CAMPAIGN SCREEN: Music and Sound Design - Production. BT strikes a chord

The creative team behind the soundtrack for BT broadband's epic ad had to create the right mood as well as fit the right sounds to visuals. Camilla Palmer finds out how they did it.

When the St Luke's creative directors, Al Young and Julian Vizard, first envisioned their feature film-style ad for BT broadband, they both had a clear idea of what sound and music to team up with such vivid visuals.

"The ad is about the infinite possibilities of broadband, and as well as wanting to portray this in a blockbuster style visually, we knew we really needed some original music to frame the action. The score was incredibly important from day one," Young says.

Joby Talbot, the composer, Young Musician of the Year, and former member of The Divine Comedy, who was brought in to develop and fine-tune such a piece of music, agrees. He began the first of a "million and one rewrites" in the spring, after being hired for the job on the strength of his score for the BBC comedy series The League of Gentlemen, as well as his Divine Comedy legacy and countless orchestral projects.

"The possibility of using an existing piece of music was explored, but in order to aurally illustrate the action on the screen, an original composition which matched the blockbuster aspirations of the ad was called for. We wanted to help create a fantasy with an epic feel," he says.

Talbot began writing the music before the director, Garth Jennings, and the production company, Hammer & Tongs, swung into action with the shoot in April. After a period of isolation, working out the basic melody and orchestration, Talbot hooked up with the Soundtree director, Pete Raeburn, who has worked on ads for Levi's and Guinness, among others, to develop the finer details of the composition in the studio.

It was during this time that the long-standing professional relationship between Talbot, Jennings, Raeburn, Vizard and Young proved invaluable.

"We were all in agreement in terms of genre and impact," Raeburn laughs.

"But it was a process of laborious tweaking and rewriting, co-ordinating what was on the manuscript with what was on camera, and was a real adventure."

Before a frame had been shot, Talbot was able to compose round the action shown on the storyboards, leaving room for the main character, the BT engineer Dave, his dialogue which peppers the ad, and the sound effects which would be created by Wave Studio's team of engineers, headed by Warren Hamilton, who worked on the BT "amphitheatre" ad by St Luke's.

Hamilton was briefed following the shoot, and began work on the sound design while looking at a rough cut of the longest, two-minute ad, albeit without the computer-generated elements. "Not only did we have to fit the right sounds to the visuals, but we also had to create the right mood," he says. The opening scene, showing the BT workers reacting to the trembling ground and erupting broadband geyser, is a good example of this. The scene starts with barely a sound, but builds to a crescendo within seconds.

The fact that the CG characters had yet to be built by The Mill's 20-strong effects team meant that Hamilton was also formulating key chunks of the background sound to, well, nothing. "The Tekken scene was interesting.

I had some visual prompts, just as the CG technicians did, but marrying the sounds of fighting, impact, people's shouts with the action was a big task."

While Hamilton was clogging up Wave's server with the volume of work needed for the project, Talbot and Raeburn were preparing to record the score with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with the orchestrator and conductor Chris Austin. "We wanted to tap into the camaraderie which exists between players who know each other well," Talbot comments.

Two three-hour sessions were enough to record the main score and different arrangements for the 90-second, two 60-second and five 30-second branding ads.

Conveying the drama of the ads through sound within such a short space of time was also a challenge for the team. "We had five seconds of air time for the dragon - one of the biggest visual elements of the ad," Talbot says.

Hamilton estimates that 80 per cent of the soundtrack he prepared wasn't used in the final cut, but shrugs it off as par for the course. What did remain, however, were the goofy sounds of the dragon, which Vizard and Young perfected themselves.

Despite the time and cost the pair are delighted. "It works perfectly to add to the scale of the commercial. The originality of all the elements adds to the commercial offering of the spot too - it's not just about the fantastic production values, it has to do a job too," Young says.

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