CR: What’s your job title/profession?
PT: Sound engineer/sound designer.
JM: Assistant sound designer.
CR: At what stage of the development of this ad were you guys involved? How did you approach it?
PT: Before the idea had even been signed off, Andy [McLeod] mentioned to me that he’d got this great idea and it was pretty loose at that stage. Andy explained the basic concept and I really liked the idea.
For the agency to put an idea to the client they have to know that they can make it work and work well, so we had a few meetings and discussions about it. The creatives at Fallon decided to go to Prague and do a recce of the Skoda factory to have a look and see what the factory was like and it was suggested that I go along too to have a look at all the machines – to check out the movements they made etc. It actually took us the whole day to look round the factory – I took a recorder and a DV cam and spent the whole day with one of the creatives, Matt, filming all the machines.
Because of time and money constraints – we weren’t being paid at this stage by the client – we didn’t have a plan or a schedule as such. We were simply working up an idea to see if we could make it work as the creatives, Matt and Ian, and Andy envisaged.
On my return from Prague, Joe got involved with the project which meant we could share some of the workload as I was busy with other jobs and time was limited. We put together a rough minute-long edit together from the footage I’d taken in the factory of machines we thought could work with the idea. Having this visual material meant we could start putting sound over the footage and play with the concept for the ad.
CR: And what was this concept?
JM: To give each machine a happy, contented human sound that worked with the machine’s action or movement. At that stage we were looking at machinery and playing with human happy sounds to see if the idea would work.
PT: In the early stages we were playing with stuff and we experimented with morphing machine sounds into human sounds. Technically we were really pleased with that – and it sounded great – but we didn’t go down that road, mainly because it wasn’t true to the original concept. That kind of experimentation is always really valuable though.
CR: So tell us about the sounds you did use on the ad? Did you record them specially?
JM: Yes, we got people in to record them. At first, members of the studio and the producers went into the booth and recorded to picture – i.e. they let the action on screen prompt vocal “happy” responses – but we decided that this wasn’t really the best way to approach this.
PT: We decided not to reference anything when recording the happy sounds. We needed to collect sounds that were naturally happy so we spent three days recording extras in the studio. They weren’t actors, as we didn’t want the sound of people acting or pretending to be happy. Each of the 30 or so extras had about 15 minutes to look through a list of prompt words and respond and we told them we were looking to record happy sounds, laughter etc.
JM: Trying to get people to laugh in a booth – in an underplayed, contented way – isn’t easy!
PT: In a 15 minute recording, there might be just one sound that we could use. What happened a lot was we’d prompt people to laugh – they’d pretend to laugh – and then they’d actually laugh at their attempt at laughter. It was that genuine laugh that we were looking for.
CR: And you got a range of people in to record?
PT: We were building up a bank of sounds in the run up to Christmas and whenever friends or family dropped by the studio, we’d get them, their kids, whoever we could, into the booth and record them. We recorded a huge range of people. One of our friends who happened to drop in to the studio had her six-month-old baby with her. He responded brilliantly to a little bit of tickling! There was one guy who didn’t make a discernible sound for his entire 15 minute session, which was just weird. We also had an 80 year-old smoker whose laugh was fairly distinctive. It didn’t make the ad but was great to have recorded.
CR: Actually putting the sounds to the final edit: How laborious was that – or did you have a very good idea which sounds would work with which bits of machinery?
PT: When Andy gave us his cut using his footage from the shoot, that’s when we started to delve into the bank of sounds and pick out the ones that sounded great. Once we had a selection of really great sounds we looked at the film to see which sounds fitted well with what imagery.
JM: For every single sound on the spot, we had to look at not only whether it fitted with the movement of a particular machine, but also whether the sound fitted the concept: was it content? Was it happy?
PT: We also had to be careful with how we put the sounds together, a woman laughing just after a man making a contented, happy sound, could conspire to sound like two people are having sex! Because we were working to a locked down cut it meant we could orchestrate the sounds appropriately and give the ad the overall tone.
CR: And did Andy McLeod direct any of the sound recordings?
JM: Not the first time we recorded the extras. But Andy would come in and spend time going through the work in progress and sometimes I had some sounds I thought were really good so we could place them on the cut and trial them. Sometimes we’d listen through whole voice takes, waiting for that tiny bit of sound that was right for the ad. We had a mic set up too so Andy could do some sounds himself, put them on the cut and then when we got in extras for a second recording session, he’d direct the person in the booth to try and get those sounds he wanted. Experimenting like this meant that he could really get a sense of what he wanted in terms of sound and know exactly where that sound would work in the ad.
CR: Getting people to laugh sounds like a good job.
PT: Yes, from start to finish it’s been fun and there’s been a lot of laughter in the studio. We’ve learnt a lot along the way too.