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What Is Foley?

Jack Foley

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A Foley artist is sometimes called a 'Foley Walker' or 'Stepper' because one of the most important elements we provide is the sound of the footsteps. When the original dialogue is replaced, due to noise or bad performance, the sound of the actors walking also needs to be redone.

Every footstep for each character is covered; you must match the sync of the steps, the surface (wood, marble, dirt etc.) and the feeling (heavy, fast, angry, panicked etc.) of each step!

Das Boot!

Feet are very difficult to perform. It takes a lot of practice to get the exact feeling and timing while standing stationary - you can' t walk across the room because the microphone needs to be fixed and besides, you don't have that much room!

Before You Begin...

You will need many kinds of well worn shoes - a trip to the Salvation Army store will yield many treasures (cowboy boots, pumps, hard and soft souled shoes) at a reasonable price. You may need to 'gaff tape' any squeaky or loose ornamental bits so they don't clutter the sound of the steps; remember you are trying to record a clean, rich sounding footstep and it doesn't matter what the shoe looks like!

You will also need several surfaces such as wood, concrete, metal and gravel. A Foley Stage is specifically built to accommodate these needs by having insulated 'pits' which are several feet in width and filled with these floor materials.

How To Record A Foot Track...

You will need a track for each main character in the film as well as several for background or 'b.g. feet'. We generally group tracks by Male or Female so that the mixer can set the EQ (Equalization) consistently (pumps are sharper than running shoes!)
  • The microphone should be placed about three feet in front of the Foley Artist when the scene is outdoors (tight miked) and placed six to ten feet away when the scene is indoors (loose miked). This technique allows the mike to breath and provides a roomy sound for indoor vs. a tight sound for outdoors.
  • We often use a second mike on a boom, placed high in the room, to capture the ambient room sound - this mike is mixed into the single track while recording. Using a second mike allows the Foley recordist to mix fades and perspectives during the recording session, but this is very tricky - the problem is that you are limiting the mixer to what you recorded with no chance to 'fix it in the mix!'
  • You will need to 'ride the level' as characters enter or exit a scene but be gentle and let the Foley Artist work the fade as you do (this takes teamwork!)
  • If you have to 'punch into the track' (the artist missed a footstep) you will need to get the rhythm of the steps and punch in between footsteps! This requires extreme precision, teamwork and practice! Whenever possible, try to punch on a scene cut or break in the action.

How To Perform A Foot Track...

You will need to select the appropriate shoes and surfaces required in the film (boots, pumps, marble etc.) Watch the picture carefully and remember that sometimes what you hear on guide (the production recording) is only a film set and its up to you to create the best sounding footsteps:
  • You will be standing still (not actually walking!) and you will be using one or two feet.
My Favorite Pumps
  • The action is "heel / toe". While you are doing this you must roll your foot from heel to toe, so as to create the sound illusion of forward movement. The best technique I have found is to roll from the outer heel to the inner toe of your foot. Running requires a quicker and shorter heel / toe action as does climbing stairs! When the actor comes to a stop, there is usually a definitive step or weight shift which you must capture (this give a feeling of closure to the movement.)
  • To get "in sync" with the actor, you must try to watch their shoulders (not their feet!) - if you watch their feet then you will never be in sync because this technique is too reactionary. The shoulders however, will give you the sense of movement about to happen and when you sway and move as the actor does, the feet just tend to naturally sync up!
  • When the sync gets hard (some actors just do strange things while walking!), count steps and get a pattern - step, step, step, skip, stop. This you can rehearse and then record.

    (For an excersise in frustration, try doing Jack Nicholsons feet in "As Good As It Gets" when he walks down the sidewalk never touching the cracks - Wow! Hats off to Andy Malcolm the artist!!!)
  • B.G. Feet are a wash of foot tracks that fill the background characters. Pick a person(s) on screen and follow them - after a while of practicing, you will be able to do several people at once!

The End Result...

When all the steps are recorded (this can take several days or weeks!) the foots track should sound distinct and natural. Every character should be recognizable (even when you don't see them on screen) and the feeling of movement and action should be captured.

There is no doubt that doing feet is the hardest technique a Foley Artist has to learn! Maybe that is why dancers make such good Foley Artists!

© Philip Rodrigues Singer M.P.S.E.