Behind the scenes on the British Arrows nominated film with Ardmore, Great Guns and Jungle Studios

A result of Network Rail’s budding partnership with mental health charity ‘Chasing the Stigma’, “There’s Always Hope” shined a light on the positive impact of brief but profound everyday encounters. Having tasked creative agency Ardmore with the job of tackling the unfortunate association Britain’s railways have with suicide, sound studio Jungle and production company Great Guns were brought on board to thoughtfully orchestrate this important message. 

The ensuing film was a touching testimonial that placed value on the importance of fleeting but meaningful acts of kindness often shared between strangers in unassuming train stations around the UK. Most recently, the touching campaign has been shortlisted for a British Arrows award in the  Transport & Tourism category. 

To explore the creative approach, production, direction and sound design of this poignant project, LBB’s April Summers spoke with Paul Bowen from creative agency Ardmore, director Duncan Christie of Great Guns and sound designer Sean Mahoney from Jungle Studios to learn how these creatives joined forces to promote the importance of small, everyday acts of kindness. 

LBB> How did the initial idea for this campaign come about? What was the original brief from Network Rail?

Paul Bowen, executive creative director, Ardmore> We learnt there were 253 railway fatalities caused by suicide in 2020/21, predominantly among 30 to 50 year old white British males. We were tasked with detracting from the railway’s false association as a place to take one’s life and, instead, positioning it as a positive place. We became determined to change people’s perspectives.

LBB> The film touches on multiple storylines and shows different characters at a train station. How was each story crafted? Were any of them inspired by true events?

Duncan Christie, director, Great Guns> During our research we spent time at train stations observing people and everyday goings-on, which was quite inspiring. Our goal was to celebrate the everyday: the simple moments that hopefully everyone has seen and can relate to; helping someone down the stairs with a buggy, for example. We wanted to show how small acts of kindness go a long way. 

LBB> Campaigns like this help to eradicate stigma surrounding mental health, particularly among young adults. In terms of mental health awareness, was there anything you felt compelled to highlight in this film?

Paul> ‘Hope’ was the overarching theme and remained our North Star throughout. However, as we learned from interviews with psychologists during the research process, it’s not as easy as simply telling people with mental health issues that there is hope. You have to prove it, and recognition and effort must be displayed from those around them. Through this film we tried to illustrate that mental health is all around us, but so is hope, and if we can encourage people to connect the two, we can make a difference.

LBB> According to research conducted by Chasing the Stigma and Network Rail, 48% of Brits believe their mental health was affected by the pandemic. How did you ensure the tone of this film was suitably empathetic and resonated with audiences?

Paul> The subject of mental health has only stopped being a taboo topic recently, having been something secretive that was spoken about in hushed tones behind closed doors. For this project, Jake Mills, the founder of Chasing the Stigma got involved. He told me something very enlightening to me early on, “I want people to not think of someone with mental health as someone who is unwell.” Since the pandemic, mental health has certainly become more openly discussed, and recognised as not just a condition of the ‘unwell’. We ensured the film empathised and resonated by reflecting this reality back at our audience.

LBB> Due to COVID, all the characters on screen are wearing face coverings, so emotions are conveyed through eye contact. What impact did this have on the direction on set? Do you think it impacts the tone of the film in any way?

Paul> The film was shot in February 2021 so masks were a necessity and watching it back, I’m always struck by the power of the delivery from all of them. Coupled with the pace, sound design and intimate camera work they remain very touching performances that beautifully portray the emotion of the story. 

Duncan> It was a big decision, to go with masks, but looking back we definitely made the right choice. This film needed that fly-on-the-wall authenticity and at the time you would only get that with masks. We found that it is possible to convey a lot of emotion through the eyes, and body language becomes even more important too. We included a few simple lines of dialogue which became crucial to the storytelling. 

LBB> Sean, you worked on the sound design for this project, what were the technical or creative challenges you faced during this project?

Sean Mahoney, sound designer, Jungle Studios> The biggest challenge was making sure all the dialogue came through amongst the busyness of the noisy train station. Not being able to see peoples mouths moving because of masks made it even more important to ensure the sound was crisp and clear. 

LBB> The message behind this film is emotive and full of hope; how did you convey that through the sound design?

Sean> The music played a massively emotive role in the film. Composer Zebedee Budworth did a great job on the composition which carries the film really well. I was tasked with striking the right balance between the music and other elements, in order to make sure the emotional message really came across. The brief was to convey the hectic, busy atmosphere you get at a train station, with the usual sounds of people rushing around to catch their train. To contrast this, we made sure the sound design really highlighted those intimate moments, conversations and acts of kindness seen in the film.

LBB> This is a highly emotive campaign, how was that sentiment handled on set?

Duncan> Everyone involved was aware we were treading a fine line with this film and it was so important the emotion came through, but it had to feel grounded and never overwrought. This was a constant balancing act throughout the shoot, particularly in regards to the performance of our central character, whose journey we follow as he travels through the train station. We were fortunate enough to have an amazing cast who understood the nuance of what we were trying to do. 

LBB> What are you most proud of from working on this project?

Duncan> It’s been a tough time for many people, so if this film can promote Chasing The Stigma’s Hub of Hope App, that is a hugely positive outcome I can be proud of. From a production point of view, we were filming during peak 2021 lockdown, and faced track and trace challenges. We were able to overcome these obstacles and everyone involved –  Network Rail, Ardmore and Great Guns – became trusted collaborators. I was very proud to have been a part of that team.

Paul > Partnering with Chasing the Stigma and consulting with them all the way through the project to ensure our objectives remained aligned, made a huge difference. I believe this affinity made for a more positive and proactive communication that I’m very proud of.  

Sean > I am proud to have played a small part in such a brilliant project. The last couple of years have been really tough for everyone, especially those already struggling with mental health, and I unfortunately lost someone to suicide so this was an extra special job for me. It’s projects like these, that really make a difference, which make my job worthwhile.

LBB> The film was shortlisted for a British Arrows award. What elements do you think led to its success?

Duncan> I must give a big shout out to all our crew but in particular our wonderful composer Zebedee Budworth. It was a difficult brief and he was able to balance the emotion with the hopefulness perfectly. I think his score is a big factor that contributes to the success of this film. It really brought everything together in the perfect way. 

Paul> Coupled with the pace, sound design and intimate camera work, the performances of the actors behind masks are very touching and beautifully portray the emotion of the story. The film was shot in February 2021 so masks were a necessity but, watching it back, I’m always struck by the power of the delivery from all of the actors. This film encourages people to take a moment and look around them; you could make a difference to someone’s life with as little as a smile. As long as people care there is (as the campaign says) always hope.

This film has a really important message that I think has resonated with a lot of people. I think you can’t help but be moved when watching it. Everyone in the team really has done an excellent job putting it together so I’m really not surprised it has been shortlisted. 

Jungle Studios sound designer Dominic Dew on the joy and silliness of working on number one kids TV show, Hey Duggee

This year marked CBeebies 20th anniversary, with The Guardian placing its hit TV show, Hey Duggee in the number one spot in its top 20 list within the last 20 years. 

Hey Duggee is a British animated, educational television series for preschool kids, featuring a dog called Duggee, the main character and leader of The Squirrel Club who undertake a series of activities together in order to inspire young kids to play and learn.

The show has gathered huge success since its launch in December 2014, and is a six-time BAFTA and three-time International Emmy award winner. 

In this interview with LBB’s Sunna Coleman, sound designer Dominic Dew from Jungle Studios, reveals what it’s been like working on this masterpiece of kids TV, the comedy moments when voicing with kids, and his favourite songs that adults and kids alike instantly love.

LBB> You tell us you’ve been involved on the Hey Duggee kids TV series since the beginning. How long has it been altogether and what does your role on the project encompass?

Dominic Dew> I’ve been working on Hey Duggee since January 2015. I record the voices of all the characters and the narrator, Alexander Armstrong. My job is to provide a consistent audio recording for each voice, and provide the guys at Studio AKA with all the recordings in a way that they can navigate as quickly and easily as possible.

LBB> This year marked CBeebies 20th anniversary and The Guardian placed Hey Duggee in the number one spot in its top 20 list within the last 20 years. The show is also a six-time BAFTA and three-times International Emmy award winner. What do you think makes it so successful?

Dom> The way that Hey Duggee is written means that everyone can enjoy watching it. Even with over 150 episodes made so far, the ideas are still fresh and amusing. There are loads of references to classic films/80s musical references and so on that only an adult would know about, but it’s done in a way that is still amusing for the kids. This means that adults actually enjoy watching Hey Duggee, so they’re happy to watch it with their kids.

It’s also educational but not in a way that makes it feel educational, which again means that parents are more happy for the kids to be watching it. And the animation and colouring is so vivid and vibrant, that it’s a joy to watch. 

LBB> You work with Adam Longworth on the voiceover for a number of characters and Alexander Armstrong on narration. What have been some of your favourite moments from working with them over the years?

Dom> Working with Adam is always amusing and a rollercoaster ride. He voices a large number of the incidental characters in Duggee, most of whom return in different episodes. Adam always has so many ideas as to what kind of voice/accent a character should have. And he never fails to deliver. These recording sessions are a lot of fun!

Xander is also amazing to work with. His comic timing is excellent and he adds little nuances to his delivery that really do bring the humour to kids and adults, again adding to that inclusive nature of Hey Duggee. He’s a real pro, so that makes my life a little easier!

LBB> And what about voicing with kids, what are some of the challenges that come with that? 

Dom> Voicing with kids does definitely come with challenges. Especially when they’re new to the process. The thing about Duggee is that the kids need to sound young and cute. The last thing we want is for them to have perfect elocution, as that would spoil the nature of the show. So all the main characters (squirrels as they are known) are voiced by very young kids between four and 10 generally. 

When they are really young, it can be very hard. Kids that young find it very hard to stay still for much more than 30 seconds, so that’s challenge number one. They also take things really literally, so if, for example, they’re asked to say a line louder, you very often get the line SCREAMED at you. Which can be painful. Especially if you’re wearing headphones! Also, the take will be unusable. So that’s challenge number two.

Generally speaking, when the actors get a bit older, and the recording side of things have become a bit easier, they are becoming almost too good and their diction too polished so they tend to be replaced. So then you’re back to square one. Challenge number three.

LBB> How do you encourage the best voice acting from the kids you work with?

Dom> It’s really important to be positive with kids so they don’t feel like they’re doing a bad job. At the end of the day, they’re not professionals, so you can’t expect too much from them. So you really need to encourage them in a way that they relate to.

Give them examples of situations that they will be familiar with. Like… “Imagine you’re calling over to a friend who’s the other side of the playground” for when you want projection. Or… “Imagine your sister has just done something really annoying” if you want a little bit of frustration in their read.

And more than anything else, you just need to be patient.

LBB> You also collaborate with Tin Sounds on the songs for the series. What’s that process like and what was your favourite song to record to date?

Dom> Adam Longworth features on a lot of these songs as he voices so many characters on the show, along with Morgana Robinson and Lucy Montgomery (who are both amazing singers).

The process generally involves Tim and Toby from Tin Sounds directing over Zoom, as most of the record sessions have happened during the pandemic. I’ll be supplied the instrumental and the vocal guides, and we just have a great time learning the song and nailing the vocals. 

These sessions are great fun, and the job that Toby and Tim do with the songs is incredible. I don’t think there is a genre of music that we haven’t covered. I’m sure they will disagree…

It’s hard to choose a favourite, but I think Step by Step which features so many of my favourite characters is up there, along with Hey! Diddle Diddle.

LBB> What have been some of your highlights from working on this TV series?

Dom> I’m really glad you asked me that… On a few occasions, Grant (series creator and director) and Sander (animation director and director) have asked me to voice an incidental character. So I’ve been lucky enough to feature in three episodes now, one of which is yet to be released. I honestly feel like this is my greatest achievement in life yet! But seriously, I do feel honoured to be part of the Hey Duggee history.

LBB> What lessons have you applied to other projects or areas of your work?

Dom> Other than Duggee, I will never work with kids again! (Jokes) 

Jungle sound engineer Stuart Allen-Hynd shares his ADR experience on Against the Ice starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

Against the Ice, directed by Peter Flinth, is based on a true story, Two Against the Ice by Ejnar Mikkelsen. Starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Joe Cole as Ejnar Mikkelsen and Iver Iversen, the film follows the story of a 1909 Denmark expedition that attempted to disprove the United States’ claim to North-Eastern Greenland. Leaving their crew behind with the ship, Mikkelsen sleds across the ice with his inexperienced crew member, Iver and attempts to survive. 

Here, Jungle sound engineer Stuart Allen-Hynd chats to LBB about his ADR work, post-syncing dialogue with the actors on Against The Ice.

LBB> What was the initial brief from the client and what was your approach?

Stuart Allen-Hynd> The brief was to re-record some dialogue that they couldn’t use from set, because of external background noises or poor quality on-set recording, making the takes difficult to use.

The director was based in Denmark, and the production team and sound mixing studio were in Iceland. I was based here in London along with the actors.

I not only needed to capture the dialogue as well as I could using various mics, but I needed to help create a safe space where the actors felt comfortable and relaxed, as ultimately, they had to get into their acting headspace to deliver the lines.

During the recording, it was down to the director and the other sound mixer to convey what they needed from the actor, and direct the actor accordingly. I tried to take a step back, and ensure the recording was done as seamlessly as possible.  

LBB> Have you worked on many films before? How does that compare to other projects you work on?

Stuart> I have worked on a few movies now, which is really exciting. Not only are these projects fun to work on, but also culturally impactful. A few of them are coming out later this year, but the last movie I can mention working on, was recording Oscar Isaac in the remake of The Addams Family.

Recording actors for movies is completely different to recording voice overs for commercials.The key difference is capturing an emotion as opposed to making sure every word is pronounced with clarity and energy, which tends to be more direction for commercial voice over recording.

I will do what I can to help the actor emotionally get there, but often that will be discussed between the director and the actor. Often, I will play the actor the scene they are dubbing in its entirety, to help them get into the headspace and hear the cues… sometimes turning the lights off helps, just to get the actor into the zone.

LBB> What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to ADR? And what was your experience of those on this project?

Stuart> With recording ADR generally, the hardest challenge is to sync the booth recorded takes to the film, and make them sound as authentic as possible… like they were recorded on set.

As I wasn’t mixing or sound designing this movie, it wasn’t down to me to make the dubbing work, and in this case, the other sound designer and director would know pretty quickly just by the sonic of the take, whether it would work or not, so I wasn’t making these decisions on this specific project.

For me the biggest challenge on this project was to work on an ADR session, where the sound mixing studio and the director were both remote. This meant technically there was a bit more going on, but after the first day we found our groove, and it went pretty smoothly.

LBB> What are some tips and tricks you can share on getting ADR right? 

Stuart> On this movie, I was using the play and repeat method, where I would play the actor the line that was recorded on set two or three times and then he/she would repeat it with the same intonation and delivery. This helps when it comes to matching the line with the lip sync, but also means the actor can focus on listening to the intonation of the take, rather than reading the line off the page.

LBB> What other elements do you have to take into consideration? 

Stuart> Prior to the session we will request a copy of the movie, any music, sound FX and dialogue recorded on set. We will also ask for a script of the lines we are replacing, along with any relevant time codes, so we can jump to the spot in the film easily without having to trawl through a 2-hour movie to find the line. We will play the actor their cue a few times, along with the sound FX and music to help get them in the zone. 

LBB> How long does a project like this take to complete?

Stuart> This project took me three days, but it totally varies depending on how many lines need replacing, and how able the actors are to deliver the lines needed. Sometimes to make it more manageable for the actor, we will work across several days, as acting can be quite exhausting, especially if it’s an intense scene!

LBB> What did you think of the final trailer? Do you have a favourite scene?

Stuart> It’s really cool seeing some of the special FX in the trailer, which are now added. For example… the polar bear has now been finished and added in, which totally brings that shot to life! Hearing snippets of the final mix is really rewarding as well, as everything now sounds authentic and not like a studio recording!

Producer Anne Beresford and Jungle sound designer Chris Turner on their collaboration with director/choreographer Corey Baker for a series of BBC dance films

Award-winning choreographer and filmmaker Corey Baker is much celebrated for his innovation and commitment to driving dance into the 21st century. With a passion that dance is for everyone, Corey takes dance out of traditional settings and puts it into everyday locations to inspire the masses.

To coincide with the global climate conference COP26, Corey directed and choreographed two powerful and striking films to capture movement inspired by renewable energy and the power of the wind, showcasing the dramatic land and seascapes of Scotland.

In this interview, LBB speaks to Corey’s long-time collaborator, producer Anne Beresford, as well as Jungle Studios sound designer Chris Turner to find out how these beautifully moving films came together.

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LBB> Anne, this isn’t the first time you’ve worked with Corey – can you tell us a bit about your history with him?

Anne Beresford, producer> We’ve made four films together before, starting with Antarctica: The First Dance, which was released on World Earth day and is a solo for Royal New Zealand Ballet dancer Madeleine Graham, filmed on location in the great white expanses of Antarctica.   

Then we worked with our friends at United Nations Environment Programme for Lying Together with Hong Kong Ballet, filmed in the green spaces both urban and rural in Hong Kong and Spaghetti Junction, filmed under the (in)famous interchange in Birmingham, featuring dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet and Hong Kong Ballet on (people-powered) scooters. 

In 2020 we made Swan Lake Bath Ballet for BBC/Culture in Quarantine which was filmed entirely remotely on mobile phones, in the filled bathtubs of 27 amazing dancers around the world.

LBB> And Chris, when you first received the brief for the two COP26 films, what was your initial reaction?

Chris Turner, sound designer> Excitement. I’d watched Corey’s Swan Lake Bath Ballet and his epically beautiful Antarctica: The First Dance films, and I really wanted to work with him.

I met Corey to view the COP26 films and I thought they were visually very arresting; the settings were cool and the mood of the dancers gave these films a real intensity.

LBB> How do you personally feel about the climate crisis and what did it mean to you to take part in a project for The Generation Restoration Film Festival?

Chris> My first introduction to climate issues was via Ben Elton’s book ‘Stark’, which I read in 1989. It made me more conscientious about the environment and changed many of my buying decisions; I still don’t use aerosols and I have a strict one in one out policy when it comes to my wardrobe. 

At the time, I was 16, and like most 16-year-olds, I was very idealistic. I preached, “think global, act local” to my friends and family and I felt certain that governments armed with the knowledge that their decisions were helping destroy the planet would make radical changes – I was wrong.

For me, it’s easy to see why many activists are tired of politicians and companies talking about climate action and yet doing very little. To take part in The Generation Restoration Film Festival was a huge honour and I feel privileged to be able to use my skills for good.

LBB> Can you tell us what the ideation process was like – what was your approach and vision?

Anne> Corey often starts with a one-line notion and things grow from there. For example, Swan Lake Bath Ballet was a phone call saying just that – how about we do a new Swan Lake in the bath? 

For Blown and Leader Of A New Regime, it was a desire to do something about wind and power and the landscapes around wind farms. And, of course, we were thinking about COP26 and how we wanted to make something that would add to the focus on the environment.

Chris> Corey is very good at leaving the narrative in his films open to interpretation and this gave me freedom to explore and engage with it in my own way. 

Working with Corey is a real pleasure because he doesn’t weigh the creative process down with expectation, he likes to review when you feel you’re getting somewhere or if you need a steer, and he’s always so appreciative of your craft even if he wants to subtly change direction here or there. 

LBB> In Leader Of A New Regime, there are a couple of shots of a dancer on top of a wind turbine! What was the process like of getting that shot?

Anne> The dancers had really rigorous and thorough training in order to work at height. And of course we planned and worked closely with all the experts. It was very carefully prepared and thought-through.

LBB> Chris, how did you go about designing the sound to match the movements of the dancers?

Chris> I asked the dancers to record themselves doing the steps on their phones so that I could foley them in time back at the studio. I would say footsteps are always hard to get right and time out – when the footsteps are dancing it’s really tricky to get right. 

A lesson I learned many years ago was that no matter how many feet are in the shot, never use more than three sets of footsteps.

LBB> What were some of the creative and technical challenges you faced on this project and how did you overcome them?

Anne> Corey has a very clear vision for both the movement and how it is framed. I would say that people are as important as equipment in achieving that. The contribution that the directors of photography bring is vital and then in post-production, the collaboration during editing, the choice of music and the role of sound design.

Filming on location always brings its challenges as well as its joys and the sense of being in a very special place. I was back in the relative warmth of London but our Scottish producers Lindsey Douglas and Ali Ellam of Rooster TV were managing the location filming, ferrying rugs (for people and as props) making sure all the essentials that you need for crew and cast were there. You can’t change the weather of course, but that’s also part of what gives the films their particular look. 

Chris> I think the biggest creative challenge for sound was on ‘Regime’- the music used from Lorde is much shorter than the film itself so I had to weave very subtle music through the beginning and end section of the film so that it would keep the right emotional engagement. 

However, I don’t think anyone would notice the subtle music flowing like the strong breeze throughout this film and that was important to me. I wanted to connect the beginning, middle and end together to maintain the flow but allow time for anticipation and reflection.

LBB> How have the films been received? What feedback have you had so far?

Chris> The comments were positive and they got people talking, let’s hope they also get people doing.

LBB> And finally, you also worked on the recently released Dance Race, a headline film for BBC’s Dance Passion. What was it like working on this project and how different was it to the COP26 films?

Anne> This is very different – lots of distinct dance forms including working with some astonishing sky divers. We also worked with a great team of precision drivers who were an integral part of the creative process; the cars were choreographed just as much as the performers. It was great to see the collaboration between Corey, the dancers, the camera and the cars – something new for me and for all of us I think.

Chris> Well, every scene is a highlight, it’s epic and it’s fun. It feels very familiar and yet everything is different, it’s like La La Land meets Bond on the set of Top Gear and yet the protagonists are a real diverse group, all enjoying movement and dance in their own styles.

I loved sound designing the sky divers because there are so many layers that went into making up their movement, environment and journey to the finish line. There are so many different textures that all come together to make their story exciting, believable and climactic.

I also love the black cab – my dad used to be a black cab driver and it made me wonder if he’d ever done a handbrake turn in it.

The Jungle Studios sound designer on not settling for the obvious, continually striving to do better and his newfound DIY skills, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

“I have certain personal goals that I like to keep to myself but what is most important to me is that my next project is better than my last. I’m always striving to go above and beyond on a project and not just settle for the obvious,” says Jungle Studios’ Sean Mahoney. With an affinity for music and sound from a young age, his career as a sound designer was no fluke, but a goal that he was determined to achieve.

As a child, Sean loved physical activity, especially when it came to sports: “I suddenly decided at age 10 I wanted to play ice hockey, this meant I needed all the gear and my mum would now have to drive me to and from our nearest ice rink as well as playing football twice a week.” Combining this with his adventurous nature and outgoing personality, Sean’s mum had a lot to keep up with, but she continued to encourage him and support his various activities and pursuits. 

Aside from his sporting activities, Sean had a draw to what he’d eventually make his career. “Music was my biggest passion growing up, I started with the trumpet then moved on to guitar,” says Sean. His first introduction to instruments was from a school friend’s dad, who showed him his very own electric guitar and gave him some sound advice: “He told me there were no rules you could do anything you wanted with it, you could even play it with your teeth (Jimi Hendrix!!) I became obsessed.” Without a physical guitar, Sean decided to research, read up on and hone his knowledge for the instrument: “I would get different books on guitars out from the library and just look through the pictures. My mum finally gave in and bought me one, I was hooked. This was where I definitely found my passion for music and sound.”

While academics weren’t necessarily something that came naturally to Sean, music seemed to click more easily and he wound up using his new guitar to strum chords and let the music take him where the melody went. He says: “I loved to write my own songs, there was something about making something out of nothing that felt really magical.” 

After school, Sean embarked on a BTEC Music Technology course: “It really helped that I had teachers that were really passionate about what they were teaching. It was great to have access to all the studios and equipment and you really got out of the course what you put in.” He describes the difference between this way of learning, as compared to the academic based system which wasn’t for him. “It also helped that everything was a lot more practical as opposed to being in school, where everything was graded at the end of the year with a written test which I really struggled with. I also went on to Kingston University for a BMus [Bachelors’ in Music], this was where I really fell in love with sound for moving image.”

Following his passion, Sean was a musician after leaving university, which allowed him to travel around the world while making a career out of something he loved. “Touring was something I’d always dreamt of doing when I was a kid and was really important to get out of my system. Playing music every day has definitely helped me with what I do now.” After this period, Sean was determined to become a sound designer: “I really loved the collaborative aspect of working on sound for picture. I was lucky enough to get an interview at Jungle for a runners position which got my foot in the door. From there I got my head down and worked my way up to a sound designer.”

It was at Jungle Studios as a runner, that Sean made sure to continue to challenge himself and develop his craft. He describes using the studio in lunch breaks and after work to curate his very own short films and ‘passion projects’.

“I still love to work on as many passion projects as I can. You are often left to your own devices and given a lot more creative freedom on these sorts of projects allowing you to try different things out.” And through these projects, he collaborates with friends and colleagues in the industry, who share the same drive to create using their skills. 

Continually honing his craft is something that Sean is determined to do as he furthers his career in the industry. By joining Jungle Studios it was clear that attention to detail was prioritised, with ‘an expectation of a high standard’ throughout the entire process. “I can be fairly OCD when it comes to doing pretty much anything so pushing myself for those finer details is what really gets me going,” he says. Falling in line with what he describes as his ‘OCD’ nature, Sean is also ambitious: “I’m always striving to go above and beyond on a project and not just settle for the obvious.” However, he also says, “I do also try to not take myself and life too seriously, ‘A day without laughter is a day wasted’, as Charlie Chaplin put it.”

Initially, Sean began with re-dubbing for Nickelodeon’s Nella the Princess Knight. “It was great fun to work on and I was really excited to see something I’d worked on TV for the first time. It was a great opportunity for me to get super quick with my editing skills, there were always plenty of lines to get through in every session.” And soon, he was working on projects that he felt made his job all the more worthwhile. “I was lucky enough to be involved in a really moving video on mental health for Network Rail. It’s been a really tough couple of years on everyone’s mental health so being a part of something that could make a little bit of difference was really special.”

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With projects evolving and changing day to day, Sean enjoyed the variety he encounters within his job. “There’s no room to be complacent as you need to always be on your toes as you never know what challenges your next project will bring you. I love working with a variety of brilliantly creative people, helping deliver what they are hearing in their head.” But music and sound elements aren’t always appreciated and this is what Sean finds challenging throughout his work: “Sound is pretty much always the last part in the process so it can sometimes be a bit of an afterthought. There can be times when you wish sound had been considered earlier in the project.” 

Consideration for sound is something that tends to get under Sean’s skin, as he feels investment into your TV should align with an investment into sound systems. He says, “So much work goes into sound for both music and film of which people are not able to appreciate. When I first met my girlfriend she would listen to music in her kitchen just through her iPhone speaker. I couldn’t believe it!!” 

With all the time Sean puts into reading, watching videos and listening to podcasts on production and sound, it’s understandable that he’s determined not to see his efforts go to waste. “I’ll even watch films that I’m not necessarily interested in just to listen to the sound mix. There’s always so much to learn and new toys (software) coming out. It’s hard to not get carried away as there’s so much great stuff out there!!”

Sean’s sound design inspiration comes from his peers and colleagues at Jungle Studios, who share ideas and support each other. “We’re always getting together discussing new and different ways of going about things and if someone discovers a new way of doing something it is always shared,” he says. Sean also cites Mark Mangini for his passion and excitement for sound design, which inspires Sean throughout his work. And while being inspired, he’s also inspiring the next generation: “I’m also involved in Jungle’s mentorship scheme. We’re taking a sound design roadshow out to schools to demonstrate the opportunities found in all areas of production to a wider audience – kids who don’t have a friend of a friend in the industry who can give them a leg up!”

Outside of sound and its creation, Sean still has his athleticism, going for runs and to the gym which helps him decompress. Getting out to see some sunshine, he says, is important when you’ve been in the studio all day. He adds: “Apart from listening to music and watching films I love going out for dinner after a busy week at work. I also love to cook for friends and family. There’s no better satisfaction cooking some good food for your friends and them really enjoying it.” And when that’s all said and done, Sean is in the process of renovating his home, trying his hand at DIY and making sure he’s got a sleek finish, hiding all the wires away. 

In his career and generally in life, Sean makes sure to see every day as a fresh start. He says, “I think what motivates me both in work life is to not take any day or opportunity for granted. I know how extremely lucky I am to have a job that I love and great family and friends. As cliche as it may sound I am always striving to learn and better myself every day.”

LBB speaks with Jungle Studios, London Voice Boutique, Sue Terry Voices, Girl&Bear and McCann London to open up the discussion on diversity within voice casting

It is widely acknowledged that consumers are more likely to be influenced by marketing that they relate to. It is natural to be able to connect with something more when we look and sound like the people in the ad. Yet for so many years, the vast majority of voices we hear in the media have been extremely similar. 

After the boom of celebrity, the voice casting industry diversified a little but there is still a long way to go with the demand for more diverse voices in the media higher than ever – especially now that audio-only experiences are fast rising, leading to the need for more voice actors.

But it’s just a simple case of ensuring that there are a range of voices in your marketing – the voices must be represented in an authentic way in order to truly connect with audiences and avoid falling into the trap of sonic racism.

LBB speaks to sound designer Chris Turner and director Allan Johnston from Jungle Studios, founder/agent Stephanie Thompson from London Voice Boutique, managing director Sue Terry from Sue Terry Voices, senior integrated creative producer Doris Tydeman from Girl&Bear (a creative studio from VCCP), and creative directors Rob Webster and Alexei Berwitz from McCann London, about the state of voice casting today.

LBB> In your experience, what are the biggest issues in voice casting at the moment? 

Chris Turner, sound designer, Jungle Studios> I think a common issue is that people often use voice talent they already know and have used before. The closest some come to risk taking with new voice actors, is working their way through the credit list of their new favourite TV programme.

Allan Johnston, director, Jungle Studios> My biggest problem is budgetary. Production budgets are either being cut, or are not rising in proportion, and as a result there is an ongoing and increasing tension when discussing fees with agents. 

Also, there are ongoing ‘availability’ issues within the working-class cohort, meaning that all socio-economic groups are not featured – but this is an industry-wide problem. 

Stephanie Thompson, founder/agent, London Voice Boutique> Interestingly there has been a fantastic shift to a more open approach to casting briefs in the past six months with requests for a much more diverse range of artists. However there is always more that can be done to ensure that the ‘voice over world’ reflects the real world.

Sue Terry, managing director, Sue Terry Voices> Voice casting is much more diverse these days in terms of race and gender and background. We still don’t get a lot of work for older voices but it is better than it was.

Doris Tydeman, senior integrated creative producer, Girl&Bear> It’s hard to pin-point exactly what the main issue in voice casting is at the moment, when there are so many underrepresented voices. In my personal experience, we’re still significantly lacking representation of those who live with disabilities, and the LGBTQIA+ communities. 

It’s important to look at the setting in which the voices appear, and not focus solely on the voice itself. Advertising can often be guilty of reinforcing stereotypes and conventional ways of living, which can mean that those who don’t follow a perceived “traditional” path, can be unrepresented. 

Rob Webster and Alexei Berwitz, creative directors, McCann London> One of the biggest issues is that our industry has historically had the tendency to approach casting in general without taking the deliberate steps to seek out – or push for – the broadest mix of diverse representation in the work we create. This is certainly not a new issue. But, it’s undeniable that we’ve been doing more to hold ourselves accountable to mitigate any bias in the casting process and ensure that the talent we hire, for both visual and audio productions, reflect the diverse culture we serve.

LBB> And why do you think this is still a problem today?

Chris, Jungle Studios> There’s no lack of talent, quite the opposite. Agencies have so many people on their books that finding the right voice can be very time-consuming. The best approach is to give your brief directly to the voice agents and trust them to give you a considered shortlist.

Stephanie, London Voice Boutique> On the casting side there has been a real drive to increase diversity in all sorts of areas from commercials to animation to computer games, and this has meant that agents like me have felt more confident to put forward a wider range of artists for these briefs. I’m also really pleased that in the past year I have been approached by a wider variety of actors that better represent the community we live in. 

Doris, Girl&Bear> I think if we were to look at it simply, people can often be denied opportunities because they haven’t done it before, or because they haven’t typically been seen on screen. We have to make an extremely conscious effort to move away from that.

If we take Nationwide’s Holly McNish advert as an example, she was a new mum, speaking openly and frankly about motherhood. It wasn’t glossy, it wasn’t all smiley, ‘happy moving-in’ day, it spoke truly to a lot of people’s realities. It wasn’t a voice or narrative you would typically expect to hear in advertising, and it was through looking outside of the typical talent pool, and applying a new way of casting, that we found it.  

Rob Webster and Alexei Berwitz, McCann London> We still have so much work to do to ensure we have the depth and breadth of diverse perspectives we can quickly tap into in the office each day, and ensure our casting is equally representative. 

One of the many reasons this is still a problem is that we’ve been trying to solve an issue in a vacuum as opposed to holding both ourselves and each other accountable. We’ve begun taking a more holistic approach to shift the systemic bias that has led us to create through the lens of homogeneity. Our goal is to move from intent to action, and it’s definitely a process that requires collaboration with everyone influencing how and what we create.

LBB> Why do you feel that it is important to have more diversity in voice casting? What impact can it have?

Chris, Jungle Studios> It’s so important, we don’t need to go very far back in time to when all voices in media spoke the Queen’s English or RP. Luckily time has moved on and you find a real cross-section of accents represented now. The impact of choosing the right voice is that with it, you can gain the attention of the very people you’re trying to speak to.

Stephanie, London Voice Boutique> I think it’s important to have more diversity because we need to be a more inclusive society and because what people watch and hear on their screens has a massive influence on their lives. To feel included in society, people need to see themselves represented and kids need to have role models to aspire to. If they hear voices like theirs wherever they get their content, it can boost their confidence in who they are as they grow up. The more diverse voices we hear, the more normal that variety becomes.

Doris, Girl&Bear> Diversity in voice casting is essential, because everyone’s voice is equally important. Advertising is everywhere, and even more so now than ever with social and digital ads. It is very influential, and it’s important to recognise that. Everyone consumes advertising in one way or another, so individuals should be able to see that they are represented. 

The way we cast our Nationwide Voices campaign let’s people tell their own stories. They’re not edited or altered by us, and are authentic to them and their communities. This directly impacts the work, as it gives another perspective, not just that of the advertising creative.


Rob Webster and Alexei Berwitz, McCann London> Advertising and the work we produce has a huge impact on society and culture. The situations and people we portray are seen and heard by millions and as such we have a responsibility to reflect the audience and the rich diverse society we live in. We have a critical responsibility to portray stories that authentically resonate with consumers on behalf of our clients. Making sure that our work is diverse in tone, texture, imagery as well as verbal/non-verbal or auditory cues and signals that transmit messages of inclusion is the only way to deliver the most meaningful work. 

LBB> What efforts do you make to help improve diversity in voice casting?

Chris, Jungle Studios> Well for a start we don’t allocate roles based on gender or ethnicity. If you’re casting someone to be, let’s say, a bank manager, we wouldn’t assume it’s going to be a middle class white man, unless the script is actually poking fun at bank managers in which case it absolutely would be.

Allan, Jungle Studios> I always have an ear out for someone that best reflects diversity. I include in this, socio-economic as well as regional and ethnic accents. And I always make sure that there is an authenticity behind the voice.

Stephanie, London Voice Boutique> We have made a conscious effort at LVB to be more inclusive by updating our website this year to be gender neutral and include preferred pronouns. Voices are cast on their tones and deliveries, rather than their gender. We are also actively increasing racial, socio-economic and regional diversity.

Sue Terry, Sue Terry Voices> We make sure we have a diverse roster of artists and always make sure that our responses to casting briefs have a wide range of ethnic backgrounds.

Doris, Girl&Bear> It’s extremely important that we ensure people from all backgrounds and groups in society are represented inclusively on screen and behind the screen. 

Working hand in hand with our D&I collective, we created a pledge which is included on all casting briefs, which is a great step in ensuring that we’re casting diversely for each campaign. The pledge is an important part of our ‘Be Nice’ policy, which ensures we create in a way which places the planet and humanity first. 

And, for all our internal productions that require cast, at a bare minimum, we adhere to the following:

– We celebrate all forms of diversity. – Where specific characteristics are required for a certain role, care and consideration is taken by everyone to ensure authenticity. – We search for authentic and realistic representation, not tokenism or stereotyping.

Rob Webster and Alexei Berwitz, McCann London> McCann London and Craft have developed a process designed to integrate DE&I principles into the work we make. The first step is to align with our clients on a standard DE&I practice, because, in order to ensure that we are creating the conditions for truly equitable and inclusive work, everyone needs to be joined up.  

We’re also piloting an 8-point plan that’s being rolled out at a global level, that outlines the key tenets for a truly inclusive casting brief. We are constantly reviewing how we can be more inclusive in the work we do and all featured talent including for VO, in addition to all talent we engage for production and agency roles. We have recently declared our support for the APA x BECTU  Commercials Production Diversity Action Plan which aims to build a more inclusive environment on commercial sets. All of this sets us on the right path to move from intent to action. 

LBB> Can you give us any examples of work you have done that included diverse voices? What was that process like and how did you ensure you chose someone authentic to the role?

Chris, Jungle Studios> Some advertisers are really leading the way in diversity, and I’d say that all the people I work with take a very considered approach to the work they’re creating, and who that work is aimed at. TFL and the Government are leading the way with their casting from all groups of society and for how they work up many versions to encompass regional accents and languages.

I’m currently engaged on a project where authenticity is so important that the net for casting is small, remote and very challenging, but I know it will make the finished work so much better.

Allan, Jungle Studios> I recently worked on a children’s TV animation series and suggested to the production that I would like to include regional accents – to be fair I was pushing against an open door. I was able to source most regional accents locally, which obviously helped with licensing, availability and cost. However, a N. W. of England accent was proving problematic. As a result I had to venture to Liverpool to source an 11 year old child with an authentic accent. This made the scheduling trickier, the cost went up, and my workload increased. But in the end, I was very happy with the results, as I’m sure the audience in Liverpool were.

Stephanie, London Voice Boutique> To be honest we find that most of the briefs that we receive are asking for more diverse voices and we find it exciting when some of our actors that may not have had much work before are getting booked for these jobs. We’ve got a range of voices working on Student Rail Card, RAF and Nicorette, to name a few, using voices that would not necessarily have been chosen in previous years.

Doris, Girl&Bear> Whilst there were a lot of things which united people during lockdown, people were also experiencing a huge variety of adjustments to their lives, and our Nationwide “message to myself” campaign looked to showcase that.

By casting not only poets, but also comedians, from all over the UK and from different backgrounds, we received a diverse range of responses, which allowed us to produce a beautiful and representative set of films.

When casting for the Nationwide Voices campaign, we always look at a broad pool of people, and like the Holly McNish example, want to hear experiences which aren’t always shown on screen. 

Rob Webster and Alexei Berwitz, McCann London> This year we created a campaign to promote Just Eat’s sponsorship of Love Island. The TV idents saw little animated lovebirds and geckos commenting on the goings on within the show. As a mass brand with a broad and universal customer base it was essential to make the voice casting appeal to everyone around the UK and also to represent the multiplicity of society. We were looking for comedy actors with regional accents that could bring the characters to life. We cast the net wide to make sure we found distinct and diverse regional accents but also comic talent that could elevate the humour with perfect delivery and timing. 

The lovebirds were played by British female rap artist Lady Leshurr and comic actor Inel Tomlinson, while the geckos were played by Jamali Maddix and Tez Ilyas. All incredibly talented actors who brought a huge amount of improvisational skill to their parts.

LBB> Stephanie and Sue, how do you tend to approach voice casting in general, what things do you take into consideration and how do you source diverse talent?

Stephanie, London Voice Boutique> We pride ourselves on putting the right voices forward for the briefs sent to us. When I was an ad agency producer it was very frustrating if the wrong voices were submitted for consideration. Therefore, my guiding principle as an agent is to put the right voices forward first time.

We get approached daily by actors wanting representation and agents asking us if we would like to meet some of their clients. We don’t want to become a large agency so we only meet with actors that we think fill a gap in the agency. We actively identify gaps and look to fill them with exceptional talent from a wide range of backgrounds.

Sue Terry, Sue Terry Voices> We follow the brief but we ensure a range of diverse voices are suggested. We source all our talent by going to the theatre and seeing live comedy and through our existing talent.

LBB> And when it comes to the actual recording, how do you work with voice artists to encourage them to speak as naturally as possible in terms of their language and tone in order to portray their culture and background in an authentic way?

Stephanie, London Voice Boutique> Although I have a background in producing, we generally aren’t involved in the voice recordings at the studio. We have had to help out on some projects in the past when clients couldn’t attend, and in those cases we would always take direction from a client regarding the delivery of that recording. 

I think in recent years there has become a genuine trend for more ‘real’ and authentic voices which we are now hearing on the screen or radio.

Chris, Jungle Studios> I’ve been in many sessions where a voice has been cast because an ethnic or regional accent is desired and what often happens is that the talent chosen doesn’t naturally have the accent the client thought they would have and either the accent they do have is too neutral to distinguish or they fear too strong for most listeners to comprehend. With ethnic voices, clients often say it’s too ‘street’ or too colloquial. They then try to direct the VO to soften things or push things, both these approaches make me cringe. 

Personally I like to be very direct with the artist and explain why an ethnic or regional voice has been chosen and work with them so they can best deliver an authentic read that isn’t too neutral, too colloquial or worse – phoney. I’m from Sheffield and many times someone has said I can do a Northern accent and many times I’ve laughed in my chair at the result.

Allan, Jungle Studios> Working with children has its own set of challenges. Importantly, you want them to stay focused, while being relaxed and comfortable. Asking them to use their natural voice goes some way in helping them achieve this. So, if you have a desire to include a range of voices and accents, then making sure their voice is authentic will make your job, and in the end theirs, much easier. 

LBB> How have you seen diversity in voice casting develop over the years?

Allan, Jungle Studios> I have definitely seen a big improvement in diversity from when I first started in 1990 – but it should always be seen as work in progress – especially when it comes to the socio-economic challenges. 

Stephanie, London Voice Boutique> When I launched LVB seven years ago there was a much higher demand for ‘30-something’ men and ‘older northern’ ladies voices. Now we get briefs describing a real range of tones and deliveries from the client. This is real progress, and we are excited by the way the industry is moving forward.

Sue Terry, Sue Terry Voices> In the last twenty-two years, briefs have changed a lot. More women get work now and much more ethnically diverse talent.

Rob Webster and Alexei Berwitz, McCann London> Diversity in voice casting, like all areas of advertising, is evolving. Our level of consciousness has become far more elevated, and more recently we are seeing a big shift in the culture and attitude as clients and agencies not only recognise our responsibility to take DE&I casting seriously but take intentional, deliberate action to place it at the top of our agendas and accelerate progress in this area.

LBB> What steps and action do you feel needs to be taken in the coming year to address the issue better and improve diversity in voice casting?

Chris, Jungle Studios> There are still many groups in society who are unrepresented in advertising and diversity needs to get a bit more, you know, diverse. 

Allan, Jungle Studios> It needs the ‘will’ from everyone involved in the process to play their part to promote diversity and help ensure that true representation exists – with those at the top making the loudest noise and driving it. Success might require more time, more money, a willingness to take risks with new talent – but in the end the outcomes far outweigh the risks. 

Stephanie, London Voice Boutique> Personally, as an agent, I wish to continue to find talented voices that are missing from my roster and that would represent an even greater range on our screens or radios. 

Sue Terry, Sue Terry Voices> This is already happening and is much fairer and has been gradually changing for the better over the last five years or so.

Doris, Girl&Bear> I think we need to continue to make a conscious effort to improve, and not to ever feel like the work is done.  Agencies and clients need to continue to push for diversity, and educate their employees on the importance of it. I also think advertising needs to continue to push for a broader diversity of talent from within, to create a truly diverse output.

We recently announced the launch of the VCCP Stoke Academy, which is our most recent initiative to ensure we are making meaningful and measurable difference in tackling the lack of social diversity in our industry. 

At Girl&Bear, our D&I collective runs a brilliant programme of educational talks,  workshops and events, and it’s important for individuals to find out what their agency may be offering, and become active participants in whichever way they can.

It’s up to everyone to take responsibility to ensure that they are challenging stereotypes and pushing for broader representation.

Rob Webster and Alexei Berwitz, McCann London> It would be great for the industry as a whole to take every opportunity to be as intentional as possible in our casting, and hold each other accountable. If the ecosystem of casting agents, production companies, creatives and agencies embrace the behaviour changes as a collective, hopefully we will get to a point soon where diversity is the norm in our work – because it already is in the world.

Object & Animal director Andrew Thomas Huang, Droga5 and the VFX team at Electric Theatre Collective speak to LBB’s Ben Conway about how they used AI and puppetry to turn a classic painting into a rumble in the jungle for Facebook’s ‘Meta’ rebrand

Object & Animal director Andrew Thomas Huang, Droga5 and the VFX team at Electric Theatre Collective speak to LBB’s Ben Conway about how they used AI and puppetry to turn a classic painting into a rumble in the jungle for Facebook’s ‘Meta’ rebrand

The word ‘meta’ is the newest and trendiest buzzword across many industries and walks of life – none more so than in Silicon Valley and other global tech hubs. In a surprise move to some, but perhaps not for the tech-heads of you out there who have witnessed the growing interest in the ‘metaverse’, Facebook rebranded itself to ‘Meta’ – with the hopes of becoming the industry leader in developing the ‘metaverse’. 

To accompany this sudden and seismic rebranding of one of the most recognisable and successful tech companies of the internet age, Droga5, Object & Animal and Electric Theatre Collective partnered up with Meta to produce a spot that introduces the audience to what Meta describes as “the next evolution of social connection”.

The spot follows a group of friends in a museum that discover an Henri Rousseau painting (‘Fight Between a Tiger and Buffalo’) that comes to life – inviting them into a “dimension of imagination” with CG and AI-generated flora and fauna that dances to a rave soundtrack. The animal puppets were designed by Sonny Gerasimowicz – the designer of Spike Jonze’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ creatures – and brought to life by a combination of greenscreens, procedurally generated CG techniques and AI technology.

LBB’s Ben Conway spoke with Object & Animal director Andrew Thomas Huang, Droga5 ECD Thom Glover and the VFX team at the Electric Theatre Collective (ETC) about how you communicate the concept of the ‘metaverse’ when it’s still being created, working on such a significant rebranding project and making flamingos twerk. 

LBB> Andrew, how early in the process did you get involved? And how involved were you in the creative process with Droga5?

Andrew> The creative team at Droga5 came to me with a brief explaining the narrative about college students who become immersed in the world of Henri Rousseau. I wrote my interpretation of the story by imagining the world of Rousseau brought to life using puppetry and AI Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) technology.

We worked quite intimately with Droga5 to build the story and the universe together – everything including casting choices, wardrobe and set design, along with the visual effects techniques and animal designs.

LBB> Did Meta have a brief or a strong idea for the direction, or did you have lots of freedom?

Andrew> Meta’s ultimate vision was to introduce a flat two-dimensional world and expand it to an immersive three-dimensional experience in the metaverse. With this thread in mind, and keeping within the language of Rousseau’s paintings, I felt I had a fair amount of creative flexibility within those parameters.

LBB> As this film launches Facebook’s rebranding, does this present opportunities to do something a bit different or unusual? Does it also come with added pressure?

Andrew> The stakes were certainly high with Meta’s first new brand film. I definitely wanted to do something unusual, which is why we chose puppets to integrate with AI and ended up with a unique result.

LBB> How do you visually communicate ‘the metaverse’? For many, it’s quite a new and difficult to understand concept still – so how did you represent the concept in the film?

Andrew> We tried to tell a simple story about protagonists starting in one world and stepping into an expanded colourful reality. To tell the story, we focused on the idea of immersion, three-dimensionality and agency in a new space. The metaverse is still being built, so we felt we had the freedom to be imaginative.

LBB> Thom, from Droga5’s perspective, why was the decision made to use an Henri Rousseau painting? 

Thom> Henri Rousseau’s work is very evocative. It’s got a kind of magical children’s-picture-book quality to it that makes you want to explore the world of it. But it’s also really flat and two-dimensional, with a really strange perspective. The combination of these things made it perfect for an exploration of: ‘What would it be like in 3-D?’

LBB> The puppet/animal design is fantastic – could you talk about Sonny Gerasimowicz and his designs for this spot?

Andrew> Sonny Gerasimowicz designed the characters in Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. He was a pleasure to work with, and his designs gave so much life, humour and character to the animals in this universe, combining Rousseau’s sensibilities and his own. I loved working with him.

LBB> Could you talk us through how you brought the jungle and the animals to life? How did Electric Theatre Collective get involved? 

Andrew> I reached out to puppeteer Michelle Zamora, who runs a collective called Viva La Puppet in Los Angeles, to fabricate the animals and bring Sonny’s designs to life. We filmed the puppets on a green screen and then worked with Electric Theatre Collective to design an AI workflow, using Rousseau’s paintings as source information for machine learning. The end results you see are the live-action animals treated with AI technology to render them in the style of Rousseau’s paintings. 

ETC used a Python script to generate source material for the AI aggregate and ‘learn’ what Henri Rousseau’s painting style looked like. As the AI gathered more source material, it was able to take any footage we shot and graft Henri Rousseau’s painterly style onto our footage. We told the computer to ‘make like Rousseau’ in Python script in order for the AI to translate our footage

ETC> The jungle scenes were all created using procedural plant generation tools in Houdini. Many of the original tools were designed to create real-world plant structures, so a lot of the upfront R&D was in styling the output of these systems to deliver recognisably Rousseau-style vegetation. This was about acquainting ourselves with the subject matter and picking out the signature styles from a collection of Rousseau’s paintings. Because we were relying heavily on AI to contribute to the final look, beyond the layout and modelling of the jungle, our rendering style was fairly basic, as we found that the AI responded better to simple, recognisable shapes and colours.

Many of the animals were live-action puppets, but for the toucans and snakes, we had to build new computer-generated creatures within the same style parameters set down by Sonny in his concept designs, and then animate them as if they too were puppets. We used a combination of key-framed and simulated movement to keep the CG animals feeling physical and in sync with the other puppets.

All the puppets were shot on a green screen – and although keying and rotoscoping these off to combine with backgrounds would be fairly standard stuff – in this case, the addition of AI complicated things as the edges of the puppets would change constantly and unpredictably with each AI iteration. So the project became a multistage process to keep all the elements usable and blended together within the same painterly style.

LBB> Could you elaborate a little more on the “machine-learning artificial intelligence techniques”? And did they pose any interesting challenges?

ETC> There is a huge wealth of knowledge and resources out there in the public domain regarding AI generative tools. Our challenge was to find suitable techniques that could not only deliver the creative results required but also be controllable enough to work to a brief and be scalable enough to work within a VFX pipeline. We applied a mixture of processes from GAN Python libraries to new machine learning tools built into the latest versions of our compositing software. Some AI tools attempt to copy given source images, and others take simple text input to generate original content based on pre-trained machine learning models. 

In the end, our most promising results came from an algorithm that simply took a text input, and we fed the line ‘A Henri Rousseau painting’ into the prompt. It sounds almost too simple to be true, but there was a lot more to it, to create the output that would work across all the different scenes.

LBB> How was the production process? Were there separate shoots with the puppets and the ‘museum’ cast?

Andrew> From pitch to completion, it took about six weeks (an extremely accelerated timeline). We built the gallery on a sound stage in LA and shot the ‘real world’ with actors and the puppets on green screen, over the course of three production days. The cast was a delight to work with, and we played ‘90s rave music to get them in the spirit of the film. The puppeteers were also fantastic to work with, and the puppets Michelle and her team made kept us all laughing on set. It was a blast.

LBB> Is there anything you learned from the project?

Andrew> This was my first time using machine learning to create an aesthetic for a spot, and I was amazed and spooked by the accuracy of the AI when it was given simple text commands to recreate the style of an artist making work over 100 years ago. I also learned that, with the right rigging, you can make puppets do anything, including making a flamingo twerk. 


ETC> We learned many new and interesting things about the world of AI generative content creation that don’t normally factor in our VFX workflows, in which most challenges have well-established workflows and paths to success. Taking on a creative project using the power of AI to deliver the results, in such a tight turnaround, takes a huge leap of faith and collaboration from all involved. Everyone had to be open to the idea that there would be some things we could control and others we could not, and to embrace the happy accidents. The director and creative team were incredibly supportive and collaborative on this journey.

LBB> Everything in the ‘metaverse’ painting seems to be vibrating and moving with the beat of the song – was this intentional and how did you achieve this?

Andrew> Yes, this was intentional. I wanted the whole universe to feel alive, chattering and bouncing. The AI was intentionally designed to give the jungle that painterly frame-by-frame boiling effect, similar to ‘80s rotoscope techniques in Enya and Pat Benatar music videos. We spent time making the CG bananas, leaves and trees move to the music along with the animals. 

LBB> Were you involved in the editing process? What was the style and creative direction in terms of editing?

Andrew> Yes, we worked with editor Andy McGraw at Cartel to craft the edit for the film. He was a pleasure to work with, and we worked closely together to design the film into a three- act journey of discovery, immersion and final climax.

LBB> What was the most difficult challenge you faced on this project?

Andrew> I think designing puppets in such a short time and creating the AI look was unprecedented for us. Combining a traditional technique with a new one, in which there is a chaos factor, was risky but rewarding in the end.

ETC> The two most significant challenges were taking these nuggets of AI wizardry that were often intended to be run as curiosities on simple websites for generating individual low-resolution images and then building seamless tools into our VFX pipeline and enabling artists, who knew little to nothing about coding and machine learning, to operate these tools easily and at scale using our in-house computing power.

The other challenge was in taking the output of these processes and applying traditional compositing techniques to blend CG-generated content and live-action content, while both preserving and also controlling the irregularities introduced by the AI.

LBB> Do you have anything else to add about this project?

Andrew> It was a delight to work with the creative team at Droga5 and Meta marketing and creative. My hats off to them, specifically Mike Hasinoff, Thom Glover, George and Tom McQueen, Sarah Karabibergain, Benjamin Hinamanu and Deepa Joshi. It was also a real pleasure to work with the ETC’s leading team: Simon French, Ryan Knowles, Dan Yargaci and Antonia Vlasto. 

Additionally, I want to give a shout to my team at Object & Animal: EPs Emi Stewart, James Cunningham, Morgan Clement, Dom Thomas and Justin Benoliel, plus my terrific producer Stine Moisen, editor Andy McGraw at Cartel, music supervisor Sunny Kapoor at Curation Music, sound designer/mixer Ed Downham at King Lear and my crew: DP Andrew Yuyi Truong and production designer Evaline Wu Huang.


Jungle’s sound designer Alex Wilson-Thame takes us behind the scenes of STAMMA’s impactful spot, ‘Help Put Us On Bloody TV’, shedding light on the lack of diverse voices in the media

As part of their latest campaign, UK charity STAMMA has released a spot highlighting the need for more diverse voices on television. Featuring a speech-impaired voice actor, the ad urges viewers to sign the petition and help get more stammering voices on TV.

Managing to intertwine the campaign’s serious motif with elements of humour, Jungle Studios sound designer Alex Wilson-Thame is interviewed by LBB on the voice casting process and importance of sound within the spot.


LBB> What were your initial creative thoughts when the client approached you with the brief?

Alex Wilson-Thame> Honestly, I was so pleased when Daniel Liakh (director) and Joseph Walker (producer) started the conversation with me about this project. It sounded bonkers on paper but they had me at: “SO, we start with penis rockets…” It was great to see that STAMMA was willing to make something so out of the ordinary in terms of promotional material!

There was a fine balance between not making it sound too dark, whilst adding funny little sound bites to create more depth in the scenes. What’s more, everything had to work together to make sure dialogue was at the forefront, cutting a fine balance between SFX, VO and the very delectable music track re-arranged by ‘Tock’ out in Kiev.

LBB> Voiceover plays a prominent role in this ad. How did you go about the voice casting process, finding the right fit – and how did you land on the final choice?

Alex> The voiceover, Paul, is a long-standing member of STAMMA. His tone and delivery were just perfect for the film – it was humble and honest. It was also his first time ever doing a voiceover but hopefully due to his performance and the petition it won’t be his last!

LBB> Did you need to approach the voiceover work any differently due to the nature of the ad?

Alex> Not at all, we just let Paul read. We are so used to over-processed and overly ‘perfect’ voiceovers on all media that we consume, that it was nice to allow breathing room for ‘imperfections’. And more so, not as a parody or ironically, but a genuine performance as a whole take, rather than a thousand versions of the same line, only to end up with Take 1 or Take 2.

LBB> How did you approach the balance between doing the cause justice while incorporating moments of entertainment and humour? 

Alex> Due to the nature of this piece and how accepting STAMMA was as a client, the team really let everyone spread their wings, so the humour was in the bag from the off! But to strike that moment of serious amongst the entertaining, I feel that’s really captured in the VO’s performance. Although the script is ‘out there’, due to the unique nature of hearing Paul’s voice on the film, I feel it really draws you in and makes you pay attention to the message of the piece.

LBB> Have you ever worked with diverse voice talent with speech impediments such as this before?

Alex> Before working on this film sadly I have to say that, similar to Paul (voiceover), this was in fact my first time working with a voice artist with a stammer. So that screams to me how under-represented people with stammers are in the media.

I believe that for brands to be accessible for all people, there needs to be an expansion of diversity in every regard when it comes to VO and casting – which as of late is happening more and more, so that’s positive movement, and hopefully this film gives more food for thought.

LBB> What were some of the creative or technical challenges you encountered sound wise? 

Alex> Creating the sound of the lighter fluid bottle towards the end, without making the foley booth a fire hazard was a challenge – I had to find a specific bottle that sounded like I wanted it to… This turned out to be Tesco’s Finest Balsamic Vinegar. 

Although, after a few shakes of it, the booth stank and things got a bit sticky, so we had to decant the vinegar and replace it with a much more nos- friendly liquid – water. 

Also, a very specific white bread brand really helped get that ‘claggy’ wet chewing sound (it didn’t do my minimal carb daily intake any favours though!).

LBB> Looking at the finished product, what would you say you are most proud of? 

Alex> That it actually happened! It was great that STAMMA was so accepting towards whatever we made, I love how weird and wonderful it is.

LBB> What was your favourite thing about working on this brief?

Alex> Firstly, it’s great to work on something that is truly aimed for good and to make a difference. Secondly, the team involved were a dream so I couldn’t ask for more in a project!

LBB> As well as being an informative advert for the public, has creating this film built your own awareness?

Alex> I have to say it has. I definitely gained more of an understanding of hurdles and conceptions just from chatting and working with the director in the sessions, which was enlightening and humbling.

LBB> How do you hope to see diversity in voice casting improve in the coming years?

Alex> Well, I certainly hope to see VOs from all walks of life through my studio’s doors. I think the more of these campaigns that are willing to show diversity in their casting of voices and not class it as a ‘risk’, can only improve things. Don’t worry you’ll still be able to sell your cars and your chocolate bars!

Object & Animal’s Andrew Thomas Huang teams up with Droga5 New York on new spot

Object & Animal’s Andrew Thomas Huang has teamed up with Meta (formerly Facebook) and Droga5 NY on the new film ‘The Tiger & The Buffalo’.

The creative shows a group of art students exploring a museum when they are drawn into a new 3D reality in a way they never expected. A Henri Rousseau painting – Fight Between a Tiger and Buffalo – bursts into life, revealing a world of lush vegetation, distant planets, raving flamingos and bears. 

The story of the fight between a tiger and buffalo comes to life through the lens of Andrew Thomas Huang, a Grammy-nominated Los Angeles-based artist and filmmaker known for his iconic visual style and collaborations with Bjork, FKA twigs and Thom Yorke among others.

With Andrew’s creative oversight and characters designed by Sonny Gerasimowicz, who designed the Wild Things in Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, the team built a cast of puppets and combined them with machine learning artificial intelligence techniques that synchronise to illustrate the warm and welcoming nature of the metaverse. 

To craft this immersive experience, Object & Animal partnered with Electric Theatre Collective to develop a process using AI machine learning to treat the live-action animal puppets and connect them with the 3D CG environments they inhabit, then render everything in a style-inspired by Henri Rousseau.VIEW MORE – CREATIVE

LBB speaks to Pearl & Dean, VCCP and Jungle Studios to explore the incredible impact that cinema advertising can hold, and how brands and marketers can benefit

From the latest James Bond in No Time To Die to Marvel Studios’ Eternals and sci-fi adventure Dune, the cinema is showing great signs of a big return. And with the return of film, comes the return of the cinema ad – something that consumers react far more positively to than other forms of advertising, as reported in 2020 research undertaken by Kantar.

In their study, consumers reported finding cinema advertising ‘fun and entertaining’ and ’good quality’ compared to other formats. They also said that cinema ads avoid some of the common advertising pitfalls of being ‘too intrusive’ and ‘dull’ with ‘excessive ad volume’.

Looking at the data, it is no surprise then that advertisers have flocked back to cinema in order to take advantage of its impressive offerings. In fact, according to data from Digital Cinema Media (DCM), advertiser demand for Bond was extremely high, with a record number of forward bookings and brands looking to take advantage of the commercial opportunities associated with the film.

With cinema preparing to bounce back after the effects of the pandemic, and audience appetite for film higher than ever, what can brands and marketers be doing in order to capture audience attention and make an impact? How do you craft an ad that matches the epic experience and quality of cinema?

To find out, LBB’s Sunna Coleman speaks to Pearl & Dean’s Catherine Ferguson (Group Head) and Cristina Duffy (Group Head and Film Specialist), VCCP Media’s Simon Jenkins (Joint Chief Strategy Officer) and Sam Oates (Senior Broadcast Manager), and Jungle Studios’ Ben Leeves (Creative Director) and Alex Wilson-Thame (Sound Designer).

LBB> Cinema is making a big return, with plenty of blockbusters hitting our screens. How have you seen marketers responding to this? 

Catherine Ferguson, Group Head, Pearl & Dean> In my 10 years at Pearl & Dean I’ve never known us to have so many campaigns on air at once – our brand count in October was huge! No Time To Die has been pivotal for attracting the 45+ audiences back to cinema, the demographic who have been the slowest to return since lockdown ended. In fact, data from Odeon reveals that 50% of audiences have cited Bond as their first cinematic experience post lockdown.

Simon Jenkins, Joint Chief Strategy Officer, VCCP Media> No Time To Die was undoubtedly a big moment for the industry – selling out well in advance of air date, and setting new box office records for opening weekends. This was a big reminder to the marketing world about the role cinema can still play on advertiser’s plans when they’re producing the best content.

Alex Wilson-Thame, Sound Designer, Jungle> As soon as cinemas reopened, we saw an uptake in both cinema commercial and trailer bookings, and even more so now there are more films being released and audience confidence and attendance has risen.

LBB> Research has shown that consumers are more positive about the adverts at the cinema – why do you think this is?

Cristina Duffy, Group Head and Film Specialist, Pearl & Dean> Pearl & Dean commissioned a study called The Happiness Project, which examined how cinema impacted viewers’ moods. It focused on how positivity and stress-free environments make brand messaging resonate so much more. People craving shared experiences means the cinema is still such a treat, especially in post-Covid times. 

Catherine, Pearl & Dean> The cinema is a media sanctuary where you can properly switch off from all the noise and the online world especially. It provides a rare opportunity to slow down, relax and immerse yourself in great storytelling and escapism, which we need more than ever. For this reason, cinema goers arrive at the cinema in a positive frame of mind and that’s why they are so embracing of the advertising as part of the cinema experience, in fact 80% of people say they make sure they are seated before anything is shown on screen (Film Audience Measurement and Evaluation, 2019/2020). 

Unlike other forms of advertising such as TV and social, there are zero distractions in cinema so viewers are more receptive to the advertising and likely to remember it. For example, cinema is six times more effective than YouTube at generating unprompted ad recall and 15 times more powerful than Facebook at boosting brand preference (Brand Benefits Study, 2018). So there is an opportunity right there for brands to capitalise on.

Simon, VCCP Media> We’re living in a world where consumers are connected by social media, where creative teams are increasingly building advertising campaigns to create consumer reaction and unlock earned media. Moreover, ‘attention’ seems to be the hot currency in advertising right now. The simple theory; media is worth more if it commands more consumer attention. Surely, cinema is unbeatable in this respect. If ever a medium was built to win in the ‘attention economy’, it must be cinema. This should provide the industry a great marketing opportunity for 2022.

Sam Oates, Senior Broadcast Manager, VCCP Media> No other form of advertising beats the rich AV experience that cinema can deliver. This is heightened if the content that is being delivered has been deliberately built for a big screen. Plus, cinema now comes with the added benefit of physical / social experience – something that we appreciate more than ever, following Covid.

Alex, Jungle>
 I think the positive reception is all down to consumers being in the correct mindset for receiving audio and visual stimuli. Just being at the cinema, there is anticipation and excitement for the film to begin – commercials playing before a film catches people in prime excitement, so you are more likely to evoke memory recall and engagement.

LBB> What do brands need to consider when planning for a cinema ad?

Cristina, Pearl & Dean> Cinema provides an optimal, dream-like scenario for advertisers where they have more creative freedom and create long-form cinematic content showcased on a huge screen with surround sound. Brands should also think beyond the screen though, the average dwell time in foyers is 17 minutes so there are many opportunities for brands to integrate into that via experiential stunts or sampling in the foyer. 

A bespoke partnership creates added value for both the brand and consumer. For example, a free product sample of a luxury ice cream in the cinema environment is going to hit different to receiving a sample at a train station whilst you’re on the go. 

Catherine, Pearl & Dean> The big screen deserves big ideas! Brands should regard the cinema like a stage and put on a show for the audience. You want to make your creative as bespoke to cinema or relevant to film as possible. Ultimately, I think if a brand can augment their cinema ad to reference cinema in some way it will feel more personalised to the audience and enhance their experience of the advertising reel.

Simon, VCCP Media> Just like any other media channel, there needs to be a really clear role for cinema advertising on the communications plan. Cinema is an expensive channel on a CPT basis, compared to other paid media, but it also brings lots of unique benefits. Such benefits include regional precision and the ability to engage certain audiences, notably hard-to-reach younger segments. Crucially, cinema brings impact to the plan, which makes it great for launches, or for brands who want to grab attention and make a statement.Increasingly, brands should also think about the wider immersive commercial opportunities (beyond the big screen) that cinema offers. Few other media offer such a rich 360 degree consumer experience.

Sam, VCCP Media> High production quality is highly recommended to maximise on your media investment. That includes everything from a visual solution which will stand-up on a big screen, to the need to consider sound design to truly maximise the benefits of the ultimate viewing environment. 

LBB> Ben and Alex, how is the craft of cinema mixing different for cinema ads compared to TV/radio ads?

Ben Leeves, Creative Director, Jungle> If a brand is purely producing a cinema only mix, it’s really worth thinking about how you can use the volumes and power to bring another level to the ad. You have a captive audience, a big screen and lots of speakers! Mixing for cinema is a much more immersive experience. You should play with the relationship of the space and volumes, subs and surrounds.

Alex, Jungle> When mixing for cinema it enables a whole new level of dynamism and depth, not being restricted to just ‘left and right’, it really allows you to expand your mix in new ways and give clarity to some elements that could get lost in your standard TV mix. 

With formats from 5.1 up to even more immersive formats such as Dolby Atmos or DTS-X you can really hone the position of audio elements to give the viewer a more engaging experience. Plus it’s lovely knowing the audience will be watching the content in a proper environment, with proper speakers and level – rather than patiently waiting for that five second skip button to appear.

LBB> Catherine and Cristina, what important place does cinema advertising hold in the wider media landscape?

Catherine, Pearl & Dean> Cinema is the original social media and we are all social beings at the end of the day. We belong together and cinema creates a rare space for that to occur and for people to have a collective, shared experience. 

Cinema is eight times more impactful than TV in that it’s more memorable and recalled more than any other AV media. Strong recall means cinema advertising can drive brand conversations. Cinema generates strong word of mouth as 1 in 5 frequent cinema goers are conversation catalysts. 

Cristina, Pearl and Dean> Cinema is a traditional medium and remains popular for audiences who return time and time again. Even with the introduction of TV and digital streaming, cinema has maintained its relevance and we still engage with it in the same way as we did 70 years ago. It’s got a unique nostalgia for people, who can remember going to the cinema as a child with their parents, or to see their first film with friends or on a date. It holds a significant emotional value in our lives, transcends age groups and that is what gives it such an important place in the media landscape for advertisers. 

LBB> What cinema ads have you personally enjoyed and why?

Cristina, Pearl & Dean> One of my all time favourites were the Orange adverts in the early 2000s. They had the gold spot in the ad reel and really made the most of this heightened positioning. When you went to the cinema, you always saw a different one, it was bespoke. A telecoms brand owning the turn off your phone message was iconic. 

Catherine, Pearl & Dean> Agent Provocateur’s cinema ad Proof from 2001 featuring Kylie Minogue was quite a ground-breaking cinema ad when it launched and has often been voted the best cinema advert of all time. It’s a great example of how a brand can tailor their creative to the cinema environment as happens when Kylie breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses the men in the audience, making it feel quite cheeky and interactive. 

Ben, Jungle> I’m showing my age, but Barcardi Auntie Beryl from the early 90s has stayed with me. Mainly because it was a cinema only ad, so you only saw it there. I thought the Orange gold spot ads (gold spot, being the last ad right before the film) were fantastic, and I had the chance to mix the original EE Kevin Bacon Gold Spot ads which were great to be involved in.

Alex, Jungle> I am really liking the Green & Blacks commercial – I think visually it is very clever and engaging. Audio wise it has a visceral energy to it that hits you in the face or more specifically your ears – it has the crunchy top end in frequency and it has the booming bass, with a lot of movement. So the full package!  

LBB> Have you noticed any trends in cinema advertising this year? Or predictions for 2022? 

Catherine, Pearl & Dean> The market is incredibly short term right now given the ongoing situation with Covid. However, we have noticed more brands looking to be more strategic with how they use cinema, opting for more localised approaches where possible and also exploring how they can innovate on screen creatively ‘beyond the traditional AV spot’.

Cristina, Pearl & Dean> We predict that 2022 will be a very strong year for cinema with the AA forecasting 123% uplift in ad spend. The film slate is so busy already with at least one blockbuster a month. Family and comic book releases are particularly strong. No Time To Die has created a much needed wave of momentum for audiences and brands returning to the big screen and so we expect that to carry through to 2022.

Simon, VCCP Media> Cinema advertising has lots of reasons to be cheerful in 2022, and beyond. The currency of ‘attention’ will continue to be a hot topic. This is likely to signal a return of ‘quality over quantity’ when it comes to selecting publishers for media schedules – and this should stand cinema in excellent stead.

Plus advertiser demand is rapidly returning to the wider marketplace post Covid, and at significant levels. WARC recently reported we are about to see record ad spend in Q4 2021 which, again, must be good news for cinema – typically the first channel to be cut from media plan when budgets are lean. If the picture houses, studios and film distributors can find mutually beneficial ways of working, theatrical releases can be protected, and the slate continues to rebound.

Sam, VCCP Media> The big concern for distributors is the popularity of premium video on demand as studios move straight to in-home subscription platforms for big releases. It looks like the days of the ‘three month theatre exclusives’ are numbered, with many subscribers prepared to pay to watch at home.

Cinema will have plenty of doomsayers, not unlike linear TV, but it’s important to remember that the two years prior to Covid-19 were DCM’s best ever years for total admissions. The ability to watch releases at home will undoubtedly affect the box office figures for theatrical releases, but it could bolster people’s love of the movies generally. 

The industry needs to make the most of this, with more marketing reminding consumers that nothing beats the big screen, and that it’s worth paying the premium for a richer, fuller theatrical experience.