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June 14, 2012 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Jack Foley was the first Foley Artist. A Foley Artist's job is to physically create the subtler sound effects for most of the action in a film — usually, everything but the dialogue. Sometimes that involves smearing peanut butter on someone's face and recording the sound of a cow licking it off. • Here's the split-screen classic short, Track Stars: The Unseen Heroes of Movie Sound, and its Doppleganger, plus a similar tribute, replacing the sounds on a 1962 public domain film.A couple of Porn Foley parodies [NSFW of course] and a murder-filled parody • Here's the process in detail for marking, recording, and editing Foley for 35mm film: Part 1 (excerpted), Part 2 • Technically, Foley only covers sounds you can tailor-make in the recording studio; other sounds (engines, explosions, etc) are the domain of the Sound FX person. If you don't have your own means, though, Sounddogs.com has an extensive collection of samples.
posted by not_on_display (47 comments total) 95 users marked this as a favorite

 
Track Stars, previously
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:59 PM on June 14, 2012


The Art of Foley
posted by chavenet at 4:00 PM on June 14, 2012


Orson Welles: The devastation is incredible! They're grinding up the bodies of human beings!
Sound Technician: [Uses a wisp to grind up cornflakes]
Orson Welles: Now they're riding horses in the rain!
Sound Technician: [Clacks coconut halves against a wooden board while pouring water into a tray]
Orson Welles: Now they're playing the xylophone while bowling near an airport.
Sound Technician: [Holds up sign reading "Screw you" and leaves]

-Treehouse of Horror XVII
posted by griphus at 4:13 PM on June 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


I've previously wondered: Is this another profession that is becoming more obselete as we get more and more digital? I mean, it seems like now that we have one recording of a cow licking peanut butter off someone's face, we wouldn't need another every time we need that sound...

Or am I thinking about this wrong? Is it like animation, where the conversion from hand-drawing to computer animation means essentially the same job, but now different tools?

tl;dr: Have we hit Peak Foley?
posted by cheeken at 4:15 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't really see why it would be necessary to smear the peanut butter on a person's face. Surely any surface would do?
posted by Sys Rq at 4:15 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the only things I remember from the Universal Studios theme park as a kid was getting to go into a booth and try out real-time Foley work myself.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:16 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The first video link is a short that the LA Times used to run as an ad for their weekend Calendar section, when an ad reel before coming attractions was a new thing. I remember in particular the bunch of celery wrapped in a wet chamois thing.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:18 PM on June 14, 2012


Technically, Foley only covers sounds you can tailor-make in the recording studio;

More specifically, Foley is the creation of the physical sounds corresponding to onscreen actor moves. Walking, clothes rustle, weapon handling (gun manipulation, cocking etc), touches, punches, hits, kicks, falls, standing, sitting. In nature documentaries, alot of the animal actions (eg duck diving, small animal scurry across grass).

I was on the technical/systems end of post-production sound for film & tv in the early 90s and I knew Terry Burke and other Foley artists at that point. Good times.

cheeken: Is this another profession that is becoming more obselete as we get more and more digital?

It's alot easier now to "play" sound effects on a faster interface like a MIDI keyboard, and to move things around in time in a digital editor, but good Foley person with a great prop cabinet is still pretty cost-efficient for higher-end productions.
posted by Artful Codger at 4:20 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The replacing the sounds on a 1962 public domain film link goes to Foley - Jurassic Park. Perhaps you wanted Foley Sound Effects For Film, from the foley artist Noisy Sid?
posted by filthy light thief at 4:25 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Could someone who knows more about movie production than I do answer this question: why don't movies simply use the natural sounds generated during the shoot? If the crew is capturing the visuals (with cameras) why not capture the audio as well?
posted by Triplanetary at 4:30 PM on June 14, 2012


My college's fine arts theater was named for somebody named Foley. Anyone who knew the tech side of entertainment LOLed.

Still, my proudest possession when I worked in radio was a copy of the then-very-limited-edition album of collected Hanna Barbera Sound Effects. The most cartoony cartoon sounds EVER. I wish I'd seen what their Foley Artistsdid.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:36 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Could someone who knows more about movie production than I do answer this question: why don't movies simply use the natural sounds generated during the shoot? If the crew is capturing the visuals (with cameras) why not capture the audio as well"
 Triplanetary


My barely more-informed answer: it's better to keep all of the sounds separate so that you can mix them easier when editing the film, so you can also create a smoother soundscape. If you mic'd everything, sound from each of those mics would bleed into the other mics, causing it to be hard to separate sounds when mixing them in post-production.
posted by not_on_display at 4:37 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the crew is capturing the visuals (with cameras) why not capture the audio as well?

It is quite an effort to just get clean audio from the actors conversation, never mind secondary audio. More to the point, movies are all about illusion. The sound that could be gathered from a set in some ways has nothing to do with the sound the audience "thinks" they need to be hearing. That sound doesn't really exist in the real world.
posted by jeremias at 4:38 PM on June 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Perhaps the real sounds would not seem "cinematic" enough. Certainly the "body blow" sound has more to it than the smacking and thudding noises that a more real fight would probably produce.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:39 PM on June 14, 2012


Could someone who knows more about movie production than I do answer this question: why don't movies simply use the natural sounds generated during the shoot? If the crew is capturing the visuals (with cameras) why not capture the audio as well?

Because things don't sound the way you want them to sound in a movie. They aren't loud enough, the sounds aren't pure enough, or they're otherwise flat and unimpressive. Gunshots from blanks are nowhere where you need them, and the satisfying elbow crunching noises in the Bourne films are manufactured to be intense, over the top, and gripping. In no circumstance does an elbow crushing someone's face sound like that.

Not to mention that it'd be a nightmare to add a whole set of problems that can go wrong and complexity that involves on-set talent versus lesser-paid sound people in a booth with a bunch of time.
posted by disillusioned at 4:39 PM on June 14, 2012


Also, a LOT of sounds in the movies NEVER sound the same in real life. We've grown too accustomed to gunshots, explosions and motor sounds that just aren't realistic.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:40 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


cheeken: Have we hit Peak Foley?

Sometimes you can get away with re-using old sounds, or might even use it as an homage to past use (Wilhelm Scream, previously), but as heard with the Wilhelm Scream, the repeated use of a sound will get noticed. And as you can see with this re-scoring of an old film, sounds are recorded as they happen, so they sync up cleanly, and in some cases overlap naturally. There are plenty of canned sounds, but it sounds more authentic to have them recorded "fresh" for each new shoot.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:56 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wanted to be a Foley Artist when I grew up. Probably after seeing some kind of Star Wars "making of" special.

The funny thing is that I had no idea that I would really grow up to work in this industry. If only I had taken things a little more seriously, I really could have been a Foley Artist. (What I really do is a lot more in my wheelhouse, but still. Coconut shells!)
posted by Sara C. at 5:06 PM on June 14, 2012


why don't movies simply use the natural sounds generated during the shoot? If the crew is capturing the visuals (with cameras) why not capture the audio as well?

Sometimes the sound department will capture what's called "wild tracks" of the ambient sound in the place, for the post-production folks to splice in as needed.

However, it already takes a long-ass time to shoot a scene for a film. It's already extremely detail oriented. Now, imagine that on top of all that time-consuming detail, the actors, background, prop folks, etc. have to ensure that everything makes exactly the same SOUND every time.

That not only do you have to say the line verbatim from the script at exactly the same speed and with exactly the same intonation, holding your coffee cup in the exact same hand, making sure your hair is tucked behind your ear in exactly the same way and the folds of your scarf are sitting just so, and that the exact same random person at the next table in the restaurant is positioned exactly the same, but also, you have to *CHOMP* down on the sandwich in exactly the same way and ensure that your biting/chewing makes exactly the same sound. Which should also be a really perfect dainty food sound and not a disgusting drooly smacky sound. All of which causes you to eat like 15 footlong subs in the course of the scene, because you have to actually consume the food in order to get that realistic *CHOMP* sound.

It would take fucking YEARS to make a 22 minute half hour sitcom. Fuck.

Much easier to just get some guy who makes a tenth of your salary reproduce the *CHOMP* in a studio at some later more convenient time.
posted by Sara C. at 5:16 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think most movies nowadays (well, most big-budget movies) are horribly overdone in the Foley department. I know most people would freak if a fist fight didn't have huge resonating fake sounds, but I really just hate it. I remember seeing that horrible "First Knight" movie and every time anyone came near a sword, it had to "schwing" when drawn, and bristled with resonance at every motion and touch. It was fucking ridiculous and became so distracting it made the movie that much more hilariously bad. I tried to find a good representative clip but I don't want to look too hard, because it would mean I would have to watch more of the movie; but here's one.
posted by Red Loop at 5:19 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hate bad Foley "artists." Does every freaking car have to have it's tires squeal as at slowly drives away? Does every outdoor footstep have to sound like jumping crushed gravel? Why does a sword hitting a tree sound like a sword hitting metal?

I'm not in the industry, just a viewer trying to suspend disbelief and be a good audience. But theis crap slaps me back to reality over and over.

HEY FOLEY ARTISTS: TRY SUBTLE MORE OFTEN. Your work, too often, sounds like all caps.
posted by cccorlew at 5:20 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great post. I always thought this would be a really fun job. Looks like it is!
posted by xedrik at 5:20 PM on June 14, 2012


In line with what Red Loop is saying, I'd actually be really interested in seeing more examples of Foley Artists Gone Wrong.

Similar to film fans collecting continuity errors, or cameras you can see in a mirror on accident, or a boom mike that drifts into a frame by mistake, I'd be interested to see a collection of these "sound oddities" from films.
posted by cheeken at 5:51 PM on June 14, 2012


A great film in which the difference between digital sound effects and foley work is central to the plot and the work of the foley artist is captured in all its wacky glory is Welcome Back Mr McDonald.
posted by yoink at 5:55 PM on June 14, 2012


I noticed last night while rewatching the fourth episode of Game of Thrones that when Xaro Xhoan Daxos vouches for Daenerys's gang in Qarth that his (very large) dagger makes the metallic (Ebert coined) "snicker-snack" effect when he closes his hand around the knife, pulls it from his closed hand, and cuts himself.

I really hate the snicker-snack and wish it would die. It's beyond dumb.

Another way of answering triplanetary's question about the necessity of this stuff is that even a great amount of film and television dialogue is recorded after filming (during a process called "looping" that actors generally greatly dislike) because, basically, it's just very damn hard to get good audio on a set, especially on-location, outdoors and anywhere else where they can't really mike everything properly and still be able to shoot. Not to mention what others have said about having each source be clean. Getting good audio for all the incidental sounds is far from practical.

That's part of it. The other part is just what audiences expect. Snicker-snack and the sound of punches and horse hooves and all the other stuff which is not even remotely realistic date back to the days of dramatic radio plays where these sound cues played an important, necessary role. We hear swords being drawn when we really shouldn't because a sword being drawn has great dramatic import and some sound is necessary in radio and so later audiences expected it, even when it's filmed.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:08 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


the metallic (Ebert coined) "snicker-snack" effect

I think Mr. Lewis Carroll would beg to differ on matter of coinage.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:21 PM on June 14, 2012


I can abide the Wilhelm scream (it's usually pretty funny), but I have absolutely no tolerance for crowd gasp.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:28 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hear this gasp all over the place too. Terrible.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 6:34 PM on June 14, 2012


It's not Foley, but my pet peeve is the one short/one long doppling truck horn blast that apparently happens whenever a truck passes. Same sound, every time.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:53 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


In line with what Red Loop is saying, I'd actually be really interested in seeing more examples of Foley Artists Gone Wrong.

Yeah, Red Loop's post set me off too. I notice it all the time, but damned if I can remember any particularly egregious examples at the moment.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:22 PM on June 14, 2012


Also, a LOT of sounds in the movies NEVER sound the same in real life.


For instance, IRL kissing doesn't sound like a tapir eating yogurt.



(Movie "kissing" is the grossest sound.)
posted by louche mustachio at 7:45 PM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


We just watched Hulk 2 on TV. Man, the sound effects (including Foley) sucked.

Fun fact: when analog tape was starting to be replaced by digital recorders, we stuck one of the first $100k SONY digital 24-tracks in the Foley studio, and they hated it. It seems that analog tape's soft overload does something magic to Foley punches that made them sound tremendous, whereas digital would record the feeble smeck in full fidelity... or it would clip. Analog did (does) the same magic for drums too.

Re joke reels - The best reels to get ahold of aren't Foley bloopers; it's a collection of the private ones where the Foley artist does something really outrageous as a joke, to try and catch the mixers unaware. Stuff like a coffin in scene, and a muted knocking and scratching and a muffled voice going "lemmee out. Guys? This isn't funny".
posted by Artful Codger at 7:59 PM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


I once had to write an article on Jack Foley and Foley artistry for a gig; it left me highly impressed with Foley the arist. Two of the absolutely-i-have-to-include-this-story details I remember were:

1. There was some weird surreal comedy movie he worked on once about a submarine that needed "a comical engine sound." Foley recorded himself belching, then ran the tape backwards to make the sound. History has not noted whether audiences were aware that they were hearing someone burping backwards.

2. Foley was also working on Spartacus, and there was one scene where the slaves were being marched through Rome or something -- but the sound of the leg irons was just too low. Kubrick was getting ready to fly the extras all back to the set and re-shoot the whole thing to fix it; but Foley said no, he had an idea. He then took his key chain and started fiddling around with it, twisting it around and playing with the sounds it made, and came up with a way to re-loop the sounds of all the leg irons just by standing there and jingling his keychain a certain way, thus saving Kubrick a gabillion dollars.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 PM on June 14, 2012


I think I now know why I am still reluctant to try Pop Rocks....
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 8:15 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I think Mr. Lewis Carroll would beg to differ on matter of coinage."

I'll still give Ebert the credit, as he cleverly appropriated Carroll's nonsensical neologism in a way that makes sense of it and is useful in a technical context. Also, in a lot of cases, when someone "coins a term" they've created a new usage of a word and not necessarily a genuine neologism. When the first person called a style of music "blues", they coined the term but they certainly didn't invent the word itself or even its use relative to a mood. A style of music? Yes.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:21 PM on June 14, 2012


I'm not sure if this is even an issue with digital shooting nowadays, or if this was something mostly isolated to music videos, but I recall that the cameras used to shoot things were very often so loud that there was practically no usable sound left after shooting. I vaguely remember seeing videos of shoots and it sounds like a gigantic blowdryer was let loose.

In retrospect I assume that's what high-speed film cameras sound like, but I wonder how big of an issue camera noise is during takes.
posted by Bonky Moon at 10:00 PM on June 14, 2012


I've previously wondered: Is this another profession that is becoming more obselete as we get more and more digital?

No. It's just not a matter of timing so much anymore, so you don't need as many people. But while it's great to have loads of computer power the microphone is still the most important tool. I do little foley work now but whenever I want cool new sound efects for music or something I still start in the kitchen.

Could someone who knows more about movie production than I do answer this question: why don't movies simply use the natural sounds generated during the shoot? If the crew is capturing the visuals (with cameras) why not capture the audio as well?

I used to be that guy, and I did - I had a bunch of small microphones for both micing actors and for hiding around the set to pick up footsteps, tableware noises, whatever. But I probably only used about 5% of that material; often you want to get rid of extraneous noise in a scene as much as add in missing noise. And it's hard to get people to be quiet enough for you to record stuff on the spot in between takes or whatever.

I'm not sure if this is even an issue with digital shooting nowadays, or if this was something mostly isolated to music videos, but I recall that the cameras used to shoot things were very often so loud that there was practically no usable sound left after shooting.

Oh yeah, they were like sewing machines. I could ID particular cameras from the audio track alone, heheh. If you watch The Life Aquatic, they ran out of money during post-production and you can hear the camera running in most of the boat shots. There used to be an insulated box called a blimp to address this problem, but it's a pain to put it on and take it off every 15 minutes for a new roll of film. Not really an issue with digital cameras, though.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:21 PM on June 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


The The Brain That Wouldn't Die (why is that in the public domain, btw?) foley thing is amazingly awesome. The really incredible part to me is how he did the woman's voice.
posted by DU at 4:28 AM on June 15, 2012


Very cool! I was one of the online editors for Doppelganger
posted by phirleh at 5:44 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how big of an issue camera noise is during takes.

Having been on set (though mostly at the monitors or just generally "around" set, not necessarily near the camera) and having watched dailies, I'd say that, no, the camera noise isn't really that big a deal. Certainly the sound people are able to record usable sound on set. Not everything has to be looped.

That said, when you watch dailies and there's a silence (because all the music, foley, ambient noise, etc hasn't been mixed in yet), you do sometimes here a slight whirring camera-ish noise.

FWIW, looping is mostly used if something goes wrong with the sound on set, if dialogue needs to be slightly altered at the last minute, or if during the editing process it's realized that something isn't clear and dialogue needs to be added to make the story make sense. The latter is called Additional Dialogue Recording, or ADR, and it's something I tend to notice a lot more than bad foley work.
posted by Sara C. at 9:34 AM on June 15, 2012


The thing about "bad foley" and the complaints about how often it's overdone: the foley that you actually notice is, I would estimate, .01% of all foley.

Foley (and all sound effects/design work) is actually very important for creating realism in film. Doors on a constructed film set close with a weak plywood rattle. Pay attention next time you watch a character slam a door. They often have to cut to another shot at the moment of impact to hide the obvious fact that the entire wall shakes when the door closes. Here, it is the addition of the subtle sound effect that sells the reality. I completely agree that every car should not squeal when it pulls away, but for every unnecessary tire squeal there are hundreds of clicks, rustles, pings and plops. These tiny sounds truly enhance and enrich the picture, without them the movie would feel flat and lifeless.

In regards to digital cameras being quieter than film: the popular RED digital cinema camera is easily louder than most film cameras made after 1970. The reason? It's basically a computer with a lens, complete with spinning hard drives and, of course, a cooling fan.
posted by stephennelson at 10:04 AM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm in total agreement with all of the above, but wanted to point out that while cutting away at the door slam might sometimes be necessary to hide the flimsiness of the fake soundstage wall, it's also just a classically clean place to put a cut, either to someone's reaction or directly to the next scene. You'll definitely see it even in scenes that were shot on location (though even in a real location slammed doors have a good chance of not staying closed after the slam, etc., etc.).
posted by nobody at 2:46 PM on June 15, 2012


Albert Brooks' 1981 film Modern Romance has a funny scene where he works with the Foley guys on a sci-fi film; rest of the movie's not bad either.
posted by kgander at 7:21 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always thought "bad" Foley artistry was more a result of some marketer/producer/upper management decision that the audience is too stupid to know what's going on without the crushed gravel, squealing tires, or honking truck horn.

Figured there was a young Foley artist in a dark room somewhere, accurately recorded the proper sound of a sword being unsheathed, only to have it come back with a screaming red marker note of "Where's the shninng?!" After a while the artists just rely on the conventions because they don't have the authority to say otherwise.
posted by CancerMan at 12:36 PM on June 19, 2012


Figured there was a young Foley artist in a dark room somewhere, accurately recorded the proper sound of a sword being unsheathed, only to have it come back with a screaming red marker note of "Where's the shninng?!" After a while the artists just rely on the conventions because they don't have the authority to say otherwise.

There's nothing better about the 'proper' sound. Often, it's boring. Movie lighting doesn't resemble real life either; it's better. Also, I don't have a soundtrack accompanying my every move, although I'm working on it.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:57 PM on June 19, 2012


"I always thought "bad" Foley artistry was more a result of some marketer/producer/upper management decision that the audience is too stupid to know what's going on without the crushed gravel, squealing tires, or honking truck horn."

I answered your question with the most important component earlier — to wit, that many of these traditional sounds originated in radio plays and they were actually necessary for the narrative. You mention the "proper" sound of a sword being unsheathed, but in many or most cases, that sound would be very close to silence. A sword being unsheathed is a very common, very important dramatic moment. Without it, you'd not have the opportunity for the beat of a threat before combat, or it would have to be a verbalized warning. Similarly, horses arriving and leaving requires exaggerated sounds of their hooves.

Many of the sounds we're most familiar with originated in their existing form in radio drama. People became accustomed to those sounds and when the transition was made from radio to film, those conventions came along.

This isn't true for everything, of course. A lot of stuff just spontaneously emerged in foley artistry. But there, as anigbrowl points out, they too serve a legitimate dramatic function, heightening the experience for the audience. After all, it's not as if the conventions of narrative itself, many not-realistic acting conventions, the vast amount of photographic techniques in motion pictures, and editing all aren't also non-realistic and function in ways that legitimately serve the narrative (or should do so, or can be argued to do so when done correctly). In this context, sound is no different. If you have a basic problem with this whole concept, perhaps you'd appreciate the Dogme 95 aesthetic?

All that said, I'd personally prefer that some of these conventions would go away or at least move toward realism, the snicker-snack of a drawn sword or knife chief among them. Squealing tires, too. Some of these things could just be changed toward the naturalistic direction, not eliminated, and this could be done by more adventurous foley artists and directors over a number of years and thus avoiding anything that would (probably unconsciously) bother the audience.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:33 PM on June 19, 2012




For instance, IRL kissing doesn't sound like a tapir eating yogurt.


Rule 34, baby, rule 34.

Runs off on errand. 1st stop: Deli chiller. 2nd stop: Lube Isle. 3rd stop: Zoo.
posted by lalochezia at 11:20 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


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