Named after the pioneering sound recordist, Jack Foley, who created the technique and applied it in much of his work for Universal Studios during the early years of “talkies” (films with a soundtrack). It is a technique comparable with ADR (check out Will’s blog post for more details), but it’s concerned with sound effects, rather than dialogue.
The three basic types of foley are:
The sounds made when walking, running, jumping, etc. but also that familiar crumpling thud we’ve all heard when an actor falls over. This could be relating to any creature; humans, animals (hoofsteps? pawsteps?), aliens (tentacle steps?)
A good example of this is the sound of someone holding a gun, or removing a sword from its sheath.
The rustle of clothing as someone moves, possibly a superhero’s cape flapping in the wind.
Foley artists perform these techniques in time with the picture on screen to add a sense of realism to a scene. Many of the sounds that are created, such as footsteps, are actually a heightened or exaggerated version of what is heard in real life but because of the way film sound has evolved, they would be noted by their absence. We have come to expect these sounds, and without them the scene may seem unnatural.
Other foley sounds; like door handles, clothes rustling, and that familiar crumpling thud when people fall over are added not necessarily because we’re conscious of them in reality, but because we hear them subconsciously and they would be noted by their absence.
In some situations, foley is the only way to capture a sound. For example, if the film requires a character to break a limb or be fatally wounded, it’s unlikely you’ll convince an actor or director to let you record that for real. Similarly, if the sound doesn’t actually exist (as is often the case in the sci-fi), the only option is often to recreate a version of that sound with props.
In order to perform the actions effectively and in time with the picture, the artists use a large, open studio known as a foley stage. This special studio usually comprises a large screen to view the film, a host of props, clothes and shoes, and several foley pits. These pits are filled with various materials such as gravel, sand, mud, water, wood or metal and are essentially platforms to walk, jump and run on to create different sounding footsteps.
Due to the energetic and sometimes frantic nature of foley artistry, recording the sound cannot normally be done that close to the source. Microphones such as the Neumann TLM-103 are extremely useful as they have a large diaphragm and offer a large dynamic range, which will capture a whole host of different sounds, without needing to be right next to the performer.