Art Of


What Is Foley?

Jack Foley

How It's Done

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If the sound is not a Clothing Move or a Footstep then it must be a Specific! Anything an actor touches or effects is considered a Specific and recorded as a separate element often involving layers of sound.

Specifics are the real fun in Foley. They allow you to paint with sound, recreating the actual movements in an enhanced way. Much of the magic associated with sound effects is considered a Specific. From face punches to body falls, Specifics are also a lot of work!

The Stage After A Fight Scene

Before You Begin...

You will need many props for your Specific tracks (whatever you see in the film!). It's impossible to say what you will need until you see the picture and as time goes by you will add to your collection (if you have space!) - garbage day in my neighborhood is 'golden day' as I 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 store also offer a treasure trove of fun and interesting stuff to listen to (I seldom care what something looks like but what it sounds like!) Collecting props is an occupational hazard - Andy Malcolm even went as far as buying a truck trailer (a big big trailer!!!) just to store props!

Creating sound effects also involves some unique time tested tricks such as:

  • Corn Starch in a leather pouch makes the sound of snow crunch
  • A pair of gloves sounds like bird wing flaps
  • An arrow or thin stick makes a great whoosh!
  • An old chair makes a controllable creaking sound
  • A water soaked rusty hinge when placed against different surfaces makes a great creaking sound. Notice how various surfaces act as a sounding board to amplify and change the sound: this is an important principal of Foley and sound creation!
  • A heavy staple gun and a other metal parts make can make a good gun sound
  • A metal rake makes a great fence sound (and when scraped across metal makes a great metal screech - if you can stand it!)
  • You will need a car door and a fender which you can pickup at a wrecking yard - they are good for car and other heavy metal sounds. If you can fit a whole car in the studio, even better!
  • Burning black plastic Glad garbage bags (cut open a bag and strip it into thin pieces) will make a cool sound as the bag melts and drips to the ground
  • 1/4" audio tape when balled up sounds like grass (we walk on it!) or flowers
  • A wet balloon makes a weird sound when rubbed: this is funny more than practical!
  • 'Flubber' (they sell it in toy stores) is great for wet swuishy sounds; so is gelatin and liquid hand soap.
  • Frozen romaine lettuce (I used this in the 'War Of The Worlds' television series for alien head squishes!) makes a great bone or head squishy noise
  • Coconuts shells cut in half and stuffed with padding makes great sounding horse feet (I swear I still use this trick): it takes some skill to make good sounding ones (not too hollow or thin) but it works!
  • Cellophane can make the sound of crackling fire (the effects editor should do the fire but in a pinch it does work)
  • You will need a wooden door - apart from door knocks and other movement sounds, they make great wooden boat noises when laid across a heavy wooden stool (the stool gives the door a resonance and helps with the creaking
  • A heavy rolled and taped up telephone book makes a good 'body punching' surface

How To Record A Specifics Track...

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. Try to keep like things on the same track throughout - water on its own track and guns on their own track - that way the mixer can set the EQ (Equalization) at a consistent level.
  • The microphone should be placed about three feet in front of the Foley Artist and away from the face to reduce the sound of breathing (the mike is so sensitive it can easily pick up the sound of a breath.
  • You will need to 'ride the level' more than ever when recording specifics as some sounds are soft (a kiss) and some are very loud (a car exploding)

How To Perform A Specifics Track...

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 it:
  • Break each action into layers of sound. If an actor lights a match, then perform the sound of the match movement as the actor pulls one out and then do the sound of the match strike. There is no reason it has to be done all at once or on the same track since you are trying to get the best sound
Fun in Foley!
  • 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
  • Above all, animate the sounds - make them bigger than life

The End Result...

With all the Specifics in place you should have a complete sounding track! Every nuance, every subtle action should be covered so well that it sounds like the original - remember, if you can tell its Foley then its no good! At the same time however it should sound bigger than life and almost take your breath away. When I make people jump or shriek with surprise at the power of a sound then I know I have done my job!

© Philip Rodrigues Singer M.P.S.E.