The creaks of ice breaking, the hoof beats and clanking of armour as a medieval knight rides his horse, the rush of a fast falling waterfall. Sounds in film or TV help to draw a viewer in, and make them believe that what they are seeing is actually happening. It sells the scene.
Most of the sounds that we hear when watching a movie or TV show are not actually recorded during the filming though, they are recorded later on a Foley stage by Foley artists. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves though, where does the word “Foley” even come from?
The term “Foley” actually comes from quite an inventive man. Jack Foley (April 12, 1891-November 9, 1967) lived an absolutely fascinating life, going from his first job as a stunt double to script writer and director to sound expert. He was a pioneer of his time, creating many sound techniques that were used in filmmaking. He is famous for developing the unique method of performing sound effects in sync with a picture during the post-production phase. Today, people who use this method are referred to as “Foley artists”!
Enough of the history lesson though, lets take a look at how Foley artists actually bring a film/TV show to life with their craft. The sound recording equipment has changed, but essentially the method is still the same as when Jack Foley first created it. Take a look at this video from 1979 starring Foley artists Peter Muir & Paul Amato and then compare it to the video by Great Big Story as they follow a pair of modern day Foley artists.
Think about your favourite movie or TV show. Now try to imagine it with no background sound or sound effects. It’s almost too strange to even try to imagine it! You would be left with just the actors dialog, and while their acting can be incredible at time, you need all the other layers of sound to immerse you in the story and evoke an emotional response.
One of the most fascinating things about what Foley artists do is that what you see, may not be what you are actually hearing. Remember those sounds mentioned at the beginning of this post? The creaks of ice breaking isn’t actually ice being broken, it’s actually pine cones being broken. The sound of horse hoofs isn’t from recording a horse; it’s actually recreated by either coconut shells (as illustrated in the below hilarious clip from Monty Python) or plungers with cloth stuffed in them. When the audience hears it though, they believe they are hearing exactly what they are seeing.
So the next time you are enjoying being mesmerized by your favourite movie or TV show, thank a Foley artist.