What are Foley sounds and why are they used?
When I looked up the definition of “Foley” in some dictionaries they said
“relating to or concerned with the addition of recorded effects after the shooting of a film.” “of or having to do with the creation or editing of sound effects for the sound tracks of films” and “sound effects created for a film”
This made sense with my understanding of Foley i.e. that they are sounds created and added, for various reasons that I discuss below, to a film after it has been shot.
They are frequently sounds that are created for that purpose, and often are not simply created by recording the actual thing making the noise (e.g. bacon sizzling is frequently used for rain), although they can be if this creates an authentic enough sounding sound. This may seem odd, since you might think “what could sound more authentic than the actual sound?” But bacon sizzling is consistently regarded as sounding more “real” than real rain. Add it to an image of it raining on the screen and it sounds and feels more real than real rain.
Also, sometimes the real sound for something is too quiet to be heard, and just amplifying it would sound weird. For example, there really isn’t as much sound from a fire e.g. in a fireplace or campfire as we think there is. If you just record a real fire, there wouldn’t be much sound, and the audience would actually think it wasn’t realistic. So crinkling cellophane is often used to create the sound that the audience expects to hear.
Another example is that shaking a sheet sounds more “authentic” than a bird’s wings flapping which would be too quiet to film.
Foley also gives much more flexibility for a director since if they are having a phone ringing then they don’t actually have to have the sound of THAT phone ringing, they can have ANY phone ringing.
Where are Foley Sounds recorded?
Another reason for not using the actual thing that made the sound is that Foley sounds are usually added to a film after the visuals have been edited and it is done by a Foley Artist in a Foley Studio, both named after Jack Foley who invented the process round about a hundred years ago, in the 1920s for use with live radio broadcasts. Because radio broadcasts were done live, sound effects had to be created live too at the same time, so Jack Foley was pretty creative with how he created sounds in the studio.
This is a video of Peter Burgis (from Pinewood) in 2015 explaining to a group of school children the way Jack Foley originally created his sounds in a radio studio. Peter Burgis did Foley for 7 out 8 of the Harry Potter Movies, and he says they are some of his favourite films he worked on.
Nowadays a Foley Artist doesn’t have to make the sounds live, they either watch the footage and synchronise their sounds with where the sounds need to be in the film, e.g. footsteps walking on various different surfaces, or watch the footage and create sounds which can be added in layers where needed. Some footsteps could be walking the actual thing, e.g. gravel in a tray, or some might not work this way e.g. walking on snow won’t work in a studio. One way I found in my research that walking on snow can be done is by putting cornflour in a pillowcase and walking on that. But there is no one way, each Foley Artist probably has their own preferred ways.
Here are some examples of modern-day Foley Studios
In this one you can see a screen with visuals on that the Foley Artist will be using to synchronise to, lots of surfaces to walk on, and lots of equipment to create sounds with.
This Foley Studio looks great fun to work in and had an even bigger screen.
Foley is also used extensively where any sound actually recorded is lost due to ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) where the actors re-record their lines in a recording studio after filming, synchronising their words to the footage. This gives cleaner dialogue audio but usually results in any sound that was able to be recorded live being unusable. So it is replaced with Foley sound.
I found a list of 13 classic items used for Foley sound:
- Coconuts = A Walking Horse (but you need to practise to make it sound good)
- Cooking Bacon = Rain (as I mention above)
- Snapping Celery = Breaking Bones (much safer)
- Staple Guns = Gunshots (again, safer, as long as you don’t staple your hand)
- Bamboo = Arrows (swish it past the mic to sound like an arrow)
- Newspaper = Grass (shredded newspaper in a bag, gently hit or shake the bag)
- Punch a Phone Book (Or a large piece/slab of meat since phone books are not as common now) = Punching
- Aluminium = Thunder (Wave a sheet of Aluminium)
- Crinkling Cellophane = Fire (like I mention above)
- Rusty Hinges = Creaky Door
- Plastic bin = Heartbeat (turn it over and push the bottom in and out)
- Kissing Arms = Kissing generally (Kiss the underside of your arm – much easier)
- Phone Book = Falling Bodies (roll it up, tape it together and drop it to get a convincing body falling “thud”)
- Crushing Walnuts = Crushing Skulls (apparently Gregg Barbanell is the Foley Artist on The Walking Dead, if he particularly needs skulls crushing, rather than just regular bones, he crushes walnuts)
This is a great video I found on YouTube featuring Chris Moriana (who did Foley on “The Hunger Games” amongst other films) and Alyson Moore (who did Foley on “Inception” and “Frozen” amongst other films). They talk not just about making Foley sounds but also about the Foley Process in the film industry, which I found interesting.
Foley and me
I first heard about Foley sounds when I was creating my “Serebrus Serum” film for my Film Studies GCSE. In this film I was going to record sound for a sporty car zooming along. When I I researched it I found out that car roars are usually created in post using Foley and they are often not just a car, they also have a lion roaring added in as well. In the end it was more appropriate to have a music track playing over the car zooming around (“Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd).
I mentioned above about changing the sound of phones ringing. I did do that in my “Serebrus” film. Where Agent Asley gets a phone call while she is doing Martial Arts, I added in the sound of a phone that was different to the actual phone. Also, because the phone was ringing over a few different consecutive shots that were different distances away from the phone, I adjusted the sound volume and echo in each shot to match the distance and the echo from being in a Martial Arts Dojo.
Also, in my first College Film, “Poker Hand”, I used a version of Foley. “Poker Hand” starts with a tracking shot of just the walking feet of one of the poker players. The sound of the footsteps wasn’t the way I wanted it and couldn’t be heard at all over the music, so I got the actor to bring in their boots again and to walk in sync with the footage that I had, while holding a mic much closer to their feet. This worked better. Although the footsteps are still only just audible over the music it is better. That is because an audience can accept sounds that could be off screen (i.e. sounds with no onscreen image) but they do not accept as readily a lack of sound where they expect there to be a sound e.g. footsteps.
For this part of the project, we had to record a series of Foley Sounds.
Luckily, when we make films at College, we do not have to make all the sounds from scratch. We can use Sound Libraries like the BBC Sound Archive. For example, for my FMP1 film at the end of Year 1 I needed some ambient birdsong because I had to film on two different days and on one of the days it was a lot windier and you couldn’t hear the birdsong as much, which made it obvious there were different days. I tried to use bits of “ambient” sound from gaps in speaking from the other day, but this didn’t work, it just didn’t match up properly. So I listened to lots of different birdsong from different online Sound Libraries until I found one that worked. However, as I mentioned above, I have tried to create Foley Sounds before, so this Unit 11 project was an interesting project to learn more about Foley.
Our group, 90% Bloopers and Charlie G, had already decided to film a horror/comedy short, about a person thinking they are being followed by a monster, but it is actually just another person walking in the forest, and we filmed it in the Forest by College. We decided that it would link in nicely to record Foley sounds to use when we edit this film.
We did this during one of our “In College” weeks. To do this we used a pile of leaves to walk on and we also got some twigs to break for when you hear the snap of the “supposed antagonist” treading on twigs and snapping them. We used these in various ways to get the different types of walking running and creeping type effects that we needed for our film. I think it went well and you can hear the sounds below. We also recorded the “ambient” sound, since this is frequently useful when editing films.
Gareth Slow Squelch
Gareth Soft Walk Forrest
Gareth Run Soft Away Forrest
Gareth Over Tree Forrest
Gareth Deep Walk Run Forrest
Gareth Deep Long Walk Forrest
Jack Snap Small Forrest
Jack Snap Short Forrst
Jack Snap Multiple
Jack Snap Chunk Forrst
Jack Drag Smooth Forrest
Jack Drag Short Forrst
Jack Drag Forrest
This was using real leaves to get walking on leaves in the forest sound and real twigs to snap. Even though we recorded these outside, the leaves and twigs could still be taken into a Foley Studio to enable the Foley Artist to create the sounds as they watched the film on the screen, to match footsteps and twigs breaking exactly, as shown below.
So they would work fine in a Foley Studio too.
Sometimes the reason that Foley Artists use something different to make a sound than the original thing is because the whole item is too big or awkward to get in a studio, like a horse would be. But I was aware from my research that often Foley Artists create and use sounds that are not made by exactly what you think they are made by, since often things don’t sound as we imagine them to. Like I mentioned above, a car roaring is often a mix of a real car and a lion roaring. So I also wanted to experiment with a couple of sounds that could be created in this way.
One I chose was rain created by sizzling bacon, since that is a classic Foley sound. Attila our tutor showed us a clip in class where we had to guess which rain sounds were real rain and which were bacon, a bit like this clip.
All the sounds sound exactly like real rain but actually it was a trick question and all of them were bacon. So I decided to record bacon sizzling myself and see if it really sounded as good. I recorded 3 sounds. The first one is with the bacon in slices, the second is with the bacon cut into little pieces to see if that makes a difference and the third one is slices but I moved the recorder closer, further away, closer etc to see if that made a difference, which it did. It wasn’t just the volume, which you could adjust on a sound desk anyway, it also made a difference to how heavy the rain sounded.
Rain Attempt 1 with Bacon Slices
Rain Attempt 2 with Chopped up Bacon
Rain Attempt 3 Lots of Slices of Bacon Moved Further Away and Closer to The Bacon
The other sound that I wanted to try to recreate in a way that could be used in an actual Foley Studio was a dripping tap. This is because although Films use lots of Sounds recorded elsewhere, the origin of Foley really is “sounds created IN a studio to sound like they were recorded live”.
Here is one way that I found on YouTube
But I had a different idea that I wanted to try. I wanted to see what happened if I dropped items in a bowl of water. I have several (actually many) sets of different dice that I use for playing Dungeons and Dragons. I thought they were of about the right size that they could make an interesting “plop” sound. I tried different shaped and size ones and have put the different sounds I got below.
4 Sided Dice In Water
6 Sided Dice In Water
8 Sided Dice In Water
10 Sided Dice In Water
12 Sided Dice In Water
20 Sided Dice In Water
Large 20 Sided Dice In Water
6 Sided Dice In Jug Water
Actual Water Dripping From Tap
Some things I found out:
- I found that if I used my largest die (a 20 sided one that is about 3cm across) it resulted in lots of extra splashes as a lot of water splashed up. I wanted a little bit of splash, which I got with the other dice, but not as much as I got for the large die.
- Another thing that I noticed is that I got more authentic, and consistent “drip” sounds when the flat side of a die hit the water. So the four sided dice which are pyramid shaped sometimes didn’t make much sound if the pointed end of the pyramid hit the water first. The other dice were all pretty similar.
- Another thing I found is that there was an optimum height of about 15cm for a loud enough sound without too much splash back.
- The depth of the water made a difference, if it was too shallow I didn’t get the slight echoey sound you get when water drips into a bowl of water.
- And finally, the most important thing I found was that I needed to put a piece of thick fabric like a piece of a towel or a flannel in the bottom of the bowl so you didn’t hear the sound of the die hitting the bottom of the bowl.
I think that all in all it went well, and I’m pleased with my sounds.
I used 2 different sets of equipment to record my sounds.
For the Foley sounds to go with our group Forest comedy/horror short we used a H5 Zoom Audio Recorder and a Sennheiser ME66/K6 mic with a wind muffler on it.
I used the same equipment for my dripping dice sounds.
For the bacon sizzling sounds I used my phone. This is because I was interested to see if my phone would be good enough to record the sizzling bacon sounds, which it was.
I feel this project went well. I learnt a lot, and when I have time, I would like to experiment with even more Foley sounds. In our last “out of College” week before Christmas, during one of our Zoom lessons Attila got our class to write and record a mock radio program interview. At one point we had decided that the radio presenter would claim that the line was breaking up and that he couldn’t hear the guest due to static on the line. I immediately thought of and suggested that I could “crinkle” a cellophane bag that I had by me (that I’d been eating brioche out of). So, I think that thinking about Foley Sounds has already made a difference to me as a Film Maker.
My eventual career goal is to become a director of fiction film/tv. People might think that a director doesn’t need to know about Foley because there will be Foley Artists to do that. But I firmly believe that the more a director understands about the whole process that goes into making a film, the better their creative process will be, and the better they will be able to interact with all the different departments that they need to interact with. And the more they can show that they respect the Artistic skill and imagination that goes into making the sounds that bring alive films and tv shows, the more smoothly a production will run. I want to know everything about all departments. So this has been very informative and quite fascinating.
Regarding doing the project, I enjoyed experimenting with dropping the dice to make the dripping tap sounds. I used experimental skills that I remembered from my science GCSEs, to help me work out key parameters that affected the sound, and to vary them one by one while keeping everything else constant, i.e. being methodical. Although being creative is important in film making, so is being methodical to not miss out key things. So that was useful too.
I had a few technical problems getting the sounds onto my website. I tried everything that I could think of, but then I decided that the time had come to ask an expert, Adam. He explained that the file format they were in (MP3), that should have worked (and has worked with other audio clips), the website we use (wordpress) didn’t like these particular files for a reason we didn’t figure out. Adam suggested that I use Adobe Audition to change the file format from MP3 to WAV, which worked. This was a useful workaround to learn, and also shows the value of not just “knowing things” but also of “knowing who knows things”.
I have always been aware of the effect that sound can have in the various films that I have made, but I have never specifically researched Foley sounds in such depth before. So this has been a very useful project.