What is Foley, and how to record it.
By David Mann
Every movie and most TV shows have sound effects in them. Most things you
hear in movies like doors opening and closing, cars going by, gunshots,
punches, fire, horses, and so on are added long after the actual shooting of
There are three types of sound effects. The first group of sound effects is
sound effects that were recorded on the set while shooting the movie. For
example, if one of the characters in the movie come to a house and knocks on
the door, the door knocks will be recorded with microphones that are
intended to capture dialogue. Since those microphones are intended to catch
the dialogue they're not necessarily going to be the best microphones for
the task. Also, the street might be a noisy and if the knock on the door
happens when the actors are also talking, the boom operator will aim the
microphone to the actor that is talking and not to the door, so in most
cases, sound editing will be needed to help those door knocks be more
pronounced later on when we are doing the post-production sound. The
production sound is not always bad; as a matter of fact, many times it will
be great to use because it's 100% the right sound. In many cases what the
mixers can do is mix the production sound with sound effects from a sound
library or Foley.
The second group of sound effects are sound effects that come from
libraries. Sounds like gunshots, explosions, car horns, etc. almost always
come from sound effects libraries.
The third group of sound effects is the Foley sound effects. Foley is the
art of recording sound effects in the studio. Most of the time, the Foley
artist records in real time what he sees on the screen. For example, if the
actor in the movie is walking in a hallway the Foley artist will "follow
him", matching his footsteps to every movement the actor is doing. If the
hallway in the movie has a wood floor, the Foley artist will walk on a wood
surface to what's called in the Foley stage "wood pit". It is possible to
take footsteps from a library and edit them in, but it will be a tremendous
amount of work to make it sound natural. A good Foley artist will do it
very quickly and it will always sound very natural.
What do you need to have in order to record Foley? Foley is recorded in a
Foley stage, which is a studio that is built specifically for this purpose.
Most Foley stages will be very quiet as far as eliminating sounds from the
outside world. The walls of the Foley stage should be acoustically treated
so the sound will be without lingering reflections from the walls. The
reason for that is if the sounds sound like they were recorded in a
medium-size room it will be unusable if the scene in the movie is happening
outside. By recording everything "dry" we can always use it no matter in
what space the scene was shot. If we need it to sound like a big church we
can easily add reverb when we do the final mix of the movie. After we have
finished recording the Foley, it is sent to a Foley editor who will clean up
unnecessary sounds and sync up everything to the picture. Although the
artists always try to be in sync with what is happening on the screen, they
will be off by a few frames so the sound needs to be synced later. It is
also very important to sync the Foley to the production sound -- both sounds
can be played together and that will help creating a better sound.