Foley Art & Sound Design


The world of Foley Art is a world of make believe.

We will never know who first created a sound effect to enhance a particular scene in a film, but the popular belief is that Jack Foley, during his work for Universal Pictures, was the first to realise that controlled post audio production was the answer to all the obvious problems facing early film recordists. Hence the title ‘Foley Artist’. Although Jack Foley watched his craft develop from those early days, one wonders what he might have made of current techniques in today’s seemingly limitless digital technology. It is gratifying to know that, even thirty years after his death in 1967, major film companies still employ Foley Artists who record sound effects, to rolling film, in real time.

The job of the Foley Artist is not just creating believable sound effects. Many different takes edited together make up a finished film sequence. Some of those takes might have been filmed days apart and, as a consequence, the ambiences and levels of the individual audio tracks are as different as the takes are numerous. The perfect place to make a visual edit is rarely the optimum place to make an audio edit and so glitches occur. The Foley Artist will ‘smoothen’ these edits until the finished audio track runs from take to take seamlessly. In cases where dialogue has to be re-recorded in the studio, synchronised and dubbed back into the film,  then the new vocal performance will be devoid of ambience. The Foley Artist will recreate the original ambience so that the new track is indistinguishable from the original.

This movie arrived at the studio with no soundtrack. The only audio files I had were clips of the individual band members sounding panicked. “Quick there’s a helicopter, run.” etc. The brief was to create a mood musically and, with the use of sound effects, bring the clip to life and augment the sense of panic. I set the mood in the opening scene with an ambience that was musically abstract and forboding. The sound effects were reasonably straight forward - running through the woods, vicious dogs, hard breathing and helicopters etc. In the freeze frame sections, where the band members’ names appear on the screen, the font used is Courier. So I synchronised the sounds of an old manual typewriter. It worked perfectly. I had a problem with creating the impact when the band members jump on to the chain link fence at the end of the clip. What does a chain link fence sound like? Well it sounds like very little. So I had to create a sound for the fence. I recorded the sound of simply rattling a chain and, with some careful editing, it worked. As I said, hearing is believing. Some careful tweaks of Eq to make the whole thing cinematic and it was done. As the clip dissolves to white out, the abstract ambience takes over. Incidentally it is in tune with the first chord the band strikes up as the stage lights go up. Enter 20,000 screaming fans.Click on the clip to view and listen. It should be noted that this is a hugely compressed version of the original.
Again, this clip had no soundtrack. Blue’s arrest and subsequent processing was a dramatic moment in the video. It was important to make the audio as dramatic as possible. We all know that a flash gun makes no noise when it is triggered, but without some sound effect the drama would be lost. I wanted something big with plenty of bass. I overblew a large diaphragm microphone and recorded the result. I edited the audio file to a short decay ‘boom’, filtered the sound with a low pass filter set at 150Hz and added a low frequency reverb. To that, all that was missing was the sound of a camera motorwind. Job done. We all know that the sound on the clip bears no resemblance to reality but it doesn’t matter. We accept it and we are moved accordingly. Click on the clip to view and listen.

Blue’s ‘Guilty’ Tour - Backdrop videos

Westlife’s Number Ones Tour - Backdrop Video

This video demanded more sound processing than foley art. The video reflects the frenetic rate of success that Westlife enjoyed - An amazing fourteen number one singles!! The video portrays a mad dream, re-living their success. It draws its watcher down an endless twisting tube, from which there seems to be no escape. The audio treatment needed to keep pace.  I added some orchestral strings, arranged in a way that it’s difficult to tell where the music is going next. A bit like a dream I suppose. Click on the clip to view and listen.