the narrative and shape the mood of the project; but a good Sound Designer will always look to add depth, richness and character to the story through clever use of sound.
An important thing to do when starting on a new project is to make the time and space to create a clear mental image of the sound you are aiming to achieve. Never enter into a job blind, you need to know where you are heading and how you are going to get there.
I often ask myself the following questions when digesting a new brief…
What is the style of the sound we are creating?
Is the sound otherworldly and abstract; or are we based in reality
and everyday sounds?
Am I required to assist the image through sound effects, or am I creating a deeper mood and feeling?
With a clear way forward, it’s then time to think about the tools you require to achieve your vision.
There are many ways of sourcing and acquiring the sounds needed to create your soundscape. From pre-made sound-effect libraries, bespoke location recordings and Foley, through to innovative sound design techniques and synthesis; a good sound designer should have a strong grasp on combining all of these elements.
Working in commercials, I find that every brief brings up new and exciting challenges that allow you to experiment and push your skills as a Sound Designer.
In 2015, I created a spot for Honda entitled ‘Paper’. The brief for the film was to tell the history of Honda’s vehicles from 1942 through to the present day. It was imperative that the sound for each vehicle was accurate. Lots of research went in to finding and sourcing the correct sounds. In the end, I utilised a mixture of recordings from Honda’s audio archive, sfx libraries and bespoke location recordings. Coupled with this, I also went about recording a whole host of paper related foley fx which were then painstakingly placed in sync with every twist and turn of the paper featured in the film.
Honda – Paper, Audio by Factory Studios
From another sound design angle, Save The Children ‘Every Last Child’ utilised the amazing location record rushes that were captured on the shoot. The brief for this film was to create a feeling of panic and urgency to highlight the plight of the featured children. With the base of the audio cut from over 450 hours worth of footage, I then supplemented this edit with an additional audio layer of location recordings and library sourced effects to enhance the story wherever necessary. Over 80 percent of the audio used was from the original recordings.
Save The Children – Every Last Child, Audio by Factory Studios
I am also particularly fond of creating my own bespoke sound effects when dealing with more abstract sound design briefs. For the Medicontur project I set out to create a cold, clinical mood using completely original sounds. I challenged myself to create all the audio from scratch using sfx manipulation and synthesis. Working to rules such as this is an exciting way to push yourself, try new things and experiment; a fact that ties in perfectly with our approach to sound design at Factory.
Medicontur, Audio by Factory Studios
A good mix can make you work sing and take it to another level
Once the sounds are all in place, the mixing stage of the process allows you to apply the final layer of gloss to your work and make everything perfect. A good mix can make you work sing and take it to another level. It’s very important to spend time crafting your mix and being aware of how and where it will be played out.
In most cases, I start to build my mix as I go. I find it really helps to level things accurately when track-laying and it actually saves a lot of time as you head towards the final mix. Working to a fixed peak level and breaking your work into dynamically controlled components is imperative to getting a good final balance, especially when working on jobs that have heavy sfx beds and big music tracks. Overall, making each element clear and your mix cohesive is the aim of the game.
Working in surround sound environments such as 5.1, 7.1, Dolby Atmos and VR, also opens up a plethora of creative possibilities in mixing. When working in these formats you have a whole new dimension for panning, spatial sfx and BASS! It’s always good to approach your surround mix with the additional panning options and sub-bass channels in mind, as you can create far more complex and deeper mixes. On a personal level, working in our Dolby Atmos suite at Factory has allowed us to be super creative when working in surround projects and right now, immersive mixing has never been more fun.
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