Owen Griffiths’ first job in audio post-production was in 1989 when he became an engineer at London’s Silk Sound studios, and he’s stayed in post throughout his career.
After Silk Sound Griffiths moved on to The Bridge where he was approached by clients who were interested in starting a studio of their own. That spark of an idea became Zoo Studios on Dean Street in Soho – now under the name of Jungle – which opened its doors in 1994.
PSNEurope paid a visit to the facility, shortly after the unexpected announcement that Jungle would not be granted a new lease when it expires in August – a result of the landlord’s decision to redevelop the building for residential use. In its place Jungle will knock through its existing offices at 143 and 145 Wardour Street to create one building with a shared entrance, building three new studios for a total of 10 altogether.
Jungle’s Dean Street studio had been first post house in Soho to adopt Fairlight systems, and both Fairlight and Griffiths have remained there ever since, creating award-winning sound design including Honda “Choir”, Audi TT “Hendrix”, the Johnnie Vaughan Strongbow series, Virgin Trains “Return of the Train”, Boddingtons “Ice Cream Van” and many more. Do brands understand the importance of audio? The impact sound has in commercials is always massive, even if it’s subtle. Brands do understand this, but the trick is to spend the time and have the right conversations early enough to make sure that we maximise its impact. There are always scenarios where people turn up and say “I’ve got this amount of money left to do the audio” and you have to say “OK, well we can do it, but if you gave us a little bit more time, we can make it work much harder for the brand”. What makes good sound design? The best sound design enhances what you’re seeing. If we’re talking about sound design for picture, it gives an extra dimension to what you’re looking at. In most cases sound design, if it’s done properly, makes you completely believe in what you’re seeing. There are obviously those points where sound design will make you step back and draw in breath and go “My God, that was an amazing noise”, but those are fairly few and far between. Mostly it’s just to make the experience more immersive and more effective. Do you ever do a double take when you hear your own adverts on TV? Oh yeah, completely. [Laughs] We do have whole commercial breaks that are ours from time to time. What still holds your interest about sound, nearly 20 years into it? I’m all about the detail. I really like to get in there and make things as pure and beautiful as possible. It’s immensely satisfying, really, to be able to be there and make something happen – quite often out of nothing. It’s all about communication, this business. It’s about being able to talk to people and trying to understand how they think it should feel, and what it’s supposed to achieve. We can all make funny, interesting noises but what are they for? What are they trying to say? What’s the reason for it? Making something sound interesting just for the sake of it is not really what sound design is supposed to be. You’ve only got 30 seconds to make a statement, so you’ve got to make the most of it. Otherwise people keep the fast-forward button pressed. You have to make people go back and say ‘hang on what was that?’ or… on they go. You didn’t anticipate having to close the Dean Street facility? No we didn’t, it was the result of the landlord’s decision to redevelop the building for residential use. It’s a shame to have to walk away from a building that you’ve spent a lot of time in. But, things change, that’s the way of life and personally I like a challenge. We’re changing the way our Wardour Street buildings works. We’re knocking through to create one building with a shared entrance. The first floor will be completely refurbished with a new reception and Dolby cinema suite. We’re also building three new audio studios and creating a café and bar. Can you talk about the kit coming in? Our biggest change has been the Fairlight EVO systems. We moved on from our MFX systems because it’s a closed, proprietary system whereas the EVO is based on PC but with an FPGA chip inside which makes it very fast and very flexible. The great thing about moving to a PC system is that you don’t have the barrier of converting anything to format. You can pull anything natively into the timeline and just start moving straight away, which means the workflow is that much faster. With the kind of work that we do, that’s really important. Of course, because it’s a PC format it hosts VSTs as well so we have a much greater arsenal of plug-ins that we can call on. Strictly Fairlight? Yes. We’re a unique business in terms of the way that we work. Audio post is what we do, and we’ve chosen the tools for our business based on speed and flexibility. That flexibility extends to being able to move things between rooms very easily. That means you can back up a job from one room, and pick it up from another room straight away with everything coming back the same way. How do loudness regulations affect your work? There’s a generally held opinion – and it’s sort of been accepted as a truism by the public – that ads have been too loud in this country. What most advertisers are worried about is “Will my commercial – that I’ve paid all this money for – have the impact that we’d like it to have on air?” That’s what they’re paying for. You don’t have to have more impact than other people, you just need to have as much impact as other people. Since the UK broadcasters have all adopted differing approaches to dealing with loudness, it would be great to be in a situation where everybody was working to the same metering format, and then we’d all know where we were. I’m hoping it will happen here…
(Erica Basnicki) www.thejunglegroup.co.uk