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What is a Foley Artist & What is Their Job on Set?

The Foley Artist or Foley sound crew adds a level of depth to the film that helps audiences to immerse themselves into the production. Foley artists create sound for the film in various ways such as stomping to reproduce footsteps, slamming a door to produce the sound of the door slamming, or breaking a glass to produce the sound of a shattering window. Foley artists work in post-production to record complimentary sound effects that captivate the audience.

The title “Foley” comes from Jack Donovan Foley, the individual who originally invented many of the techniques that are still used in production today to recreate various sound effects for film, television, radio or similar productions. Foley artists use a wide range of techniques to reproduce sounds. The sounds are produced in real-time as the artist watches the film scene by scene to capture each individual sound and sync it with the visual shot.

foley sounds

For example, in a video scene where a man enters a bathroom, shuts the door, walks across the room and turns on the faucet the foley artist will create the sound of a door closing, footsteps on a laminate or tile floor (depending on the actual visual in the production), and finally, the sound of water rushing from a faucet.

In scenes where there is also background noise that was not originally captured by the footage, the foley artists will produce any necessary background sounds that make the scene sound more realistic.

Foley Artist Responsibilities

mixed media foley sound room

Foley artists must have a strong understanding of the script and the environments that they are working to audibly recreate. They are responsible for making a scene more realistic by producing audio effects that were not captured with the original video footage. Foley artists must pay very close attention to detail as they are responsible for reproducing sounds that the average individual may not even realize are occurring in the background.

Foleys produce sounds that immerse the audience in the film. The sound that they create may be as simple as a background sound or an ambient sound, or it could be an elaborate combination of people talking to one another, dishes clanking and the television news anchor reporting all in a single scene. Without the audible effects that are created by the foley artist, a movie would be flat and dull.

Foley artists have all sorts of tools, items, and equipment to reproduce the everyday sounds that are necessary to bring a production to life. They generally have sandbags, shoes of all different types, hammers, keys, various weapons including guns, working car doors, stocked refrigerators, and various other items.

The Power of Improv

The sound that is created by the foley is not always done so in a way that would be expected. In fact, foley artists often have items, that we would not even think of, to create sound–such as pine cones or feather dusters. Many foley artists will break a pine cone to produce the sound of cracking knuckles or they might flap a feather duster back and forth to produce the sound of wings flapping in the air.

Foley artists work through the post-production stage to recreate the various sound effects that are required to effectively fill each scene with background and ambient noise. For computer-generated characters and animated objects, foley artists may create unique sounds that help to make the animation more realistic.

For instance, what sound does a Jabberwocky make? Because the Jabberwocky is a fictional character, there’s no real way to recreate the sounds that are made by this creature. Instead, the foley artist makes up sounds that are unique and fitting for the character.

Foley Artist Skills

Foley artists must pay close attention to detail as they are responsible for creating various sounds that the average individual may not even recognize in the background. They create the sound in real-time as the film plays back scene by scene.

Therefore, they must be able to work well under pressure. The ability to audibly recognize various sounds in virtually any situation is absolutely necessary for foley artists to effectively recreate the sounds of the film.

Additional skills of a foley artist include:

  • Creativity and ability to devise new sounds for fictional characters or situations.
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  • An understanding of audio production.
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  • Understanding of the film production process, specifically post-production.
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  • Ability to work with the director or producer to understand the creative vision, especially when creating new sounds that will be allocated to fictional characters.
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  • Strong observation skills and a keen ear that can audibly recognize even subtle changes in sound.

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