The Foley Artist

What Is Foley Art?

Foley is a unique sound effect technique that involves creating and “performing” everyday sounds for movies and television shows. Foley artists create these sounds in a recording studio during post-production, in synchrony with the picture, to enhance the quality of the audio. Foley sound got its name from Jack Foley, the sound effects artists who developed and shaped the technique.

Foley effects work both with and to replace the film sound recorded on set, which is known as the field recording. Most scenes use a combination of field recordings and foley effects.


The Origins of Foley Art

The origins of Foley come from the live broadcast era of the 1920s. Radio studios would hire sound artists to create the effects live on cue and improvise with the radio host during broadcasts.

One of the pioneers and most recognized names in the broadcast world was Jack Foley. Jack Foley was the first sound artist to break into the film industry, innovate sound for film, and pioneer the techniques that foley artists still use to this day.

What Do they Do?

Foley artists reproduce everyday sounds like waves crashing, rain coming down, cars passing by, punches, kicks, wind blowing, doors slamming, and other ambient sounds. This is one small part of the post-production process that creates a film or T.V show.

Where and how?

A post production house is typically where you will find what you call a foley stage. Foley stages are typically large recording studios equipped with thousands of objects, textures, and surfaces known as foley pits that artists use to recreate the sounds to the film. The first step for a foley artists is to watch the entire film, note what sounds they’ll need to produce in every scene, and gather the necessary props and materials from the studio’s warehouse or storage area.

Historically, foley artists recorded sound effects for a film by improvising one long take while projecting the film. Fortunately, with current technology, foley artists can do multiple takes, and further edited and/or enhance the sound with various types of audio software known as DAW’s, (digital audio workstations).

Foley methods

Following are some of the most common methods of foley sound:

  1. Feet: Also known as foot falls, footsteps are one of most common sounds that a foley artist creates, hence the term foley walkers. Footsteps are actually difficult to map to a scene when you factor in the following, different types of shoes, the actor’s size and floor surfaces, so artists use various types of shoes and surfaces so they can recreate steps from any type of scene that is thrown at them.
  2. Movement: Basic sounds like the someone sitting down and grabbing a wallet from their bag can create a feeling that enhances a scene. You would be surprised how subtle sounds like a deep breath can make the biggest difference in a film.
  3. Specifics: Specifics are any sounds that are not movement or footfalls, such as a sword swinging or a door slamming. Or for example the roar of Godzilla, originally created by Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl and Japanese composer Akira Ifukube who used a musical instrument to create the original shriek that we all know. 21

What Happens During a Foley Recording Session?

Foley artists, or foley walkers use unconventional and unexpected methods to recreate natural-sounding audio. In a typical recording session, objects used for a scene can range from car doors and glass to beans and grass. They record in real time while watching each scene of the film to make sure that the sounds are properly synced with visuals.

This means that if there is a scene where a woman runs into a marble floor building from the pouring rain, the foley artists create the sound of rain outside with any other objects passing by such as cars, people traffic lights, the door opening and closing, footsteps on marble floor with the character’s type of shoes. Foley artists also consider what other background noises to capture, such as the muttering of crowds, bikers passing by, groups walking, kids playing etc. These sounds would typically be captured in field recordings while shooting the scene, but will be enhance and/or recreated during the foley portion of post-production.

Recreating some sounds can be fairly simple, like chewing on gum, since the foley artists can re-produce that sound by just doing a mundane thing like chewing on gum. However, some sounds can be incredibly complicated, and the foley artists and team must think of innovative, outside of the box approaches to recreate them. Sometimes the everyday objects in front of us can create multiple soundscapes such as beans to create crashing waves, rain falling, or walking through snow. Or taking a microphone and recording various objects like electronic equipment and layering the sounds, such as the infamous lightsaber sound from a little film called Star Wars.

Young warrior holding a lightsaber on a dark background

How Foley Enhances A Film

Some of the main reasons for foley:

  1. Bringing life to a film or TV show. You would be surprised how subtle sounds such as birds chirping in the background, cars passing by, the wind blowing or a sigh from a character will subconsciously create an immersive experience. If you even sit back and close your eyes, you will hear all of the life surrounding you. Even what we would consider the silent moments have sound. The most effective foley sounds are the subtle, natural and real life sounds that the audience does not even notice.
  2. Immersive sounds. As mentioned prior, sound is a key element an immersive experience to the viewer. Sound effects create a sense of atmosphere and comfort, and draw viewers more closely into the characters and story.
  3. Ambiance. Background and ambient sounds in a field recording are not usually loud enough to enhance the action on their own, so foley artists recreate them in the studio to be louder and more believable. Some sounds may have never been in the initial location recording, however, injecting some background noise such as an airplane in the distance or chatter from passer byers can create the real-world ambiance.
  4. It’s too quiet without foley effects. Films without background noise are way too quiet. As we mentioned prior, life is never 100% quiet. If a film scene is too quiet, it will create a discomfort for the viewer and will immediately create a disconnect from the experience. Audiences will think the sound in the theater has gone out. Foley sound fills that aural void and makes scenes feel more natural.

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