Movies transport us to worlds that we are not physically in, thanks largely to the Foley artists, who create an auditory experience that is brilliant. Besides the dialogue and music, everything that the audience hears during the movie are Foley and sound effects courtesy of the sound designer. The hallmark of great work by a Foley artist is when the sound seamlessly blends into the movie experience. While Foley artists who work on action films and movies in other genres do have a lot to do, feature-length animated movies requires sound design that works at a very high level. Every sound in animated movies has to be created and tailored to the specific requirements of the script. From creating the sounds the feet make when penguins dance in Happy Feet to creating distinct personalities of the dogs in Up through the sound of their paws, a Foley artist’s job for animated films is challenging.
In the movie Toy Story, to create the sound of Bullseye licking Woody’s face, a Foley crew member put peanut butter on his own face and recorded it being licked by a cow. For the movie Happy Feet, John Simpson and Jason Hancock took care of the Foley and though movie watchers may not notice it (good foley should never really be noticed), it turned out to be the most difficult job they’ve had. In animation, since everything has to be created from scratch, foley is particularly important. The flipper moves of the penguins, from the walking on different ice and snow, to the movement of the bodies- all of it has to be created from scratch to help place the dialogue into the mouths of the characters. No one had ever heard the sound of a dancing penguin, but that could easily be remedied. The Foley artists knew that penguins have little feet like a lot of other animals and the sound of the snow could be created with wet sand. John Simpson, a multi-award-winning sound recordist and Foley artist added a little bit of water to sand till he got the right slushy sound. To add a bit of crunch, he added some rice bubbles or some cat litter and he created the ‘squeak’ that snow has from a little bag full of corn flour. This is how it all came together.
When shooting certain types of movement and using props, there are some sounds which are very challenging for a Foley artist to create. Quiet sounds can be challenging because the details of the sound needs to be distinguishable, correct and nuanced enough to be believable. These scenes in the films often have nothing else going on and so it is upto the Foley to make the most of it. Creating body falls are especially difficult. Trying to cheat the weight and boniness of a human body and each sound that it produces at different stages of the fall as the body rolls and bounces is a challenging task. Using props creatively is a very important skill that every Foley artist needs to know. For instance in Up, Carl’s cane was created by breaking down the sound. Three tennis balls were held in one hand and a device for a car roof rack in the other. The tennis balls would hit the surface Carl placed the cane on and the roof rack device was the “movement”. Then the Foley artist used an aluminum walking stick to add to the impact sound on another track; Then a third track was used for handling. This makes the mixer’s job easier because then they have the freedom to emphasize or de-emphasize the different components a particular sound–in this case the cane.
As is evident, from the painstaking work of these Foley artists, without Foley a film doesn’t really come alive for the audience. The mark of a great film is when you aren’t even aware of the manner in which the innumerable sound effects you hear make the story real for you.
Here’s a video in which you can watch veteran artist Gary Hecker at work: