Foley is probably my favorite thing to do in post audio. On set, my main goal as production sound is to get the best quality dialogue track I can, anything beyond that is bonus (ambience tracks, wild tracks etc.). Foley recording is used to supplement all of the sounds that were not captured on set that need to be heard. Almost all footsteps, handshakes, clothing movements, object handling etc. are recorded later in a studio. Often the sound you hear is not the the sound of the actual object. The foley studio is full of random objects, from a car door to a shopping cart (the cart is often used to emulate the squeak of mattress springs).
On set, footsteps can really ruin good dialogue sound, especially something like high heels in a hallway, or boots on a cement floor. The sharp high power transients cut right through dialogue and make mixing and editing properly rather difficult. For many narrative projects, they get around this by laying down carpets on the floor out of frame so the actor footsteps make little to no noise. This makes for a much cleaner dialogue track, but since those sounds are no longer recorded, we have to recreate them in the foley studio.
In the studio there are several surfaces that the foley artist can walk on in sync with the actor in the movie. Under different floor panels are concrete, tile, wood, and fake grass surfaces the foley artist can use to walk or run on. That, in addition to the 20 or so different pairs of shoes the foley artist has (from high heels, to boots, to dress shoes) can recreate virtually any footsteps on any surface in a film. The mixer can then add some effects to those tracks and mix them in separately from the dialogue recorded on set.
The recorded foley tracks in conjunction with the sound effects edit and dialogue tracks all come together seamlessly to create a sonic environment that, when done properly, make you completely believe the movie’s locations. Foley is one of those things where you never notice it until it’s not there. I did production sound on a short film recently where they did no foley recording in audio post. You immediately notice certain sounds missing on screen. You don’t hear the footsteps, the coffee cup getting put down isn’t quite as present as your brain thinks it should be, you know that vinyl windbreaker should be much more swooshy than it is.
I work a lot with this one foley artist Shaun “The Walker”, and it’s great watching him work. He’s been doing this a long time and all you have to do is say “Hey Shaun, I need guy pressing play on cassette player”, and he will come up with that sound from whatever objects are around him. It’s often not a cassette player sitting in the foley studio, so maybe he’ll use a clicky pen and a dvd case to make the sound. We can get through many many foley cues in a day by being just a little creative with what we have to work with.
Production and post-production sound, NYC.