As you go through an average day, how many sounds around you do you actually hear? Every time you close a door, do you listen for the click of the lock? Do you hear the clink of a glass as you set it down? Although you may not actively hear these sounds, if they weren't there you'd wonder what was missing. Foley, the process of creating incidental sounds, is the art that completes a film--all by adding sounds for which you never really listen.
Whether they're tearing heads of cabbage for a paper shredder in The Temp or "smooshing" gelatin in T-shirts for E.T.'s wobble, foley artists add sounds that make the experience more real for the audience. The process is named for radio and movie sound pioneer Jack Foley, a technician at Universal Studios in the 1950s who became famous for synchronized sound effects.
Foley artists begin their work by watching the film to determine which sounds need to be replaced, which need to be enhanced, and which just simply need to be added. At this time, the sound on the film includes all of the dialogue and sound effects created during the actual production of the film. These sounds are recorded on a production track or guide track.
Later, technicians may add crowd noises (also called walla), the musical score, rerecorded dialogue or ADR (automated dialogue replacement), sound effects, and sound-designed effects. It's not unusual to have 80% of a movie's sound track added and altered in some way after the movie is shot.
Some sound effects are common and can be pulled from prerecorded audio libraries. But many are unique to each movie--footsteps, for instance. As they watch the film, the artists identify which sounds they need to create and start thinking of ways to make them. In addition to the noises themselves, the foley artists must consider other factors, such as who makes the sound and in what environment. Some sounds are too complex for one take, so the foley artists carefully combine different noises to fully represent a single sound. In some cases, foley editors can digitally alter recorded sounds to fit a scene exactly.
In a foley studio, you'll find different surfaces for walking on, a splash tank, echo chambers, and a mixing booth where the sound engineers record and mix everything. Foley artists spend hours huddled around a microphone, reading cue sheet??????q?Ÿ;???s and watching a huge screen as they meticulously synchronize their noises to the action.
So the next time you see a movie, listen very carefully. If you don't notice a thing, you've got a foley artist to thank.
cue sheet: a list of all the necessary sound effects, along with their "cues"--time code and/or film footage signals that indicate when the sound begins and ends
dialogue conversation or verbalizations in a film
echo chamber: a box or container used to create the illusion of distance and reverberation
incidental casual, everyday sounds. Special sound effects that aren't necessarily "special."
mixing console a machine capable of taking in several different sounds, then mixing them at different levels to create a single, unified sound
reverberation a reechoed sound which fades until it becomes inaudible
rough cut the "first draft" of a film
score the background music throughout a film
splash tank a container filled with water for wet sound effects
walla the film industry term for background crowd noises in a movie
TRY THIS!Silent films depended on an organist in the movie theater to add the music and mood to make a movie complete. Rent a silent Charlie Chaplin film. Treat it as a rough cut. Watch the entire film with the sound turned off. What sound effects would you add? How would you do them?
TRY THIS!Take a tape recorder on a walk with you. Really listen to the sounds around you and record sounds that you hear every day, but typically ignore. Choose your top ten favorites and play them for friends. How many do they recognize? How many stump them? You can make it tougher by editing out part of longer sounds. (Here are two to get you started--a parking meter and a light bulb be??????q??????ing screwed in.)
TRY THIS!In the early days of live radio, John Dennis invented a way to create the sound of thunder. His method of rattling a large piece of thin copper sheeting suspended by wires became so popular with others in the field that an irate Dennis accused another producer of "stealing my thunder!" Dig through your kitchen. How many ways can you steal some thunder? (Hint: Don't do this before 10 a.m.)
Newton's Apple is a production of KTCA Twin Cities Public Television. Made possible by a grant from 3M. Educational materials developed with the National Science Teachers Association.
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