Studio Profile: On the Factory floor

Following a recent expansion, London’s Factory Studios now offers one of the first Dolby Atmos-certified mix rooms for commercials and trailers. Matt Fellows finds out what this means for the team…

With a remit primarily focusing on supplying audio and visual services to the TV, radio, digital, film, music and advertising industries, Soho-based sound design and audio facility Factory has built a back catalogue of revered work since its opening in 1997.

In July, the studio underwent an extensive expansion, extending from its Margaret Street base into the adjacent Great Portland Street thanks to an opportune lease acquisition on a neighbouring property.

The expansion included the development of one of its four studios into a much more spacious and effective area, and the addition of a new Dolby Atmos-enabled studio.

Factory Studios is now home to the UK’s first Dolby Atmos-certified mix rooms for commercials and trailers, and is only the second facility in Europe to gain the certification.

Acoustic specialists White Mark handled the studio designs, following its three previous design jobs for Factory – a new step in a business relationship lasting 15 years.

“They know the building, they know what we need, they know all the pitfalls and every room has always sounded fantastic,” Factory founding partner and creative director Anthony Moore says of the partnership. “You know that room is going to be solid and you know that room is going to translate well.”

And the accuracy of translation that White Mark provides has been crucial to Factory’s success: “Because we work in advertising, you’ll get to your final mix and you just basically transfer to playing it on a TV or a radio depending on what it is, and we’ve always been advocates of that,” Moore continues. “It sounds great [in the suite], but if it doesn’t work [on the TV/radio] then we haven’t really done our job right.”

New Avenues

The newly refurbished Studio 5 is now a 5.1 surround-equipped facility, something that has allowed more freedom in the company’s overall workflow, according to head of technical support and sound engineer Ben Firth.

“It’s cool because it’s allowed us to translate and share material throughout the rooms,” he says.

Moore adds: “It’s geared to any film work or prep work we’re doing on bigger mixes because we can start all that in a smaller room.

“The idea for this room is to be a space for our sound designers to come and experiment and play with stuff and have that time to get new ideas.”

But the real game-changer for the facility is the new Studio 4, a Dolby Atmos-enabled suite. According to Moore, the decision to invest in the technology was a simple one.

“With audio you know when something’s good and when something’s just a flash in the pan,” he tells us. “As a studio we’re very creatively led and this is a creative tool for us to go to town with mixing, so it was a bit of a no-brainer.”

The design of the Dolby-Atmos room is founded on precision and functionality, with an Avid S6 desk as its centrepiece.

“We’ve gone for a pared-down, not overly-showy front end because we just want the room to be about the sound,” Moore explains. “We wanted it to be more like a film-viewing room.”

The accurate translation of sound was again key to the studio’s design: “The mix [in Studio 4] will scale up to a bigger room and be pretty transparent,” Moore adds. “Every mix that we’ve taken out of the studio, it’s always worked really well when it’s gone to a bigger system, just because we understand what you need to push.”
With such an investment, for Factory it was a definite case of wanting to go down the Atmos route rather than needing to, according to Moore.

“It’s brave, but our peers and competitors are jumping on board as well. We were always going to build [Studio 4], it was always going to be a 5.1 or 7.1 room, and it seemed silly to spend all this money and not future-proof it. I think because it’s new and there’s not many of us around with the system, I’d rather be at the forefront of it. I think if we didn’t have this, we’d be missing a trick.”

The new expansion has opened up avenues for the Factory team to tackle a wider range of projects in ways that previously weren’t possible, and the benefits of the new technology are already manifesting.

“We’re doing a VR experience, and there’s a couple of feature films in the offing for us, going into next year, which we’re excited about,” Moore continues. “We’re going to involve our short film showcase and take films that warrant the use of the technology and make something great so that we can showcase it and get people on board.”

For Factory, remaining at the cutting edge of the industry is key to success. “It’s about having the right creative tools for the job and being able to service all of our clients however they need it to be delivered,” concludes Moore. “If you’re not open to new technologies and ways of working, you can get left behind quite easily.”

Picture: The new Atmos-enabled Studio 4.