For the talents at state-of the art sound design and mix facility 750 (add ‘mph’ to that figure and you get the speed of sound), sound is the medium in which they operate. Whether it’s design, mixing or composition, with more than 23 years of experience and nine specialist, high-end studios to draw on, 750 is the sound choice for a range of global brands including Nike, Ikea, Burberry and Playstation. And the landscape of sound, it seems, is always changing.
“I don’t like to think of trends when it comes to sound design,” says 750’s Partner and Supervising Sound Editor Sam Ashwell. “I think ‘development’ is a much better way of looking at it.” Those developments have largely been in the digital space. “The technology has moved on so much and because most of our work is computer-based, the quicker computers get, the more software that is developed, even hardware, the more powerful and flexible the tools available to us get. People who apply to work for us are a lot more sound-savvy, a lot more advanced in their understanding and knowledge, with the bar already set at a very high standard.”
They come with a keenly developed sense of creativity too. But that sense needs shaping, however acute it is. “What they learn when they come here are things like the technicalities of realism and mixing” says Ashwell. “Mixing you can only learn from experience; it can take years of trial and error.”
He also emphasises the importance of people skills for sound solutions to be found that satisfy all interested parties. Dealing with clients, and learning the diplomacy of running a room, are as crucial as technical skills and creative ideas. “Sometimes you’ve got to be able to convince people that what they want isn’t the best route, or is just based on ‘offline’ familiarity,” says Ashwell. “A director, a creative and a producer all might have slightly different ideas, so it’s sometimes down to the sound engineer to make them feel valid, and try to implement them while also being aware of getting the job across the line, on time!”
For one of the key changes in technology. Ashwell points to the introduction of Dolby Atmos. “It’s one of the bigger developments of recent years, it’s been picked up by the music world now, and obviously by the film world, but less so by the advertising community, at least in this country.”
Then there is the multi-layered sound design potential to be unlocked in the non-linear, interactive game space. “We work with gaming companies, but not so much on the games themselves, we’ve dipped our toe in, but we work more with them in a traditional theatrical sense. The sheer quality of high-end streaming services is another powerful driver of change. The viewing public, says Ashwell, is increasingly getting used to “really high-end work”.
He points to the feature-level production values at the likes of Apple TV, Disney and Netflix, both in sound design and VFX. “People are being exposed to high-end work that would have been reserved for a feature film before now,” says Ashwell. “The bar has risen, and that’s now what people expect.” The same level of craft applies to major brands’ advertising campaigns. “These big premium brands expect the same level of craft, albeit in a much shorter time frame. So the cultural shift of television has immersed people in better work, pushed the bar higher.”
Composition is an important part of 750’s spectrum, but it’s not so much innovation that new talent brings to the table, as a higher level of quality. “Everything is moving on constantly,” says Ashwell, “so the standard gets higher and higher and what people bring to us is just better and better. I don’t think clients bring us anything new, but the work keeps evolving and then that becomes the standard.”
He points to one of 750’s young sound engineers starting to make waves, Ellis McGourlay, who won the British Arrows Young And Emerging Talent Award for Film Craft with UN Body Right.
Or Harry Lamb. “He’s one of our young transfer engineers who’s friends with a producer at Adam and Eve,” says Ashwell, “and off his own bat did a short film, which became a pick of the day and has gone down really well.”
For Ashwell, that ‘just do it’ ethos is integral to 750. “We have a system, a structure,” he says, “and obviously people have to be trained, but to turn up, and start doing short films off your own back without telling anyone – very interesting.”
Like more than half of 750’s sound designers and engineers, Ashwell started out at the company as a runner, and has kept pace with the developments in the sound world ever since. He knows that the future of 750, and indeed the entire business, depends on the investment in youth. “Training up and giving people opportunities is what this company and really what this business is built on, not just advertising but the whole creative industry, so becoming a sponsor of the Young Arrows feels like a natural thing to do.”