What Is A Foley Artist?

Slamming doors, pattering footsteps, shattering glass, the “thud” of an ill-timed superhero landing. What do all these iconic movie sounds have in common? They were made possible thanks to the hard work of foley artists! But what is a foley artist, and what exactly do they do in the film world? That’s what Peerspace is here to answer. Read on to learn more about foley artists and their incredible work!

What is a foley artist and what do they do?

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Creating striking images is only one part of the battle for a director. Your film can’t just look cool. It needs to sound cool too. But when recording on a set, cameras don’t always capture the sounds you might need to sell the scene. Without hearing the click of heels on a wooden floor, it might feel like your character is floating above the ground. If the door to that abandoned shack in the woods doesn’t creak, your horror film won’t have that eeriness you’re looking for. 

This is where a foley artist comes in. Foley artists are the masterminds behind the sounds of your favorite movies, TV shows, and other media productions. They recreate sounds that the crew can’t capture on set. Think the rustling of a winter coat, the ‘clink’ or a pair of beer bottles, the “click” of a loaded weapon, and even the wetness of a passionate kiss. It’s a foley artist’s job to bring a movie’s ambient sounds to life. 

Why are they called foley artists?

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The term “foley” comes from the sound effects mastermind Jack Foley. His unique method of performing sounds in synchronicity with a film’s scenes in post-production earned him plenty of work in Hollywood. Directors like Blake Edwards and Stanley Kubrick loved the seamless sounds he brought to their movies.

Unfortunately, they didn’t love those sounds enough to offer him a credit. Mr. Foley wasn’t credited for any of his contributions in his decades-long career. This kicked off a longstanding tradition of Foley artists going unappreciated for their contributions to the film world. 

Fortunately, things are getting better. These days, foley artists receive more recognition than ever before, now that directors understand just how valuable they are to the filmmaking process. 

How does a foley artist work?

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Now that you’ve got an answer to the question “what is a foley artist” let’s talk about how they work. Foley artists come into the filmmaking pipeline during post-production, after filming has already wrapped, and before final edits are made. They typically record their sounds in specialized recording environments called Foley stages or Foley studios. 

Performance

Foley artists have some of the most interesting jobs in the film industry. But they have one of the most physically demanding jobs too. Part of the challenge a foley artist faces is performing the sounds as they happen on screen. Everything has to happen in perfect coordination with the images of the film. Otherwise, the effect falls apart. It’s their job to perform sounds that blend into the film so seamlessly. The audience doesn’t realize editors added them in afterward. 

Creativity

But performance is only half the battle. Not only does a foley artist capture mundane sounds, like swooshing fabric, footsteps, or slamming doors, they also have to create sounds that no one has ever heard before. This is where the job veers into an experimental territory and requires a lot of innovation to find the right sound. 

Check out veteran Foley Artist Marko Costanzo, show off some of his innovative techniques in this video. No one knows what a woolly mammoth thundering across the frozen ground sounded like. But when it came to creating the footsteps for “Manny” in Ice Age, Costanzo had to come up with a believable sound to convey the right feeling. His solution turned out to be a tree stump wrapped in leather, which he pounded against the ground each time Manny took a step. 

The heavy wood gives the character a sense of weight, while the leather padding provides just enough softness to feel like a living being. It’s an innovative choice that required a ton of thought. And it sounds perfect in the final film! Costanzo also creates sound effects for live-action films, using rocks to recreate a horse galloping in 2010’s True Grit and special gloves to capture the pattering of a dog’s paws in Marley and Me

Insider secrets

Other common foley artist tricks include using corn starch or sand to mimic crunching snow, feather dusters to recreate the flapping of bird’s wings, and even frozen lettuce or cracking nuts to create the sounds of breaking bones. Foley artists tell stories with the sounds they produce. And if they do their jobs right, the audience will never even notice! 

How much does a foley artist cost? 

foley artist engineering sounds in studio
Source: Unsplash

If you’re an indie director who wants the best ambient sound possible for your next project, you can’t do better than hiring a professional foley artist to perform your ambient sounds. But do you have the budget for one? 

According to the Bureau of Labor Services, the average foley artist earns around $200 to $400 a day. This rate can vary, depending on your location and the artist’s experience and skill level. Many foley artists prefer to charge per project rather than by the day or the hour. Most foley artists also work independently. So at the end of the day, it’s up to you and the artist to decide a fair rate for your film project. 

Of course, not every production has the budget to hire a foley artist. Sometimes, directors will choose generic sounds from a pre-recorded foley library and edit them in afterward to save time and money. It’s up to you to choose whether or not to hire a foley artist for your film. But know that the rich sounds you can obtain from a foley artist can give your film a whole new life.

We hope this has cleared up the question “what does a foley artist do in film?” Be sure to check out other informational articles in the filmmaking section of our resources blog.

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