A Foley engineer, also known as a Foley artist, is responsible for creating an immersive experience for the audience of a film or TV show by adding the sounds that make the situation presented feel more realistic. When shooting on a film or TV set, the sounds captured by the camera are often nearly impossible to hear clearly, so the footage won’t give a fully immersive experience to the audience. For example, if a character in a scene walks across the floor or sets something down on the table, the camera may not capture the sounds made by those actions.
Foley engineers recreate those sounds for video and film, as well as other media, during the post-production phase. These professionals replace the sounds that can’t be recorded during the filming of the scene. The name of this role comes from Jack Foley, a pioneer in the sound effects world who worked with Stanley Kubrick and other directors until he died in 1967.
The final sound mix for a media production includes three tracks, which are the sound effects, music, and dialogue tracks. Foley engineers are typically responsible for the sound effects track, while other professionals in the sound department will handle the dialogue and music tracks.
What Does a Foley Engineer Do?
After the filming or production portion of a film is complete, the footage comes to the post-production crew, which includes the sound department. Within that department is the Foley engineer, who will create a list of elements they need for each scene and go through every moment of the footage to create the sounds.
The main responsibilities of Foley engineers include recreating and adding sounds to video, film, and other forms of media in post-production to make sure that the audience can hear everything that may have occurred during the filming. The role of a Foley engineer may overlap with those responsible for sound effects editing, such as sound designers, and both departments will produce a sound for the film. In this case, the recording mixer or sound supervisor may make the final call, although the sound supervisor may also assign tasks to each department to prevent duplicate work and save time.
How Foley Effects Enhance a Film
The details behind the sounds in film represent the artistic flair of the Foley engineer. The audience reacts differently to scenes based on the sounds they hear and the emotions they experience. The sounds added by the Foley engineer may also add tension or excitement to a scene, even if the sounds weren’t present in the first place. For example, opening a door at home typically doesn’t make the same sound it may make in a horror film when a frightening scene is underway.
Although sound effects editors can use existing sound effects as well as create and modify those effects to meet the needs of the film, the struggle to recreate certain sounds exists, especially when it comes to matching them up with what is happening on the screen. Foley artists use creativity to create unique sound effects that align with the action on the screen to create a more realistic experience for the viewer.
The sounds added by Foley engineers will also make a scene more immersive and create more authentic background and ambient noises in the scene. A scene without Foley effects often feels too quiet and unnatural.
Three Types of Foley
In order to recreate certain sounds, the Foley engineer may use props and take actions while recording the sounds. There are three main types of Foley:
One of the key elements of Foley sound is the sound of steps taken by an actor as they move around the scene. In order to capture the proper sound, a Foley engineer will often put on different shoes and walk around while recording the sound made by the action. Creating the right sound is a combination of microphone placement, the shoe being worn, and the surface on which the person is walking.
Foley artists and engineers often rely on props to make certain sounds. For example, the engineer behind “Into the Woods” and “The Big Lebowski,” Marko Costanzo, cracked a piece of celery to create the sound of breaking bones in the latter film and used leaves to create the swirling noise made by the witch entering scenes in the former film. Foley engineers may use layered props to create different sounds.
Even small movements, such as the crossing of the legs with a pair of jeans on, can make a sound. Foley engineers must be meticulous and pay close attention to the detail in every scene when adding the sounds that come with movement.
Elements of Foley Sound
Foley sounds, also called just Foley, fall under the spectrum of diegetic sound, or the sound that resides within the world of the film. Foley engineers are not responsible for non-diegetic sound within a film, which includes the narration and music.
Working as a Foley engineer often begins with a lower-level role in the sound department, such as a post-production assistant. In this role, an individual can shadow the various departments and get a sense of what happens in each.
Education and Training
Many Foley engineers study sound production or sound recording in college, although some work their way up on the film set. It may benefit your career to obtain a Pro Tools certificate, which is a certification in the audio software that most of the film industry utilizes.
What Skills Do You Need?
Good Foley engineers use their ears to create realistic and engaging sounds. Much of sound is linked to rhythm, so an understanding and sense of rhythm are important to success in this role. It often takes time and practice to develop an ear for particular sounds, which may include listening to music and sounds on existing films and TV shows to generate that heightened awareness.
The personality of a Foley engineer often includes patience, as this role involves spending time alone in a room, listening to and creating sounds.
The lifestyle or schedule of a Foley engineer depends on whether the individual is part of a union, as union rules restrict the number of hours a person can work in a day or will require the payment of overtime for longer hours. During the post-production phase, a Foley engineer may work long days for a shorter period of time, as they aren’t as involved during the pre-production or production phases.
How Much Does a Foley Engineer Make?
Most Foley engineers are paid by the day, and the average rate is between $200 and $400 per day. They are typically members of unions, and the union may determine the pay rates and the number of hours worked on a particular project.
Similar to other jobs on film and TV sets, finding work as a Foley engineer can be competitive and challenging. Gaining experience is always beneficial, as you may be able to work your way up.
Unions, Groups, and Associations
Many Foley professionals are part of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, although you typically have to work in the field before joining that particular organization. Searching online can connect you with forums and websites focused on sound creation and others who do this type of work.
Other related careers in the music and sound industry include:
Providing an experience that immerses the audience in the story and feels realistic is the most important job of the Foley engineer. You can learn more about Foley engineers and how you can improve your skills by applying to the Nashville Film Institute here.