Friday, May 4, 2012

Foley Art and Sound Design

My appreciation and passion for Peter Jackson's serial epic really began to blossom when I received the special edition of The Fellowship of the Ring as a Christmas gift years back. It was beautifully packaged and certainly more discs that had ever belonged to single movie in my collection. What started then as a curious forage into the enormous labyrinth  of bonus features (quite literally hours upon hours) soon lead to generous portions of my week spent in rapt attention  - I was fascinated. Never before had I been so interested in the production of a film and I quickly discovered that the "behind-the-scenes footage" held as much for me as the feature itself. Probably more.

One aspect I remember being captivated by was the foley team. I knew nothing at the time of sound effects or design and I was enchanted by the basic ingenuity of the team. It was simply a thought that had never occurred to me; Here were these grown men splashing through water with plungers and whacking boards together! They were experts at animal noises and the many curious little sounds we hear everyday . . .  I suppose I thought there was some magic computer program where one would simple tap in the sound effect they were looking for and slap onto the movie. It is a tribute to the art that it seldom ever draws any attention to itself.

"Foley Art" is so named due to its creator - a certain Jack Foley. Jack was a radio man called into Universal Studios at the end of the silent era when the Warner's new sound sensation The Jazz Singer was proving a wild success. This was 1927 and Jack and his team were assigned to create the sounds for Universal's big picture Show Boat that now must be made a "sound film." Microphones of the day could only pick up dialogue, so all additional sound had to be created in post-production. This task required deft hands as it was all done in real time - the movie would be projected on a screen, recording  was started and Jack and his team would create the sound as the movie played on the screen - being careful to synchronize footsteps, gunshots etc. with what was happening in front of them.

Like all film techniques, technology has significantly changed the game, but to me foley art will always have a simple charm. Just try the clip below and see if you aren't interested.

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