5 unexpected foley sound design choices

Foley is the reproduction of sound effects for film, radio, and other media.

Foley artists record a wide variety of objects during post-production that can include anything from footsteps for a forest scene to otherworldly monster screeches.

The term was named after Jack Foley, a pioneer of sound design for film. However, the art form itself originated during the early days of radio. To make radio broadcasts more engaging, sound effects were performed live using real objects. This technique made its way into movies as we transitioned from silent films to movies with sound.

Foley is typically recorded in a foley stage (also called a foley studio), a silent room with a projector or screen, an array of different microphones, and a large amount of found objects that are relevant to a particular movie or show (check out Sony’s foley stage for Spider-Man: Far From Home). It can also include equipment for creating environmental sounds like water tubs, sandboxes, and gravel pits. There will generally be one or two foley artists actually making the sounds and a mixer / engineer who’s in charge of recording and processing using tools such as EQ, compression, reverb, etc. The engineer will also be responsible for layering recordings to design more complex sounds. If you don’t have access to a sound stage or foley artists, don’t worry – Splice’s Cinematic FX catalog has you covered.

Now that we have an understand of what foley is, let’s explore five unexpected choices made by some of the most creative foley artists and engineers out there.

1. A monster’s ears opening in A Quiet Place

Sound designers from E2 Sound had to get creative when making sounds for the monsters with super-hearing in A Quiet Place. To get the dramatic sound of a monster’s’ ears opening, they combined the noises of twisting lettuce leaves and celery stalks. This provides the crunchy timbre the audience expects from seeing the monsters.

2. A stormtrooper’s armor in Star Wars

The foley sound effects of all the recent Star Wars movies were fittingly recorded at Skywalker Sound. To achieve the sound of a running stormtrooper, foley artist Kim Patrick bundled a pair of roller skates, a motorcycle helmet, and a leather jacket in her arms and bounced the objects back and forth.

3. Rat footsteps from Rat Film

Foley artist Matt Davies took a unique approach to making the skittering footsteps of rats in the movie Rat Film. He put four bamboo sticks in his hands and lightly tapped them on concrete to simulate the four legs of a rat scrambling across the floor.

4. Chris Moriana’s approach to snowy footsteps 

Warner Bros Sound foley artist Chris Moriana explains the practicality of using a sandbox for most snowy footsteps. However, to add some extra crunchy steps, he devised a surprising method; he simply fills a cloth sack with cornstarch and crunches the bag under his boot.

5. Matt Davies’ approach to blood dripping

You might think that creating the sound of blood dripping would involve trickling some kind of liquid onto a surface. However, Matt Davies from Studio Unknown devised a more performative method. He soaked a washcloth with water and lightly struck his individual fingers on the towel to create the dripping sound. This way, he could easily control the cadence of the drips to match the film.

Are there any unexpected foley sounds that you know of? Let us know in the comments below.

August 13, 2019

Nick Chen CX Lead @ Splice. Nick Chen is a producer / performer and educator known under the aliases “Enix” and “nickthechen.”