Foley – It’s a Profession for a Reason!

Foley, for those who don’t know, is the name given to process of creating the sound effects that make up the “soundscape” for movies and television. Not exactly the same thing as creating sound effects for games, but the principles are similar.

“Ah, how hard could it be to make some sounds, Rob?!”, you say. Pretty damned hard actually!

Over the years, I’ve read stories about and watched videos about how sounds were made for movies such as Star Wars as well as television shows, so I have some understanding of the principles involved. However, creating sounds, either from scratch with a tone generator in a program such as Audacity, or by recording and modifying live sounds is easier said than done. The easy part is saying, “Well, I’d like it to sound something like ____ in ____ movie” or some thought along those lines. The hard parts are finding the starting point for that sound and figuring out what work needs to be done to make it sound they way you would like without having it end up sounding the same as what was in that other program. Particularly that last part, because it’s important respect others creations.

From a practical perspective, here is a bit of information on some sounds that I made recently for use in Loop Dipole and the Chaoties.

Files are hosted in the game’s Github here.

shoot1.ogg
shoot2.ogg
shoot3.ogg
warp.ogg

I made the base sounds for these by sloshing and clinking a metal spoon inside my stainless steel thermos that was partly filled with water (what a great Christmas gift from my wife and kids!). It was a neat sound I noticed one night when I making a cup of tea. I figured somewhere in there were some nifty sound effects waiting to happen, but after recording them (with my Shure PG48 microphone, Peavey PV6 mixer, and K-World TV Tuner’s RCA inputs) I found they were much more tinny and grating than I had anticipated. Not being a professionally trained sound engineer, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do about that, but I did my best to bring the sounds to life. Here is a bit more detail about each sound,

shoot1.ogg
A really nice “clink/slosh” forms the base of this sound. I added an echo, some reverb, played with the equalization, and I *think* I used the “Paulstretch” or Change Speed filter.

shoot2.ogg
The base sound for this one was same as shoot1.ogg. Any Star Wars fan would know this sound is a mimic of the spatial charges used by Boba Fett in Episode II: The Clone Wars. I added echo, used the Wahwah filter, and potentially other things I have forgotten, because you know a week ago was a long time…

shoot3.ogg
This is a reversed, Paulstreched, echoed, and reverbed “clink”. I actually have my wife to thank for this cool sound, as I reversed the sound accidentally when I was showing her how Audacity worked and we both thought it sounded neat. I think that’s how a lot of these things happen.

warp.ogg
I am quite proud of this sound. It’s pretty cool and I don’t entirely recall exactly how I made it. I tend to spend eons trying different things until I get what I am after. I do know that it is a Paulstreched “clink/slosh” with reverb. When you listen to it you could easily say, “how in the hell is that a clink/slosh?” and all I can say is, welcome to the magic of Audacity and a lot of futzing around! 🙂

hit.ogg
select.ogg
shoot4.ogg

These sounds were created by folding or hitting an 18 inch or so piece of sheet metal. hit.ogg and select.ogg don’t even have any effects applied to them! shoot4.ogg is a combination of a slower version of itself and a phaser filter.

In the past, particularly for the open source version of Rescue Girlies, I have created sounds by using just the tone generator and I have to say that it’s way harder to make something neat by just using the tone generator. Live sounds have more character and harmonics, plus it’s more rewarding to hear something in “real life” and say, “boy, that would be neat if…” and then actually DO that “if” at some point.

I look at some of the masters of sound effects and foley, such as Ben Burt and Richard Hymns (to name just two of many hundreds of extremely talented people!), and I can’t help but respect and admire their talent and dedication to their craft. While I am sure most people don’t really think about the “soundscape” of the productions they enjoy, the effects of sound on our culture are diverse and pervasive none the less. Everyone knows the sound of Darth Vader breathing and how many times have we heard someone mimic the transporter sounds from Star Trek in various other programs? Sound is everywhere and it takes a lot of talent to bring it to life in a production.

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