Foley split-screen, Batman!
January 8, 2009 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Track Stars: The Unseen Heros of Movie Sound (1979) 10 min., 16mm, Terry Burke and Andy Malcolm. A split screen contains on one side an action thriller while on the other side two sound effects artist keep their eyes on the playback and work their tails off.

Caveat: This is a lot of fun in the cinema, but unfortunately loses something in the translation to tiny flash video.

Headphones are recommended.

IMDB Entry
posted by Herodios (25 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It's really fun to watch foley artists. They're amazing.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:13 PM on January 8, 2009

That. is. awesome.

I was just thinking about this film while reading the other foley thread below. I think I must have seen it back in the early 80s when Showtime (and HBO?) use to put little short films on in between the main features.
posted by jquinby at 1:15 PM on January 8, 2009

There's a foley thread 5 down.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:17 PM on January 8, 2009

@jquinby this was a regular on HBO back in the day, back when they not only had the shorts between movies, but also had that awesome movie intro which featured a camera flyby on a miniature town before moving into an HBO spaceship. The 80s were so awesome.
posted by bpm140 at 1:23 PM on January 8, 2009

that awesome movie intro

I can still hum the complete theme.
posted by jquinby at 1:26 PM on January 8, 2009

There's a foley thread 5 down.

We need another "You're going to die" thread. They're playing leapfrog.
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:27 PM on January 8, 2009

There's a foley thread 5 down.

Not really -- that other one's actually about a spoof of Foley craft. This appears to be about the genuine article.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:33 PM on January 8, 2009

Whatever, I still think that Porn Foley Artists are the real heroes of cinema.
posted by dhammond at 1:37 PM on January 8, 2009

I find the concept of Foley artists to be absolutely fascinating. I mean, I picture them outside of work, doing day to day stuff like shopping, and dropping a can of food into their cart, stopping, slowly picking it back up, closing their eyes, and doing it again, imagining exactly what kind of suit of armor getting hit by a sword that sound would work for, and then adding it to their mental list of stuff-to-use.

I'm hugely envious of anyone with a mind that can work like that.
posted by quin at 1:43 PM on January 8, 2009

After Del Far's FPP left me hungry for a real Foley Artist FPP, and thinking about how I was going to start combing the nets for FPP-worthy stuff to curb that hunger, you post this, which I'm pretty sure I watched in fascination as a kid. Thanks for re-surfacing it on the blue!

Mmmmmm, meat.
posted by not_on_display at 1:49 PM on January 8, 2009

I actually wrote an article about Foley artists for a small publication a few years ago -- can't find it online any more, but my favorite anecdotes concern the original master, Jack Foley.

First: sometime when they were making "Spartacus," they were back in the studio reviewing footage -- and found that a scene they'd shot in Italy of a bunch of slaves walking in leg irons had sound problems. They were all set to go back to Italy and refilm the whole thing when Jack Foley had an idea, and managed to manipulate a set of keys on a keyring in such a way that it filled in for the sound.

Then there was the time he was hired to do sound for a 1960's comedy called "Pink Submarine", and needed to come up with a "comical sounding motor." He ultimately recorded himself belching, ran the tape backwards and used that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:51 PM on January 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

I like this video better than the other foley one. I posted a secondhand foley story there, so I'll put a different one here.

A college teacher of mine was a former foley artist and told us some stories about the business. At one point he wanted to emphasize to us (animation students) about the importance of sound in video. He told us about his final exam in foley class.

They were given a clip of a man walking into a phone booth and dialing a number. Cut to an empty apartment, closeup of a phone. Cut back to the man in the phonebooth, looking impatient. Cut back to the apartment. Still no one there. Cut back the man, who hangs up and walks away, looking frustrated.

The scene had no sound. The assignment was to add all the sound, while making it clear that the man in the phonebooth is not the main character.

The trick is that when he presses the phone buttons, you would expect to put in a 'beep beep boop' kind of sound. Instead, if you put in a 'click click' sound, then we hear not what that character would hear, but what an observer would hear if standing nearby. Since we don't hear through that character's ears, we don't directly sympathize with him, and we know he's not the main character.

It's a very subtle effect, but once you listen for it, you can hear similar techniques being used to guide our attention and sympathies in almost any movie. Movies have a whole hidden language of cues like this, and a visual language of cuts, editing, and viewpoints, that we understand from having watched so many movies, but we don't often know about consciously.
posted by echo target at 1:58 PM on January 8, 2009 [20 favorites]

People have never quite seemed to recover from the recent US election when it comes to linking to related material within an already existing thread.
posted by hermitosis at 2:45 PM on January 8, 2009

Good foley people are kind of my heros. Very interesting, very creative field. I think it'd be a pretty fun way to make a living. Sometimes I wish I'd gone into it years ago, as a younger man: maybe I'd be set up nicely, working for Pixar or something. I think I'd be good at it.

Speaking of Pixar, there's some interesting bits on foley and sound design for The Incredibles which is included in the extra features on that DVD. Recommended viewing.

Thanks for the post, Herodios.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:57 PM on January 8, 2009

Foley derives from an earlier entertainment profession: sound effect artists for radio drama. I read an interview one time with a sound effect artist, and one of the questions was, "What is the most difficult sound effect you ever had to produce?"

He said that one time in the script it said, "Sound effect: warm sun in the face". And he said, "What? You're nuts!"

Then he found it. It was a wind chime.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:34 PM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is it really that hard to bring out these sound effects during the actual action shots? I can see the need to sweeten the sound, but completely redoing everything seems a little excessive.
posted by crapmatic at 5:44 PM on January 8, 2009

I like what echo target mentions about the "hidden language" of these sound cues. We even come to comprehend the meaning of certain cues which are not completely accurate, but have a well-understood usage -- for example, the common movie technique of a dial-tone on a phone after the other party hangs up.

Also, it's interesting to think about how the language of these cues might evolve over time. The crazy kung fu punches in a Bruce Lee movie sound so cheesy and dated now. Maybe they always did. Or a more subtle cue might fail to evoke (communicate) the correct response in a modern audience (or a different culture).

I'm struggling to come up with a better concrete example.
posted by findango at 8:05 PM on January 8, 2009

Is it really that hard to bring out these sound effects during the actual action shots?

Yes. To get really good, clean and crisp audio recordings of specific sonic occurrence like car doors closing, water being poured into a glass, footsteps, etc. on location in the real world, is next to impossible. Other ambient sounds of all sorts are a problem, for one thing. And microphone placement for recording anything that will appear in a movie shot (like, say someone rapping their knuckles on a table top, or opening a closet door) almost always means having the microphone placed so closely that it would appear in the shot! And, well, people would find that a bit weird, I reckon, seeing microphones everywhere!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:58 PM on January 8, 2009

The sound-que question I've always wondered about: Does music emote us as it does due to some property of the music (e.g., minor scale), or does it do so because TV and the movies have taught us meaning? Or, how much is intrinsic to the music, how much is learned.

Echo target's post just reminds me of how astounding the craft of film making is. Such a subtle difference making something clear, and we don't even realize how we are led.
posted by Goofyy at 10:29 PM on January 8, 2009

34 yrs old and I still wanna be a Foley artist when I grow up.
posted by grubi at 11:09 PM on January 8, 2009

34 yrs old and I still wanna be a Foley artist when I grow up.

Damn straight. The Foley docs on the Lord of the Rings DVDs are well worth a watch. Who wouldn't want to jangle some chains in time to Viggo Mortensen for a living?
posted by minifigs at 4:59 AM on January 9, 2009

Is it really that hard to bring out these sound effects during the actual action shots?

flapjax at midnite is exactly right. A loosely miked sound will not give the clean crisp recording that we (now) expect in films.

but completely redoing everything seems a little excessive.

Even if we discount the sound quality, they need to completely redo everything to provide a complete M&E (music and effects track) so that dubbed foreign versions can be created. If they didn't recreate all of the sound then when you removed the english (or whatever the original language was) then you would have holes and gaps where the original sound was.

This enables the different territories to simply re-record the voices of the characters without having to worry about the rest of the soundtrack.
posted by urban greeting at 6:36 AM on January 9, 2009

people would find that a bit weird, I reckon, seeing microphones everywhere

If there are any film students looking for a project idea, here you go: do a short video, shot and edited in a traditional way, except move the camera back ten feet or so. Show the lights clipped to the bookshelf, the sound guy crouching in the shadow with a shotgun mic, the cables running all over the floor just a few feet from the actors.

I'm sure it would be received as a subtle post-modern commentary or something.
posted by echo target at 12:19 PM on January 9, 2009

This is great stuff. Anyone have some additional foley videos?
posted by flatluigi at 8:41 AM on January 10, 2009

Anyone have some additional foley videos?

Well, here's Bad and Fat. They have a lot of awful lot of foley in them. Some of Weird Al's are of course originally Hanna Barbera cartoon cues. My favourite is the 'doink' eye-winking sound.

I can't add much to echo target's two foley stories -- great stuff, e.t. -- I can tell you from doing SFX for radio that nothing sounds like what it is when recorded, especially without pictures. The real sounds of real things are almost always too wimpy.

We always did 'striking a match' by ripping a strip of gaffers tape off a vinyl chair. Then there's cellophane, cornstarch, sheetmetal, coconuts. . .

That reminded me. . . there are several classic gags about radio SFX in Firesign Theatre's The Further Adventures of Nick Danger 1 2 3.

. . . and how do I make my voice do this?

Oh and here's Maxwell Smart, Control Agent 86 undercover as a sound effects man for Victor Buono in Moonlighting Becomes You.
posted by Herodios at 9:10 PM on January 11, 2009

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