March 10, 2011

The Art of Foley and Sound Design Part 1

This is a guest post by composer, engineer, and sound designer Anthony Bellotti, for more information on him and his work visit Bellotti Music.  Thanks for the great post, Anthony! 

Most music technology and production students aren’t even initially aware of the vast opportunities that exist in the realm of film sound. Everything you hear in a movie (and TV for that matter) has to be created by someone. The people that create those sounds are known as Foley Artists and Sound Designers. I have been both at different points for different studios and I can confidently say it is a very rewarding and engrossing path to take.

We’ll start with some information about Foley since technically it came first. Foley is named after a Jack Foley, a Hollywood original who first pioneered the notion of creating sound effects to enhance movies. He worked right at the advent of “talkies” so the world was wide open for innovation. Quickly, filmmakers realized how much sound mattered in film beyond just music. If you have a man revealing a sword and don’t hear the satisfying “SCWHING!” with it, it just doesn’t have the same impact.

So fast forward some 70 years and here we are today. Foley has evolved from a few guys tinkering with creaky chairs and keys to massive sound stages with tanks, guns, cars, swords, bombs, and any other crazy resources that can make a film sound more visceral. Of course the old techniques still apply today in some ways. A few fun tricks for instance: need a campfire? Crinkle thick paper. Need a haunted house? Grab a creaky stool for floor sounds. Bone snaps? Carrots and celery work great. These are just a few of the clever ways Foley Artists create the sounds filmmakers crave.



The job is demanding and intricate (the term “Artist” is not used lightly here). Foley Artists have to perform alongside actors after the film has been shot. Try walking in sync with a woman in high heels on concrete for seven hours straight and see how you feel. It may sound intimidating but it is an amazing experience to move with the actors in ways that give their performances even more life. It takes a strong sense of rhythm, and a creative mind. Sometimes you really have to dive into your toybox to
find the tool to make the sound you’re after.

Now that is how the big dogs do it. However, as you may have guessed, there are a few steps before you get to a Hollywood sound stage. Interning at general post production studios is a great place to start. Seek out studios that say they have Foley first, but it’s not necessary. If a studio does any kind of sound design, they’ll do Foley as well. Smaller studios are better places to start as well; you’ll get to do more than just clean toilets all day. I found a great studio to do this at and became their session Foley engineer by the end of my internship. It was a fantastic experience. So there you go! Here’s a little taste of the vast world of Foley and sound design. Now if you’re wondering why I didn’t explain sound design yet, it’ll wait for next time. For now just practice walking in sync with Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker!
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