Imagine watching a movie, a TV Serial, an ad, a video without sound effects, it would be bland, lifeless and unnatural. Sound effects are an extension of the craft of a movie that allows filmmakers to tell their story in best possible way. Sound plays a huge and important part of that story. The sound effects are artificially created by the Foley artists. For example take the scene from Film Sholay – how would this scene impress you without the ambient sounds?
Foley artists recreate the realistic surrounding sounds that the film portrays. The props and sets of a film often do not react the same way acoustically as their real life counterparts. Foley sounds enhance the auditory experience of the movie. Foley can also be used to cover up unwanted sounds captured on the set of a movie during filming, such as overflying airplanes or passing traffic. The term “Foley” also means a place, such as Foley-stage or Foley-studio, where the Foley process takes place.
Foley is named after sound-effects artist Jack Foley. The Foley artist reproduces everyday sound effects that are added to film, video, and other media in post production to enhance audio quality. These sounds can be anything from the swishing of clothing, birds chirping, footsteps to squeaky doors and breaking glass. The best Foley art is so well integrated into a film that it goes unnoticed by the audience. The audience does not pay any attention to this small, yet vital aspect of film making.
Foley complements by replacing sound recorded on set at the time of the filming, known as field recording. The sound spaces of most films use a combination of both. Foley artists use creativity to make viewers believe that the sound effects are actually real. For example, fist-fighting scenes in an action movie are usually staged by the stunt actors and therefore do not have the actual sounds of blows landing. Crashes and explosions are often added or enhanced at the post-production stage. The desired effect is to add back to the original soundtrack the sounds that were intended to be excluded during recording. By excluding these sounds during field recording, and then adding them back into the soundtrack during post-production, the editors have complete control over how each noise sounds, its quality, and the relative volume. Foley effects add depth and realism to the audio quality for multimedia sources, and they simplify the synchronizing of sounds that would otherwise be monotonous or downright impossible to manage.
Foleys usually work at night after everyone else has finished work and left the recording studio. The scenes of a movie are played on a screen and the visuals are matched with the live sound effects recreated by Foley artists. The biggest challenge for a Foley is to actually make his work sound so natural that it seems realistic.
A character in the movie interacts with objects. For example, if a character picks something metallic up like a wrench or even a gun, the sound designer will have to add the sound of a hand touching metal. Using a cell phone or computer would also be accompanied by the sounds of digital beeps and clicks of buttons or keys being pressed. These might not be sounds that people register in reality, but not having them in a scene will make it very insipid.
The biggest fact is that these additional sounds are often very quiet and subtle and are generally used in quieter dialogue scenes. But in a scene as above from film Raid, look at the tempo and zest in Ajay Devgan’s acting. The banging of door of the big wooden gate and the dialogue between Ajay Devgan and gate keeper looks realistic because of the effective Foley sounds.
Karan Arjun Singh is one of Bollywood’s leading Foley artists. He worked for films such as Barfi, Talaash, Kahaani and Rockstar. In 2008, he opened Just Foley, a small, four-room studio in Mumbai’s Goregaon. Spread over a space of 800 square feet, his studio floor is patched together with different material – marble, wooden and marbonite – to recreate the sounds of footsteps on different surfaces.
Singh has been a Foley artist for more than 20 years and in this time the character of the job has changed. “Earlier, a Foley artist had to create sounds from scratch because these were not recorded during the shoot; now he has to amplify existing sounds because sync sound is becoming more popular, ” he says. “We have to match the sync sound perfectly. It has made our jobs more difficult. “
Similarly the Hollywood Foley artist Gary Hecker has won many awards for his work in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Robin Hood”. He has worked on more than 200 movies throughout his career.
Location sound includes environmental details and capturing quality dialogue is the name of the game here. Ambient sound, if desired, should be captured in separate runs. Foley artists capture a selection of ambient sound for each location the movie is shot in.
A common, yet admittedly less glamorous, sound effect is footsteps. A footstep on its own might seem bland, but what if you want more than a recording of the inconsistent pitter-patter of feet faintly shuffling against a concrete floor? Your only options are to record Foley footsteps or to add and edit footsteps from an archive. Even stock footage is heavily edited in order to fit a role; by definition it becomes a sound effect. The Foley artists add footsteps sounds as per the gender, weight, age of the actor.
What are the usual gadgets found in a Foley studio? You will usually find gadgets such as think sticks and, dowel rods to produce excellent whooshing SFX, coconut shells, old chairs and stools are perfect for controlled creaking, heavy-duty staple guns serve for excellent gun noises, roll up a large phonebook for realistic body punches, twist and snap sticks of celery for convincing bone breaks, corn starch inside a leather pouch makes the sound of snow crunching, cut a coconut in half and line them with a soft material for a horse walking, ball up and walk over old audio tape for the sound of grass footsteps, an old car door or fender to produce metal and car crash sounds and a pair of cleaning gloves for the sound of realistic bird wings.
Action scenes need a lot of Foley effects, and there are several tricks used to keep scenes realistic. The horrific bone-crunching sound, for instance, comes when a cabbage leaf is twisted in front of a microphone. Cutting a watermelon and then squishing it with a foot-ruler gives the sound of flesh tearing away and blood spurting out. Thrashing fruit crates around creates the sound of breaking furniture.
A skilled Foley must also be accustomed to acting. It gives the additional edge for a Foley artist to get into the head of the character to produce the right kind of sound effect. Foley artists earn a well – a decent amount. There’s no set educational path for a Foley artist, but some come to the profession after a diploma or other qualification in audio production or recording arts. This gives you a thorough grounding in the technical aspects of recording sound, including knowledge of electronics and training in acoustics. It will also provide expertise in computer sound editing and other computer skills. One gets into the profession by networking with people in the profession. It’s a creative profession.