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How To Make Sound Effects Using FoleyFriday, August 30, 2019

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The sound of an old wooden door slowly creaking open.

The rustle of fall leaves outside a window.

The click clack of high heels echoing down the marble entryway.

These distinctive sounds add to the realism of any great film's sound design. These sounds are the subtle details that help draw viewers in to the world of the film, and they are delivered to the silver screen through the magic of something called foley. And believe it or not, you can create a lot of great foley effects using things you can pick up at your neighborhood grocery store.

What is foley?

Foley is the art of synching live sound to replicate the natural sound recorded on set during filming. Foley was born out of a need for realistic sound effects when movies were just coming out of the silent film era.

In The Jazz Singer, the first film to ever include sound, the microphones of that time were only good enough to pick up dialogue. So Universal Studios enlisted sound technician Jack Donovan Foley and his small crew to create all the other sound effects for the movie and record them on an audio track while the film was being projected onto the screen in front of them.

The "magic" was keeping all of the live sounds in sync with what was happening on screen. This need spawned the birth of one of the most unique positions on a film crew, the foley artists, named after the clever sound effects designer that created these sound effects for Universal.

Microphone technology has come a long way since then, but the primary goal of sound recording during most film shoots is to capture the dialogue. Modern foley studios have viewing screens to watch the film, props to replicate many common sound effects that you hear in films, as well as microphones and devices to record the sound of the foley artists doing their thing as they watch the film.

Props are used to create specific sounds, and some are pretty hilarious. The sound of bones cracking that you hear during those action shots or gory horror movies is actually created by the foley artist breaking stalks of celery in time to the film. Cornstarch in a leather pouch is usually used to replicate the sound of snow crunching underfoot. And most foley studios are armed with a good supply of men's and women's shoes, along with a variety of tracks of flooring material to reproduce the sound of footsteps going doing various kinds of rooms and hallways.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has put together a great video all about foley that was part of their "Academy Originals" series on YouTube, which you can watch below. They show how foley arists use produce, props, and household objects to reproduce some of the very realistic sounds that you hear in films. Check it out and then be sure to stock up on celery stalks and coffee grinds so you can make your own foley effects on your next 48HFP film!

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