Sound design is one of those parts of the filmmaking process that if it’s been done right, nobody notices. But as soon as you think about it, you realise how much work actually has to go into it.
To create live sound effects for everything from squeaky doors to fires and even the ‘thwack’ of bullets penetrating flesh, engineers often have to get inventive in order to capture just the right auditory accompaniment to the action on screen. The art of capturing these sound effects is called ‘Foley’ after the technique’s grandfather, Jack Foley, who pioneered these techniques while working at Universal Studios in the silent movie era.
LBB’s Alex Reeves asked a selection of sound designers working in advertising to share their most memorable Foley experiences.
I once had to record real breast feeding sounds for a French nappy commercial. It came as quite a surprise when it turned out it was the voiceover artist who would be supplying the sound effects. I wondered why she brought a baby to the session!
Generally I always find the more mess you make the better it sounds. Never wear your best shirt to a day of Foley I always say!
Dropping in vocalisations yourself can often also be interesting, I've found my own voice being used for everyone from David Hasselhoff to a giant talking teddy bear.
Gramercy Park Studios
There are a couple of projects that were more unusual, from a Foley point of view, that I have worked on during the past year.
The most recent example was on the new campaign for Aero ‘Bubblophone’. The spot introduces the Bubblophone, an invention that reveals how Aero might pump uplifting music into chocolate to create delicious bubbles. It was created by James Hobbs and Jeremy Little and directed by Chris Cairns through Partizan. Soho Music composed the soundtrack, which is inspired by big band music of the 1930s.
The brief was to create the chocolatey bubbles. I experimented with soap bubbles at home (once the family were all tucked up in bed) but found them too thin and not great once subjected to re-pitching. Chris suggested Natrosol which was used in TV game shows such as Live and Kicking and Get Your Own Back in the ‘90s for gunge showers.
I ordered a packet, mixed 10 litres of the stuff and layed down some serious protection in the voice-over booth. I recorded a whole variation of objects dropping into it, but settled on blowing through a straw as the best controlled way of capturing the right visceral sound.
Once I’d picked out the best bubbles I loaded them into Native Instruments’ Kontakt plugin and pitched each bubble to match the notation of the horn section in the music track.
The results can be heard here...
It’s probably not the best idea to ask a butcher which cut of meat sounds the best when you stab it, but how else are you going to find out which cut of meat sounds the best when you stab it?
We were creating the sound design for the channel identity of Film Four’s short-lived offshoot Film Four Extreme, and were tasked with ensuring that the sound lived up to the blood-curdling visuals. Once we’d explained ourselves to the butcher, we got hold of a lovely bit of beef and went to work on it. Carving knives, scalpels, and a Sennheiser MKH 416 were all employed to get a delightfully squishy, sloppy, and suitably stabby set of sound effects. I never did find out how they got the stains out of the carpet though.
In this world of in-the-box technology it’s always nice to get into the physical world of Foley and make bespoke sounds with anything that will give you the sound you’re after.
To make the sound of dog paws, a little trick that a Foley artist can use is to tape paper clips to their fingers and tap out the steps on a suitable hard surface.
But you know what it’s like when you work in Soho, your client often turns up with their own dog to your sessions! And so it was, just as we needed that specific dog-paw-on-floorboard sound, there was Colin the French bulldog sauntering into 750 ready to oblige, mic’d up on my control room floor, three takes and job done!
He also managed to get himself featured as the hero dog in the film. Go Colin! (Big thanks to Petrina at Albion... and Colin of course!)
Other memorable Foley challenges include emulsion paint throwing, which involved lining the entirety of one of our offices with plastic sheeting and chucking around full tins of Dulux paint. Then there’s setting up wall-to-wall domino runs in my voice booth for that unique dominos falling sound and sending a runner across town to buy a fencing foil for a sword fight scene.
Maybe not exactly Foley-esque experience but still a sound effect recording adventure I did some time ago was for a Mayfair hotel job. It was one of those 3D walkthrough films we were putting together.
Mayfair Hotel is a lush five-star hotel with a cinema room, restaurant, bar, gym, spa, etc. My job was to go there and record anything I can, including lobby noises, kitchen staff at work, bar and restaurant areas, gym, lifts and even opening and closing sounds of the hotel room doors, etc. I had to create a wide pallet of sounds for the senior sound designer to have at his disposal.
It was a big undertaking as I was running from one floor to another with headphones on pointing a shotgun mic at pretty much anything that made sounds, hoping not to miss anything. I remember sitting in the restaurant and bar areas trying to capture good ‘walla’ sounds or going into spas and trying to record water dripping from the walls. I spent nearly a day on this job getting awkward looks from posh hotel guests or being occasionally stopped by staff members in the middle of my recordings. It was a good experience and a fun job to do.