Squish, clang, pow! Foley in Your Home Studio

When I was younger, I remember reading an article in Nickelodeon magazine about “awesome fun jobs”. One of them attracted my attention back then, long before I got into vocal and audio work, and long before I had a home studio: foley artists.

Even today, foley artists are the mysterious, clever folks that get counted on for every manner of sound imaginable. Foley work is magical and makes a mess, as evidenced by this dramatization of how foley artists work:

I’ve only watched that video a couple hundred times.

Foley_Room_at_the_Sound_Design_CampusWhen voice actors go to add sound effects to our work, we often think that it’s easiest to go online, download a sound effect, and just tack it on there..but this can be a problem. First, if you use the same sound everyone else uses, people notice. For example, there’s a sound from The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind that is used for lightning spells. It’s an electrical crackle that I recall well. I hear that sound a lot in movies and TV shows, to the point where it actually takes me out of the experience.

“But Sam!” you yell at your monitor. “I can’t do foley in my home studio! It’d make a mess! They’re always punching watermelons and slamming shoes!”

But you can.

All it takes is preparation. See, I do a lot of my own sound effects, including most of the ones in my voice demos. Now, some of you might not be keen on ripping apart mangoes and breaking plywood in your home studio, but there is a lot of foley you can do without making much of a mess. Among the ones I do a lot:

  • Shoes walking – take your pair of shoes and a plywood or tile-covered board and add in footsteps.
  • Paper rustling – rustle some paper!
  • Pencil scribbling – I scrape a piece of plastic over a piece of wood.
  • Punch sounds – I punch a ham or a fistful of ground beef wrapped tightly in cellophane.
  • doors opening and closing – I open and close an old jewelry box, and then pitch it down in post.
  • Thunder – shake a piece of aluminum sheeting.

Adding your own effects can be very fun, can save you money on purchasing sounds, and also adds to your skills that you can advertise. Give it a shot next time you need a sound effect, before you consider downloading someone’s stock audio.


Foley Room at the Sound Design Campus courtesy Wikipedia

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