Did you know that most of the sounds you hear in your favourite movies aren't actually recorded on set? Time to take a journey into the secret world of Foley...
Next time you watch a movie or a TV show, take a mental step back from the plot, the action and the characters, and have a good listen to what’s happening onscreen: the jangle of keys; the creak of a floorboard; the sound of a lift beeping. Chances are, all of these sounds and more weren’t recorded during filming, but in post production by a team of Foley artists and sound engineers.
Foley is the name given to recreating these everyday – and sometimes extraordinary – sound effects, and even though it’s a vital part of every movie production it’s a world that not many people know about.
Want a peek behind the curtain? No problem: we’ve been speaking to Foley artist and blogger Louise Brown to shed some light on the subject. Why? It’s all in the name of the brand new Sony Xperia Z3+, which offers high resolution audio so that you can hear more of the details in some of the songs and soundtracks that you love. Read on to find out more…
Kisses, paws and creepy door handles
“I studied music technology at college and university, where I first learnt about Foley,” says Lou. “Upon graduation I obsessively read and watched anything about it that I could get my hands on, and I’d watch working professionals record and edit Foley until, eventually, I was picked up by Alex Joseph – a Foley Supervisor who moved into sound design and was keen for an apprentice to train up.”
Lou claims that the timing there was perfect, but it takes more than just luck to get into the Foley business:
“As an Foley artist, imagination is key,” she explains. “Quick reactions and a responsive body are also really important, as is an emotive awareness. Renowned American Foley artist John Roesch even refers to us as ‘actors,’ and that’s because we recreate the character’s movements and act out their emotional state. There’s a jarring disconnect if an uptight lead character has their footsteps walked with nonchalance, for instance.
“People are often surprised to learn of the detail and scope of recordings that we make whilst in the Foley stage, too. We cover the actor’s kisses, food chewing, hair flicks and even their love-making scenes – be it the mattress springs or car suspension rocking! We also cover a lot of animal movements such as paws, licks and wing flaps. I’m often asked to help the sound effects editors out with their own cues by recording the sound of a mobile phone vibrating on a coffee table or something more abstract like scraping a fork over a very rusty grind wheel to assist a creepy, squeaky door handle – even if it does put my teeth on edge.”
Ok, so Foley is clearly a much more important piece of the filmmaking puzzle than many people might realise, but what exactly does a day in the life look like inside the Foley studio?
“A working day depends upon the budget of a project and the nature of the piece, but a standard day on a film for me involves recording a 17 minute section, which includes all the characters’ clothing movements, footsteps and props effects. That can be car keys jangling, mobile phone screens tapping, faffing around trying to open an umbrella, writing a letter, anything the actors interact with.
“I work alongside the Foley mixer all day; they will record each cue and listen on headphones to everything I’m doing, making sure it all sounds as it should and that there are no ambient noises creeping in, like aeroplanes, tube trains or an interrupting colleague can disrupt recordings.”
In fact, the studio is so quiet, that even Louise’s body can interfere with the recording:
“One of the most important aspects of my day is food-related. I eat small amounts throughout the day to try and avoid tummy rumble and consequent gurgles. The Foley stages are very quiet so bodily noises are all picked up by the microphones!”
Like the sound of that?
Replicating the sound of a smartphone vibrating may seem simple, but what about less common noises? And what about noises that don’t actually exist in the real world? That’s the Foley artist’s time to shine…
“Some of the very creative and interesting sounds are a wonderful collaboration between the folk in the Foley stage and our sound design and supervising sound editing colleagues. When we all watch the film for the first time with the director, some scenes will jump out as requiring creative solutions to which everyone rubs their hands together. These are prized moments,” says Lou.
“The sound of Steven Spielberg’s E.T’s body movements were recorded by artist Joan Rowe using liver…”
“As a famous example, the sound of Steven Spielberg’s E.T’s body movements were recorded by artist Joan Rowe using liver in its packet, jelly in a cloth and a bag of popcorn. Alex Joseph and the guys at London’s Universal Sound Foley stage used a swimming pool full of Nutrient Agar to record Augustus Gloop thrashing around in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s river.”
“When a sound cue comes in that I’ve not tackled before, the mixer and I will have a glance around the props cupboard – an Aladdin’s cave of anything and everything – to see what jumps out. If we hit a wall, we’ll chew it over during lunch. Sometimes I’ll have much longer to prepare, though: Moshi Monsters the Movie involved traipsing around London’s toy shops, Soho’s fabric boutiques and Chinatown’s supermarkets, for instance, looking for interesting materials that would distinguish the film’s characters from one another. I managed to find some fresh rice noodles for the sound of a caterpillar walking on a leaf!”
And the most amazing thing about all of this work? Foley work is responsible for a huge percentage of the sound you see on screen…
“TV and film sound vary quite significantly in terms of Foley coverage,” Lou explains. Films have full Foley coverage, so we re-record absolutely everything. That way the rerecording mixers (who bring all the sound work and music together) have everything at their disposal if they don’t want to use the production sound that was recorded on-set in a particular scene, or would like to use both the production sound and the Foley together for extra richness.
“We also record everything so that films can have their voices re-dubbed – either because the sound quality was bad or for different languages. Once the original production sound is removed, putting the footsteps, clothing movements and characters’ prop effects back in is essential. On set, the importance at the time is to obtain the dialogue as clearly as possible, so intricate sounds such as jewellery jangles or a shirt unbuttoning might not be caught in the microphone. This is where Foley is used throughout a film.”
Hi-Res Audio on the Sony Xperia Z3+
So now you know: a massive chunk of the noises you hear in your favourite films probably weren’t recorded on set, but on the Foley stage by someone like Lou. And those surprising sounds brings us back to the Sony Xperia Z3+, which is available now at Vodafone UK and will bring you #UnexpectedSound of a different nature. And that’s something we’re currently celebrating on Twitter and Facebook.
Fancy getting your hands on a Z3+ of your very own? good news: it’s available right now at Vodafone UK! Click here to order yours!
The Z3+ boasts market-leading noise cancellation and some clever audio upscaling tech to really bring the most out of your music. Click here to find out more.
Order your Xperia Z3+ Now! Fancy upgrading your audio? You can grab a Sony Xperia Z3+ from Vodafone right here.