I have learned a lot of things over the years, none that have stuck with me as much as the experimenting and hundreds of takes I have done in order to get better at performing, recording and editing Foley. Below I will share with you seven things I learned that make it easier, faster and sound better:
1. Wardrobe Choice
Yes. Your clothes (and shoes) are very important when recording Foley. The microphones are super sensitive and usually have a healthy amount of gain applied to capture your movements in their full glory. Break out the leather jackets and heavy boots for battle scenes, and wear full lycra (if you can face it) if you need to record footsteps or something else quiet (for example, the scratching of a pencil) because it clings to your frame and doesn’t make any extra noise.
2. Know Your Role!
I cannot stress this enough – if you are going to be recording Foley as the artist or the engineer, watch the movie. Watch it all the way through so you know the story and emotions. Then watch AGAIN any action scenes or any scenes with a lot of movement. Then before you record watch the scene AGAIN. It’s really good practice to know what is happening on screen before it happens so you can be ready, to avoid too many takes and having massive sessions. Which brings me smoothly onto my next point……..
3. How Many Takes is Too Many?
Four. Four is too many. My experience has taught me that the majority of the best sounds come in Take Two and Take Three, with a fair amount of usable bits in the first go around. This is because you are warmed up and ready to go after the first take, so give it your best shot in take two. The same with three. By take four, however, you are starting to lose energy from doing the same thing over and over. Trust me, if you don’t have it in three takes, do something else for a bit, then go back to it.
4. Different People Have Different Ears
In an ideal world, getting the very best out of a Foley session requires three people. One to perform, one to record, and a third person who comes in later to compile and edit. Being too familiar with the material can lead to bad decisions, because you know every little slip of the tongue, hand or foot. These little mistakes are often edited out by a person present at the recording session, but often add a human quality to the sound that may be imperceptible to a third ear.
5. Pull a Jim Carrey
And OVERACT. Us people working hard in post-production are aiming for hyper reality. The things we do need to sound more like things than the actual things – for example, buffalo slowed down sound more like horses running than horses running. Go figure.
Anyway, overact. Enhance every footstep, hand smack, door close and stick swing. It’s easy to turn down the volume. It’s really hard to add character to a lifeless audio piece.
6. Hit It Like You Hate It
Similar to the previous point, but this one is more focused on the actual sound than the performance. In the TV show, feature film, documentary or video game you are doing sound for, the protagonist may be feeling angry, or scared, or preparing to take revenge in the name of his murdered mother/girlfriend/sister/dog. These moments lead to explosive action scenes, fight scenes and kicking doors down. These are the best and most fun sound effects possible to record. Don’t waste your time, nobody wants to hear a gentle pat as Thor swings his hammer into whatever otherworldly villain he is vanquishing. Nobody wants to listen to ants walking on paper as the Rohirrim charge the Mordor Orcs at the Battle of Pelennor Fields. If it’s going to be loud and powerful on the screen, make it loud and powerful in the studio. Energy can be captured on microphone as well as sound!
7. Enjoy It!
Recording Foley puts you in the shoes of the protagonist and villain of the movie. Enjoy being Batman. Enjoy playing giant robots like in Pacific Rim or Transformers. Enjoy even more playing Godzilla or King Kong, because you get to stomp around and smash things. As previously mentioned, microphones capture energy as well as sound. If you’re bored, the viewer can sense it and will be bored too.