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Foley - with bang!! slam!! sounds!!

One Foley artist pulls back the curtains

By Saida Ali

Foley ArtistAs Clarice Starling creeps down the hallway to meet Dr. Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs, the bone-chilling sounds that resonate in the hall help create the sinister scene.

Those noises were actually taped in the lions’ den at the Bronx Zoo.

Foley artists are the unsung heroes of the filmmaking craft. They pick up where production mikes leave off – creating audio manually, and often with household items.

Stefan Fraticelli, a Foley artist whose credits include Robert Altman’s film The Company and the television show Prison Break, says that his job is the least technical in the industry but probably the most important. The process is done by hand, with no bells or whistles.

“Some items I buy new in stores, some at Value Village. I have all sorts of metal things, plates, cutlery and binders. You need a storage space because it’s a lot. Some artists keep it in their homes, others buy storage space. Full studios will store major props for Foley like full doors, car hoods, or whole cars, bathtubs, as well as different sorts of floor surfaces like sand, cement, tile, asphalt and older creaky wood.”

On a typical production, Fraticelli divides his work into three parts. First, he and his team will go through the various motions of the actors, one by one, dealing mostly with making the sounds of footsteps.

Then the artist does what is called a specifics or props track which involves everything else the actors touch or move. For instance, if someone is opening a newspaper, the Foley artist will open a paper in time with the picture on the screen. The movement is recorded through a microphone in a controlled environment so the resulting sound is much clearer than it would have been if it were picked up on set.

On set, powerful microphones focus on the dialogue of the film, but other noises, like buses and trains going by, have a tendency to overpower the sound on set. If a person were to fall on the street, or be punched in the face, these extraneous noises would interfere with the audience’s ability to hear these actions, and the film would seem distorted. For this reason, Fraticelli says a large portion of the dialogue on Hollywood features generally gets re-done as well, courtesy of additional dialogue recording (ADR). Everything outside of the dialogue is then performed.

The third part of post-production, he says, is called a “moves pass,” which takes place to create a natural-sounding element of cloth.

“If anybody moves at all, moves their arm, turns their head, reaches for something, we have a number of different cloth materials like a leather jacket and cotton shirt, we mimic their movements throughout the film,” Fraticelli says.

Along with being extremely detail-oriented, the job obviously allows for a tremendous amount of creativity.

“If you don’t have the props to create the sound, or, if the sound is something that doesn’t even exist – like in animation, there are creatures that don’t really exist in the world – you have to conceptualize what that might sound like,” says Fraticelli.

It’s an industry comprised mostly of freelancers and to become a Foley artist, Fraticelli says, it’s important that you apprentice with an already established artist. Film experience among Foley artists is also common.

“Generally, people that get in to this do have some sort of film background.”