It’s easy to get wrapped up in the visuals of the project. So much so that sound can often become an afterthought in post production. Sound is the glue to any project that requires audio. You can see a character put down a half full glass mug on an old wooden bar table, but can you hear it?
It’s hard to notice good foley, but very easy to notice bad foley. So what makes foley sound effects good or bad?
What is Foley?
Foley is one of the four main elements of sound design and is classified as the art of creating sounds to enhance and accompany the live action.
Sound editing things such as footsteps and clothes can be classified as foley sounds. We are all experts in how this should sound because we hear it everyday, which is why bad foley is especially noticeable. By adding this element, you can accent the subtle sounds the microphones have missed.
The term foley was coined by Jack Foley. Unlike designed and hard sound effects, foley sound effects are recorded manually in sync with the film, not added in later.
Good sound editors spend time watching and rehearsing the movements to get it right. This method of recording is similar to ADR in dialogue because the foley artist performs the movements while the video is playing.
A recording studio for foley is called a foley stage. This studio would feature a large projection screen and pits filled with sand, dirt, gravel, tiles, hardwood, water and many other surfaces.
Foley can be categorized into 3 groups:
Moves and Cloth
Perhaps the most subtle of them all, moves and cloth sounds can be described as the sound of clothes rustling when you walk or put on a coat.
The foley artist will typically record one set of moves and cloth sounds for each character on screen. The artist will then try and match up the style of material such as denim, leather or polyester to make the movements more believable.
Remember, we are all experts on how foley should sound, so it's important to focus on the details.
While it sounds self explanatory and simple, feet sounds are the backbone of good foley.
The foley artist, sometimes referred to as a “stepper” or “foley walker,” will recreate and replace every footstep in a film. These footsteps are performed and recorded in the foley pits in their respective surfaces.
Much like moves and cloth, each individual character on screen has their own feet track.
The performance of matching footsteps to a scene is more difficult that it seems, but there are handy tricks:
By watching the shoulders of the character, we can time our steps more accurately, especially when you can’t see the feet.
Another trick that can help with synchronization is rehearsing the scene, just like anything practice makes perfect.
If you need to make a certain sound louder or quieter, it is best to do this during recording as part of the performance.
A popular technique to help accent a forward motion is using the “heel to toe” method. As you may have guessed, this method required you to start with the heel and roll towards the toe.
Finally, counting steps can be an effective technique for synchronizing steps. Simply counting step-step-skip-step-stop can make all the difference.
Any sound that is not a move, cloth or footstep sound is classified as a “specific.”
This part of foley can be the most fun and experimental aspect of foley art. Sounds such as punches, bone breaks, doors closing, and sizzling pans are all specifics.
Rather than just recording these sounds (the first 2 would be quite painful) we can use other items to recreate or layer the sound to give it more life.
Try some of these tricks when creating “specific” sounds:
Breaking a stalk of celery can be useful for bone breaks
Corn starch in a leather pouch can be used to imitate snow crunch
Old wooden chairs are great for anything creaky
Staple guns or other metal items are good for gun sounds
A stick can make a great whoosh sound
Cellophane is useful for fire crackling sounds
Coconut shells when cut in half can imitate a horse hoof
A heavy phone book wrapped in tape makes for a great body punch
The next time you watch a film or play a video game, try and focus on the foley effects.
READ MORE: 7 Helpful Tips for Creating Sound Effects
Do the footsteps match the floor surface? Does the clothing move in unison with the character? Was that explosion too dramatic? By doing this, we can further train our visual ear to pick out individual sounds.