We probably all know & use the word Foley but everyone seems to have a slightly different understanding of what it means.

From talking to other sound people & watching documentaries I've heard a few different definitions;

  • Just footsteps & clothing movement sounds
  • All character related sounds apart from dialogue
  • Low priority sound effects that aren't spot FX or ambience

My understanding is that Foley is the technique of watching a video whilst performing actions to create sounds in sync with the picture. So in my opinion it is a recording technique rather a type of sound, & the subject of a sound doesn't determine whether or not it is Foley.

From my experience footsteps & movement sounds in video games are usually recorded/edited wild and synced later but still referred to as Foley.

Definitions from a couple of books;

  • 'Foley is the art & craft of designing and recording performed sound effects in sync to film'

Vanessa Theme Ament (The Foley Grail)

  • 'Today the term describes general sound effects performed by humans, but not necessarily to picture. This includes sounds that are pulled from a sound effects library'

Ric Viers (The Sound Effects Bible)

What is your understanding of Foley? It would be interesting to see what definition is the most common.

4 Answers 4


Ahhh... the question that most people ask me when I tell that I am a foley artist.

What the hell is foley? In your question you have already answered a lot of what foley is, but the main point of contention in defining foley is what is a canned effect and what are foley effects.

Like, for example, a punch. You can get these foleyed punch effects off of most CD's, but you are limited in texture and authenticity. All punches on these CD's are foleyed. And it takes time to go through all the punches to find the right one and by the time, you as the editor, has found the right one. The foley artist has probably done it, and it is fresh and original.

The same goes for body falls, blood and guts sounds, bones being broken etc. It is so much faster to do it in the foley stage than to sift through dozens of blood squirts. But for door slams, engines, gunshots, ambiences, bird sounds, animal sounds, walla's etc., they are definitely CD effects.

It is not uncommon, and pretty much a necessity, that SFX editors and foley artists will help each other to develop and sweeten the sound. A good example would be a car that needs a special feel to it.

I generally discuss things with the editor, and we talk about what needs to be sweetened so that we do not double up on sounds and waste our time.

So basically foley is the extra spice along with the more prominent spices in the big stew of post-production. They put the human in all the movements and feel of the film. There is nothing worse than a film that does not have foley. It is empty and lacks soul and the organic feel.

Also, check out Andy Malcolm's website for his company “Footsteps”. He talks about doing on location foley. Great stuff.


I've always felt that Foley is the reproduction of sound while sound design is the creation of sound. Though both require talent to get right, specially foley.

  • brief and to the point. Nice!
    – Mercy
    Commented Aug 2, 2010 at 21:17

Semantics can be tricky, especially as everyone tends to have their own opinion on the matter.

The way i have it in my head, to try and keep it clear, is that foley is anything recorded to picture. ie. sync footsteps/moves, gravel debris, branches moving, any misc sounds to augment FX.

If you record footsteps or moves wild (not to picture), i wouldn't call it foley. Even though you might want to lay them up in your foley session, i'd prefer to call that FX (if i felt like being anal).

I think that makes sense, i mean foley is named after the guy who came up with the idea of recording sounds to picture right? (http://www.marblehead.net/foley/jack.html) The point being that in true foley, you really are performing the sounds; something you can't do as effectively without watching the picture.

That is a really interesting point about video games... Can a video game have true foley? As the player is the main character in video games, they don't really need to be given information as to how they're feeling. However, NPCs could definitely benefit from emitting more/deeper aural information. Hey, maybe one day the programming and data real estate (and budget!) will be enough to allow NPCs to become more 3 dimensional through an artificial kind of foley.

That was a bit of tangent, i got excited for a moment there!

  • Games can have Foley (or movement sounds) that changes to communicate things to the player, for example some games let you choose your clothes & equipment so Foley could help to make it sound like you're carrying a heavier load. Some game developers do use proper Foley artists, this Youtube video shows an example; youtube.com/watch?v=KMfZC2Iyx8g Commented Aug 3, 2010 at 14:36

Haven't read the other two answers yet, but I want to shout this: Foley is the occasion to have your sounds effects, virtually ANY sound, performed by a creative person to breathe life into a movie that is primarily a collection of still sounds recorded in isolation from each other. I'd describe Foley as very organic if I were to compare it to this massive brick construction that hard effects are. Both are big, only in different ways, each their own :)

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