In Conversation

with Factory

22 September 2022

The multi-award-winning sound design and audio facility, Factory, opened its doors back in 1997, and works out of its offices in London’s Fitzrovia, where its specialist team of sound designers, composers, technicians and producers come together to create some of the most awarded commercial work of recent years for brands including Honda, Apple, John Lewis, Nike and Virgin.

It’s home to the UK’s first Dolby Atmos-licensed suite for commercials and trailers as well as six Pro Tools HD studios, plus an additional eight remote studios – set up during Covid due to the company's rapid expansion. You’ll hear its creative dexterity in commercial sound design, alongside work in longform and feature film such as the BAFTA award-winning series Stath Lets Flats. The company recently expanded its offering to include immersive and experiential work.

There’s no question of Factory keeping quiet about its dependence on its talents, and especially on the new talents coming into the ever-changing world of sound design. “Factory has a history of supporting and nurturing new talent,” says its head of production, Deborah Whitfield. “It’s an integral part of the company’s make up and ethos – as a small company, we work hard to ensure new talent feels supported in their career and are offered space to grow and develop within their roles.” She points to the work of Jack Hallett, recently promoted to the role of senior sound designer and head of training. “His years of expertise and creativity are integral to ensuring our young talent are guided throughout the start of their audio career,” she says.

Debs Staff Photo Black and White

Deborah Whitfield, Head of Production/Executive Producer

Sound design is one part of the creative industries that’s in a constant state of flux and evolution, both technically and in terms of the talent turning its hand to that tech. Factory needs to keep on top of both, however fast the rates of change. “The industry is rapidly developing into new and exciting areas,” says Whitfield, “Such as experiential and immersive work across a variety of platforms [Factory’s upcoming work on the new immersive sci-fi exhibition at the Science Museum comes to mind]. To keep abreast of an ever-changing industry, it’s important the wider team is aware and trained in newer software such as Unreal and Unity.”

These game engines represent the increasingly large territory occupied by gaming culture in the 2020s. “The impact of these new software programmes has an affect across multiple areas of the business,” adds Whitfield. “Our sound designers have to adapt from a linear to a multi-dimensional workflow, and our transfer team has to deliver multi-format deliverables to new technical specifications and quality-control processes.”

When it comes to the future and how sound design will evolve, Whitfield sees a new industry behemoth rising to global domination – the immersive and experiential space. And that space is big. And deep, and its horizon is limitless. “The integration of game-engine technology is becoming more and more prevalent within our industry as production companies and brands explore new innovative ways of engaging with the public,” says Whitfield. “This interactive type of media means constructing and mixing sound in a very different manner, and the introduction of audio developers here at Factory enables us to not only design sound for these types of projects but to also take a lead in the integration of their spatial sound into game-engines like Unity or Unreal. By taking charge of this final spatial mix in the game engine we can really maximise the impact of the immersive sound design we’ve created.”

Factory may well be long-established – it celebrates its 25th year this year – but it remains lean enough to move with a rapidly changing culture. “It’s vital to keep adapting and changing to ensure we deliver the best service to our clients,” says Whitfield, “and at Factory, we actively impress upon agencies and production companies to ‘write immersive audio’ into their scripts and treatments.”

Being a UK pioneer, with its Dolby Atmos-licensed suite, leaves Factory well-placed to meet the newest trends in sound design. “Atmos mixing was initially a new trend in audio pre-pandemic,” she says. “However, coming out of the pandemic has brought a resurgence of Atmos mixes, and we’ve developed our cinema mixing to ensure we deliver Atmos mixes and 5.1 fold downs as standard.

“The experiential and immersive market is hugely exciting and evolving at a rapid pace,” she adds, pointing to what she calls ‘multi-dimensional’ mixing for the immersive GoT-related AR app, ‘House of the Dragon: DracARys’. “While in commercials, we take great care in ensuring our clients are aware of audio mixing possibilities which can really enhance a piece of work. For example, we are seeing more clients using binaural (stereo 360) mixes for TV and online contentseeing more clients using binaural (stereo 360) mixes for TV and online contentseeing more clients using binaural (stereo 360) mixes for TV and online contentseeing more clients using binaural (stereo 360) mixes for TV and online contentseeing more clients using binaural (stereo 360) mixes for TV and online content. We recently worked on a campaign for the RAF, ‘Air Ops’, which combined binaural recordings taken on the shoot of RAF Chinooks, military personnel and the base. These were then used in the binaural mix, giving the listener a rich, multi-dimensional and more 3D feel.”

Factory’s commitment to new talent can be seen not only in its sponsorship of the Young Arrows, but finds its embodiment in the trajectory of some of its newer signings. “Mark Hills is an example of Factory home-grown talent,” says Whitfield. “He joined the team in 2017 and has proven himself to be one of the brightest young talents in audio post. His craft for impactful storytelling has been showcased through many pieces of work such as Leonard Cheshire ‘Together Unstoppable’, PlayStation ‘Play has no limits’ and the multi award-winning BT ‘Hope United’.”

The latter, one of the biggest campaigns in BT’s history, is also an example of Factory seamlessly working with sister company SIREN, with whom Hills worked closely to create a bespoke composition which blended tonally with the sound design and mix. A multi-award winner, including a British Arrow and D&AD Pencil, it’s a prime example of innovation in new talent, sound design and tech, that is sure to propel the world of sound into ever-widening circles of creativity and invention.

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