Meet the Magicians of sounds

You must have heard a lot about Foley or Foley artists in films, but if you haven’t then you are in for a treat.

So let’s discuss what exactly is Foley and how it was born?

Foley was initially referred to as ‘sound effects’ or ‘live effects’, the function was dubbed ‘Foley’ after Jack Foley, who pioneered various sound-effect techniques for Western films. He started his career in sound effects in 1914 while working with Universal Studios during the silent movie era & created sounds for films until his death in 1967. His basic methods are still used today. 

Who are Foley Artists and how do they produce sound?

You should ideally know them as the ‘sound effects’ guy. Foley artists are a community of sound designers who work from behind the camera, on making the film sound awesome. The intricate sounds of footsteps, glass breaking, utensils clanging, sword languishing, cannot sound the same without the Foley artists working on it.  They are audio geniuses who create sound effects with everyday objects that are used to bring films, Tv shows, radio shows, video games, and music projects to life. The sounds they create are added post-production to complete the entertainment experience.

Foley artists typically work for production houses or studios. As a team they watch raw footage and then try to match the sounds of the action. To do this, they work with all sorts of everyday materials & props to create the desired sounds that you hear. Once a Foley artist masters the sound they are trying to achieve, the match it flawlessly into the final edit for the listener’s delight.

Interestingly, some of the most commonplace sounds are produced in unusual ways. For instance, flapping a wallet recreates the sound of a flight of pigeons; waving a cloth through the air replicates the whooshing of wind; and one of the most popular effects — that of heavy rainfall — is made by dropping large granules of salt over an umbrella. And these touches cost filmmakers anywhere between a lakh and six lakh on an average per film. Depending on the level of customisation required, Foley for a film can be wrapped up in anywhere between 15 days to a month.

In this era of technology where machines and robots are stealing jobs, would their talent & creativity also stand the advent of technology?

Filmmakers attest that no software can deliver all the sounds required in a film. And if you want to be authentic — and original — you have to go to the experts like veteran Foley artist Karnail Singh, who has worked on over 3,000 films in the last 33 years, along with collaborator Sajjan Chowdhry of Aradhana Studio.

Most Foley artists have a catalogue of stock sounds, which include the smashing of glass, the breaking of wooden objects and their signature interpretations of mundane, onscreen actions. But often, films demand an entirely new sort of sound because of instance “A regular office-goer’s footsteps won’t sound the same as a villain’s.” Syed Aslam, 53, another veteran Foley artist, specialises in this particular aspect and is credited with ‘creating’ the footsteps of stars such as Amitabh Bachchan’s Subhash Nagre in Sarkar and Hrithik Roshan’s Akbar in the historical, Jodha Akbar. “In Sarkar, Bachchan wore chappals and in Jodha Akbar, Hrithik wore mojris. But the characters’ mood, state of mind and personality still had to come through from the sound of their footsteps,” says Aslam, adding that “a Badshah strolling imperially in his courtyard required a different sound from the footsteps of Bachchan’s Nagre, which had to convey subtle intimidation”. 

Cooped up in tiny Foley studios, cluttered with tiny objects. Foley artist have recreated legendary sounds in the films. 

You may feel there work is behind the screen, but they are valued by all the artist, music producers, directors in film as their character & scene are qualifying because by the sound which is been created by Foley artists. While productions today are more helpful in enabling Foley artists achieve the precise sound by providing actual props, this wasn’t always the case. Earlier, they had to go prop hunting. However, today, they have filmmakers reaching out to them for suggestions.

Foley Artists, are somewhat contend with the fact that 50 to 60 per cent of their work may get drowned out by a background score and often, even escapes the notice of the audience. It is also often debated that the best Foley art is so well integrated into a film that it goes unnoticed by the audience. It helps to create a sense of reality within a scene. Without these crucial background noises, movies feel unnaturally quiet and uncomfortable.

There’s no established route to become a Foley artist. Perhaps the best way to break in to this cool niche is to take courses in Music production, sound engineering, or a related field. Next try to find an internship with a Foley studio to learn the trade. It’s always helpful to find a mentor too. And of course, with everything in life, grow your network and make connections with people involved in the industry.