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One of the most difficult things I have a long way to go on learning how to do is filling out the soundtrack with realistic foley.

I am having a bit of trouble with a particular short film I'm working on, and it's with the foley. There is little to no production sound to pull from, and I am trying my hardest to place in as much stuff to really make it sound "real". I have worked on it quite a bit and it still feels and sounds to me like I'm missing quite a bit of things, and that it sounds like dead, lifeless recordings edited together and not a realistic film.

So how do you really make it sound realistic?

For those foley masters out there, how do you go about creating super-realistic foley tracks from scratch? If you were given a short film or scene to create the foley for, where do you start? How do you turn it into a smooth, full, and realistic sounding track?

And, what's your average time expectancy for about a minute of full start-from-scratch sound design on a scene where nothing special really happens, just walking around and talking?

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The first thing I do when I'm beginning a film is to WATCH it. (Better yet, I READ the script BEFORE I start to design anything). You only get one first impression. I take in the look and feel of it, the attitude and mood, and try to recognize any overarching themes or ideas the director is trying to convey. Only then do I start listening to sounds or thinking about what to record.

That said, my first task is to build backgrounds. Airs, winds, traffics, wallas, nature, and spotted BGs (horns, phones, anything singular and specific to the scene) are my go-to food groups. Once built I have a solid foundation to start working on the sounds of things you see.

Foley cueing comes next. This takes a LOT of practice and patience! Proper cueing is really critical to getting usable material from your foley walkers and recorder; overcueing could cause them to rush through everything, constantly racing the clock, while undercueing will give you less material to work with in the final mix. Also, your cues need to be DESCRIPTIVE! "FS dirt" just won't cut it; "FS combat boot on wet gravel" is much more appropriate. Usually there is another team member that specializes in foley but on occasion I have needed to fill that position - and it's not to be taken lightly. Sharp attention to detailed foley cueing and supervision can be the difference between a dead track and one with tons of life to it. It's all of those little nuances that add up to make a soundtrack that really speaks.

If you don't have access to a foley crew and are performing the foley yourself, I highly recommend that you still go through the cueing process, carefully watching the scenes over and over again, noting each and every event that needs attention. Then, remove yourself to a quiet recording area with the appropriate props and start working. It will take experimentation and patience but hopefully you'll find a wealth of usable material when you're done.

  • @Jay Thanks so much for your input. One of these days you should write a book on the subject of sound design! – Utopia Mar 2 '13 at 1:12
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Could hardly say I'm a master not even nearly, but what do you usually start with? do you try to hit the things that are on screen, or do you start with the ambience? I'd probably start with a good ambience first so it tunes your ears for it. I feel like your stuff will fit in better ultimately, but if i started with footsteps or something, i'd never be able to hear the broader picture (does that make any sense?)

Also i won't even speak on time expectancy because i work (to me at least) slowly as shit.

  • DAVE! Thanks for replying. I start with layering in ambiences so I have a place for the characters to live in and then start in on the foley. Makes perfect sense and I think this is exactly why I start with ambiences. I guess I need to keep whittling away at watching and recording every single possible little cloth movement and touch the character does.. – Utopia Mar 1 '13 at 4:48
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Layer it up. Footsteps Cloth movement Breaths (if necessary) prop movement

add in a bit of ambience (roomtone, street out window or something to reflect where you are.

mix them all with a bit of the same verb to 'glue' them together a bit.

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I am still a beginner, but here are the few things I learned so far:

-It's important to leave enough 'air' (distance between mic and fole prop) when recording.

-a thing I recently learned is to glue the tracks together by using an appropiate mono verb on the tracks (even though this falls more into the mix than in the actual recording/editing)

Usually I try to do footsteps first,which is (for me) one of the hardest parts. Then cloth and then everThing else according to it's importance.

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I'm struggling with my own foley work but what seems to work for me is a bit of magic that happens in the background ambiences. Somehow or rather, I always seem to get a fitting event in the background that helps 'liven' things up. Someone knocking into something, some mic handling noise, etc... An unwanted noise that when nudged to the right place, seems to work with the action on the screen.

If you're out of ideas, how about putting a mic on yourself and reenacting the scene. Might give you some new ideas of what sounds you will need.

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Someone else mentioned this, but most people forget the cloth sounds. I know it seems unimportant but when you've done everything else (footsteps, incidentals, backgrounds, and any other sound fx), the cloth really sells it. you dont need much just the applicable cloth, or something that sound similar, and record a little movement with it. Not much, a little goes a long way.

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