Peggy reveals some of the secrets behind movie sound effects at Skywalker Ranch.
segment length 7:35
- How much sound in a movie is actually recorded while the actors are in
front of the camera?
- What sort of technology is used to create the incidental sounds in
As you go through an average day, how many sounds around you do you actually hear?
Every time you close a door, do you listen for the click of the lock? Do you hear the
clink of a glass as you set it down? Although you may not actively hear these sounds,
if they weren't there you'd wonder what was missing. Foley, the process of creating
incidental sounds, is the art that completes a film--all by adding sounds for which you
never really listen.
Whether they're tearing heads of cabbage for a paper shredder in The Temp or
The Temp "smooshing" gelatin in T-shirts for
E.T.'s wobble, foley artists add sounds that make the experience more real for the audience. The process is named for radio and
movie sound pioneer Jack Foley, a technician at Universal Studios in the 1950s who
became famous for synchronized sound effects.
Foley artists begin their work by watching the film to determine which sounds need to
be replaced, which need to be enhanced, and which just simply need to be added. At
this time, the sound on the film includes all of the dialogue and sound effects created during the actual
production of the film. These sounds are recorded on a production track or guide track.
Later, technicians may add crowd noises (also called walla), the musical score, rerecorded dialogue or ADR (automated dialogue replacement), sound effects, and
sound-designed effects. It's not unusual to have 80% of a movie's sound track added
and altered in some way after the movie is shot.
Some sound effects are common and can be pulled from prerecorded audio libraries. But
many are unique to each movie--footsteps, for instance. As they watch the film, the
artists identify which sounds they need to create and start thinking of ways to make
them. In addition to the noises themselves, the foley artists must consider other
factors, such as who makes the sound and in what environment. Some sounds are too
complex for one take, so the foley artists carefully combine different noises to
fully represent a single sound. In some cases, foley editors can digitally alter
recorded sounds to fit a scene exactly.
In a foley studio, you'll find different surfaces for walking on, a
splash tank, echo chambers, and a
mixing booth where the sound engineers record and mix everything. Foley artists
spend hours huddled around a microphone, reading cue sheets and watching a huge screen as they
meticulously synchronize their noises to the action.
So the next time you see a movie, listen very carefully. If you don't notice a thing,
you've got a foley artist to thank.
- How would you create a sound for something that has never been heard by
humans, such as sounds on a distant planet or a dinosaur egg hatching?
- How can foley artists affect the mood or meaning of a film through sound
cue sheet: a list of all the necessary sound effects,
along with their "cues"--time code and/or film footage signals that indicate when the
sound begins and ends
dialogue conversation or verbalizations in a film
echo chamber: a box or container used to create the
illusion of distance and reverberation
incidental casual, everyday sounds. Special sound effects that aren't necessarily "special."
mixing console a machine capable of taking in several different sounds, then
mixing them at different levels to create a single, unified sound
reverberation a reechoed sound which fades until it becomes inaudible
rough cut the "first draft" of a film
score the background music throughout a film
splash tank a container filled
with water for wet sound effects
walla the film industry term for background crowd noises in a movie
- Belton, J. & Weis, E. (1985) Film sound: Theory and practice. New York:
Columbia University Press.
- Harris, R.J., Jr. (1992, Dec 21) The foley artists are a noisy bunch in
moviemaking. The Wall Street Journal, pp. A1 & A5.
- Mooser, S. (1983) Lights! Camera! Scream! How to make your own monster
movies. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.
- Mott, R.L. (1993) Radio sound effects: Who did it, and how, in the era of
live broadcasting. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.
- Mantell, H. (1983) The complete guide to the creation and use of sound
effects for films, TV and dramatic productions. Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities.
- Smith, T.G. (1986) Industrial Light and Magic: The art of special effects.
New York: Ballantine Books.
Contact your state's film board to find out who does foley or sound work in
- Tour a local TV or film production company.
- Contact a local radio station to find out if any DJs use sound effects.
- Check your local library for LPs, tapes, and CDs containing sound effects
- Contact the theater department of a local university for a speaker on
theater sound effects.
How many different sounds can you create with just ten items and your tape recorder?
For starters, you'll experiment with each individual material and see how many sounds
you can make. Then start combining them. As you become more familiar with the
properties of different materials, think about other sounds you can create with them.
- ball bearings
- balloons (uninflated)
- bottle of carbonated water
- bottle of noncarbonated water
- cylindrical oatmeal carton
- Popsicle sticks
- rubber bands
- stiff pieces of cardboard
- tape recorder
- Experiment with each of the above items to create different noises. Try
creating new sounds by manipulating two or more items in combination or changing the environment
you are in. Feel free to cut things apart, glue them together, or do whatever else
inspires you. Decide what actual sounds your sound effects could represent.
Tape-record your sounds. When you finish, write out a list of what each sound on the
recording represents, as well as how you created it.
- Now, your debut as a foley artist! Play the sounds for a few friends. Do
they recognize what you intended the sound to be? If you like, draw pictures or add
dialogue to the sound effects to make the noises more recognizable.
- Using your new sound effects as inspiration, write a short scene for the
radio. See how many different sound effects you can incorporate. How would you write this
scene differently if sound effects weren't available to you? Record and share your
scene. And when famous Hollywood producers want to hire you to do foley on their
films, remember the folks at NEWTON'S APPLE who gave you your start!
In the NEWTON'S APPLE foley segment, Peggy learns that there are several different
sound elements in the dinosaur egg hatch--the cracking egg, the sticky membrane, and
the motion of the baby dinosaur. Can you identify the different elements of other
sounds? For instance, listen to a watermelon being cut open. Or a box of cereal being
opened. How would you categorize the different types of sounds?
Silent films depended on an organist in the movie theater to add the music and mood
to make a movie complete. Rent a silent Charlie Chaplin film. Treat it as a rough cut.
Watch the entire film with the sound turned off. What sound effects would you add?
How would you do them?
Take a tape recorder on a walk with you. Really listen to the sounds around you and
record sounds that you hear every day, but typically ignore. Choose your top ten
favorites and play them for friends. How many do they recognize? How many stump them?
You can make it tougher by editing out part of longer sounds. (Here are two to get you
started--a parking meter and a light bulb being screwed in.)
In the early days of live radio, John Dennis invented a way to create the sound of
thunder. His method of rattling a large piece of thin copper sheeting suspended by
wires became so popular with others in the field that an irate Dennis accused another
producer of "stealing my thunder!" Dig through your kitchen. How many ways can you
steal some thunder? (Hint: Don't do this before 10 a.m.)
Newton's Apple is a production of KTCA Twin Cities Public Television. Made possible
by a grant from 3M. Educational materials developed with the National Science