Alex Wilson-Thame and Ben Leeves reflect on transforming the Jungle workflow in 2020 and what it takes to fundamentally change the way sessions work
2020 has seen every business accelerate full-scale transformation. Remote working is certainly the business trend of the year. However whilst many in the creative industries like agencies, PR companies and VFX companies were able to easily transfer work online, quite typically the world of sound design has always been centred around physical studios and physical hardware. From March 2020 onwards those studios had to adapt, and fast. Many jumped on innovative solutions in the forms of portable kit and remote sessions but these quick fixes needed to be made sustainable and seamless in the long term .
For the team at Jungle, they made a quick decision to completely transform their working processes at the height of the pandemic, in March. This not only required updating all hardware from Fairlight to ProTools which allowed them to keep working at the same capacity throughout the pandemic, but taking the leap to fundamentally change the way the entire studio operated internally and with clients.
Managing Director Graham Ebbs explains, “It was funny because whilst we thought the pandemic might cause disruption for some time, I initially thought it probably wouldn’t go on past a year. But when we looked at the value of taking everything into the cloud we realised even if the pandemic went on past July 2020 it would be worth the full overhaul. But that meant not just the systems for our engineers, but for the entire production and bookings team as well. It’s clear now that remote working is here to stay across the industry. In terms of cost savings and work life balance we predict this could be the norm across the board. So, it was of paramount importance we could offer a seamless remote working solution for clients that could continue beyond the pandemic.”
In this interview, sound designers Alex Wilson-Thame and Ben Leeves take us through how Jungle overhauled their business in the middle of a pandemic and how they borrowed from the gaming world to make it .
Fundamentally Changing The Way We Do Sessions
“When we first went into lockdown, we were quick to make the decision to upgrade everything from Fairlight to ProTools in order to enable us to be cloud-based,” explains Ben Leeves. “We'd been thinking about it for a while, and the lockdown just pushed us into action and helped us see with a bit more clarity. It took a good few months of planning and prepping throughout lockdown because of the amount of media that is backed up on a completely different system that needs to be transferred across.”
Alex Wilson-Thame adds: “ProTools is definitely more adaptable for remote working, which unfortunately Fairlight isn't so we're predominantly using ProTools going forward. But we will continue to run both systems for now. We do still have access to Fairlight in case we want to revisit a legacy project, for example.”
A highlight from December, Jungle worked on Aardman & DFS' Comfy Carol for Christmas 2020
“During the transition to ProTools, it was just amazing to see how the staff members here adapted to a completely different system whilst still offering a professional service on new software that you don't necessarily know the full ins and outs of yet,” he says. “Everyone's been fantastic and learning something new has just reignited everyone's passion.”
To get to grips with remote working and streaming content, Jungle was inspired by the gaming world. Ben says, “We've looked into the way Twitch users stream content and sort of incorporated it into our systems so that we could then share content. That's how we got to a stage where we can share a picture and the engineer and so forth, within the Zoom call.”
“The next step will be the live mixing of video at the same time as the audio,” says Alex. “If the client wanted to see the voiceover, you can switch the camera over or be able to see everything at the same time.”
“Changing the fundamental aspects of our sessions while going into lockdown was a huge task for everybody” Ben says. “It would have been far easier to go into lockdown with a system that you know so it was pretty impressive to see how seamlessly everybody managed to transition to it. By May, we were working in a completely different way than we had been before March.”
A Boost in Productivity
Equipped with more powerful tools and a greater ability to work offline, Jungle have seen an unexpected boost in productivity, despite the numerous lockdowns. “We can effectively take a computer home with us, plug it in, and continue what we were doing in the studio,” says Ben.
Alex explains, “All of our new ProTools systems are portable. We've got the gear both in the studio and at home, so it's literally a case of taking just the computer - the core of it - back with us. Now everyone is running on the same set up so we can work in sync without the disparities of different technological hold-ups.”
He continues: “We're also upgrading our internet connection to the studio building to then allow us to access our servers quicker from home. Working on the cloud has been great because we've got such a big sound effects library with monstrous file sizes, so, before we had to take parts of the sound effects library on a hard drive home. Whereas now, everything is accessible from the cloud and I can access it at the same speed as I would in the studio.”
For Ben, “The key has been managing to smooth the process right down so that effectively if Alex was in a house in Scotland, and I’m in my house finishing a session, in theory - other than internet speed - Alex could open that session up in five minutes time and continue working on it. But we couldn’t do that when we first went into lockdown. So that’s been the best and biggest change.”
“We’ve been able to record 3D sound from home and there have been no problems with the client because I can send them the mix in real time at full quality,” Alex adds. “So working in lockdown hasn’t stopped the big creative jobs. It's still quite a fluid environment and it's surprising how how well it does work in a lot of creative projects.”
“I suppose a lot of people have gotten used to it now,” says Ben. “In my next session, I’ve got two VOs in the booth and all the clients are dialled in on Zoom so they'll be up on the big screen so we can all see each other. Some people prefer it because you're actually closer to the voiceover than you would be if you're sitting in the studio - it’s more intimate in a way.”
“When we worked on the Take That concert for Compare the Market, the producer actually said to me it was actually easier organising it than it would have been normally because everybody's at home. He only had to call them up as opposed to running around an agency trying to catch somebody in the right department. It was the same with the Little Mix one we did soon after, which got shortlisted for Best Virtual Gig at the European Music Awards too.”
iPads > Huge Consoles
For the next step in 2021, Jungle will be looking closely at the hardware and how to incorporate their full upgrade into the studios effectively.
“At the moment, we've not been able to look into the hardware side properly because of lockdown,” says Alex. “Once we get back into the studios, we’ll be upgrading with new hardware. We’ve definitely pushed the current system to its max potential in the meantime though, even managing to work on the new feature-film length documentary, Audrey, on this remote system. Track-lay and sound editing was completed by our junior engineer, Hannah with theatrical and streaming dubbing mixes by myself.”
“We’ll be looking at what smaller studios need compared to the bigger studios, for example,” says Ben. “These big desks may be great on a film mixing stage but for most jobs you only need a smaller amount of faders, so we’ll be taking a look at the setups and hardware in each studio.”
“These desks take up a lot of space in a small room so you can minimise the setup and make it work more effectively,” Alex agrees. “Even on iPads, you can do everything you can do on a large format console but all from an iPad. It’s fantastic as a digital mixer.”