Foley Artists: The Unsung Heroes

There’s an element to movie magic that, if done well, isn’t noticed at all.

The sounds that work together to create the acoustic environment of a movie scene, are most often made artificially in a studio by the unsung heroes of the film industry: Foley Artists.

Foley artists at work in the studio.

It goes far beyond using coconuts to make the sound of horse hooves. A Foley Studio is a labyrinth of props, surfaces, costumes, and audio equipment. Everything from silverware to dried up leaves is used to meticulously create the sounds that enrich a film or TV show.

Monique Reymond, is an Emmy award-winning Foley Artist, with 40 pairs of Foley shoes in her studio. “At a minimum, I cover all of the human sounds. By this I mean footsteps, hand pats and grabs, and props that the folks onscreen handle.  This does not preclude animal sounds, we do animal footsteps and movement as well,” explains Monique.

“Some of the Foley legends will do far more than just the human sounds.  They will do huge impact sounds. For example, I heard about a Foley Artist that covered the sound of a train chugging along and screeching to a halt on the tracks for a film that featured a very long train sequence.  The fact that they covered the train in foley instead of recording an actual train blew me away,” Monique said.

Used to enhance the auditory experience of a film, Foley Artists create ambient soundscapes and re-create everyday sounds using sometimes unexpected tools. For example, the sound of a train is often created using a box of macaroni, fire is usually crinkling plastic, and ice cracking can be created using a pinecone. The results are sounds that are sometimes very different from what the thing sounds like in real life, but the artificial sounds are richer and more exciting.

Foley artists work with an audio engineer to master their sound effects. A good audio engineer can make a small sound seem like it’s coming from a giant object, or add the digital effects that develop the sounds even further. This is particularly important in animated films, where Foley and sound designers are essentially designing the sounds of an entire world.

“I don’t really know how to articulate how important the engineer is in the entire process,” said Monique. “It’s more important than anything.  It’s more important than the props I have to use; it’s more important than the stage I have to use; it’s more important than the show I’m working on.  I’d have to say it’s singularly the most important thing. The whole Foley process is hugely collaborative, and it takes a lot to create a truly engaging, and rich soundscape.”

The process for a medium budget feature film takes about 5-10 days, which is incredible when compared to how long it used to take before the advances in recording and editing technology. Foley artists had to create Foley instruments that could recreate sounds over and over and at a variety of speeds, since editing sounds was a much more strenuous process. Today, with pro-tools and extremely sensitive recording technology, artists can focus on create more interesting and detailed sounds.

“I’m definitely resourceful and I will find things and use them.  Some of the creativity comes from, in my experience, trying to make do.  Working at little boutique studios, they don’t have everything that one needs, literally.  So trying to figure out how to make a wide range of sounds working with very little is, I think, a great part of the creativity,” explained Monique.  “On the other hand, having done this for 11 or 12 years, a lot of times movies have someone riding a horse.  Not as much in contemporary films, but I did a lot of old movies where I did the Foley.  And I’ve always faked it with some cool leather creaks and some belts I use as reins, but the other day I was somewhere that actually had a saddle and I got to use the saddle for the creaks.  And it sounded so good, I was like, oh my god, I can’t believe I’m finally getting to use this thing!”

To learn more about Monique and her work as a foley artist, please visit her website.

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