Foley Recording: A Misunderstood Art

January 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm Leave a comment

To really delve into the filmmaking process, educators should consider teaching the basics of film sound effects. Creating your own effects in the classroom can be completely interactive and fun.

In fact, most students are not aware of where these sounds truly come from or who is responsible for creating them: The Foley artists are. They are the sorcerers of sound and the heroes behind what we hear, and if it wasn’t for them, movies would not have any sound effects. The foley artist ā€” one of the most critical, yet underappreciated links of the filmmaking chain ā€” is relatively an unknown artist to today’s movie goers.

And They Said Talking Pictures Would Never Catch On

You probably know the basics:

Foley art was named after the great Universal Studios sound man Jack Foley for his ability to match live sound effects with the action in the picture. In L.A., while working at the studio’s Stage 10 as a props assistant (among other things), Jack Foley got his first experience dabbling in the new medium known as “talkies.”

Showboat was his initial triumph, and it immediately made him an in-demand soundman. By 1967, Foley worked on literally hundreds of films and walking, by his own estimate, 5,000 miles doing sound effects for film footsteps. His name will live through sound history, and deservedly so.

Today’s foley artists still paint with sound. Every sound in today’s big budget films is dubbed. Foley artists even recreate actual movements in an enhanced way. That includes everything an actor touches or effects, and these sounds are known as Specifics.

From face punches to body falls, Specifics take a lot of work and practice. Next time you watch a scene from your favorite film, listen for all the incidental sounds and you will get the picture.

What are we really hearing?

In reality, however, what we think we hear, and what we are actually hearing are two completely different things. Foley artists get creative to make the audio of a film better than reality.

Here are some common sound effects and what you are actually hearing:

  • Thunderstorm: Shaking a metal or steel plate.
  • Batman’s cape: Shaking a leather jacket and thick fabric
  • Hummingbird: Feather hitting a spinning bicycle wheel
  • Breaking bones: Snapping celery
  • Knife Slice: Cantaloupes and watermelons being cut
  • Walking in snow: Stepping on crunchy cereal
  • Car crash: Breaking drinking glasses
  • Walking up stairs: Tiptoeing on wooden floor
  • Horses galloping: Tapping cracked coconut shells in sand
  • Echoing in cave: Recording inside tin trash can
  • Fire: Crinkling cellophane
  • Ice in drink: Pearls in water
  • Robots: Whisk and bottle opener

Create your own foley studio

Interested in creating your own foley studio? Sure it is easy to just go find a sound effect that might work in your film, but by creating it yourself, you will get it just right!

You will need many props for your specific tracks. It’s impossible to say what you will need until you see the film, and as time goes by, you will add to your collection (if you have space!).

Garbage day is a great day to collect some of best props from the stuff people throw out: old bicycles, doors, sinks, wood, metal, desks, etc. Flea markets and The Salvation Army Family Thrift Stores also offer a treasure trove of fun and interesting stuff to listen to.

It doesn’t matter what something looks like, but what it sounds like! Collecting props can be an occupational hazard for foley artists, but it is also fun! You will need a track for each specific sound. Some tracks last the whole length of the scene (snow crunch or lapping water) while some effects are very short (a match strike or a punch), so planning the tracks is very important.

You will need to select the appropriate props as they are seen in the film. Each prop is your instrument and you must learn to play to create the sound you need.

Break each action into layers of sound. If an actor is walking, then perform the sound of the match movement as the actor puts one foot in front of the other. There is no reason it has to be done all at once or on the same track because you are trying to get the best sound.

Remember, do not try to match the visual of the prop, but rather the sound. Audio tape sounds just like grass (without the mess and fuss) but it doesn’t look like it. Understanding how things sound and storing these records in your head for future films is the way a Foley artist must think. Play around with objects and combinations to see what neat sounds they make.

To test your foley skills, try replacing the audio on an existing film scene. Take one to two minutes of a favorite scene, preferably an action sequence, and recreate the audio with things you have found. You will be surprised at how everyday objects can give you exactly the sound you want.

With all the Specifics in place and your own homemade effects, you should have a complete sounding track! Every nuance, every subtle action should be covered so well that it sounds like the original, only more animated and larger than life.


Entry filed under: OneSeventeen Media, Young Minds Digital Times. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

And The Winner Is…. 19 Days and Counting

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