Video Production Tips

Exploring the use of foley in film

Posted April 13, 2021
Written by Clipchamp

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While it's easy to forget, the sound is 50% of any film! It’s absolutely essential to make sure that the audio that accompanies any video clip is crisp, clear, and adds to the overall quality of the video. 

Let’s understand what foley is and explore some of its uses in video production and cinema. 

Exploring the use of foley in film and videography-Clipchamp blog

What is foley in video production?

Foley is the art of adding recorded sounds to video recording in order to improve the overall sensory experience.  

Foley can come in many forms, whether it's done through the use of improvised sound effects with common household objects, or through vocal effects made with an individual's mouth. Foley can be the sound of pots and pans clanging together to emulate thunderclaps or heavy stomping to imitate battle drums. 

Whatever works, works, and whatever doesn't is painfully clear, but good foley should be indistinguishable from the real thing.

See foley in action in this tense clip from the Coen Brother's hit film, No Country for Old Men: 

How are sound effects for movies created?

Sound effects for films are created through a variety of methods. Usually, dialogue is recorded through the use of hot mics that are turned on when the films are shot. However, most sound effects are added in post, as capturing live audio of certain effects is very difficult—think of how hard it is to record the audio of a punch to the face when the punch wasn't real. In other words, there are some sound effects that you have to add in post-production, as there were no organic sounds made that can be captured with recording devices.

For the sound effects that have to be added, sometimes they're sourced from a digital library of pre-recorded sounds. 

Every filmmaker has interacted with these libraries before. Maybe a default doorbell effect is necessary, or the ring of an old-timey telephone—for any generic sound, there are hundreds of free effects anyone can download off the internet. The only downside of using a digital library or prerecorded sound is that many of them sound inorganic or out of place when presented in a serious setting.

Here, the sound of orcs marching mixed with music and dialogue is done seamlessly, presenting a varied and intricate atmosphere that's both dark and imposing:

In filmmaking, why are foley artists needed?

This brings us to our next point. If you want to have the best sound possible in your video project, then foley artists can play a key, essential role. 

Foley comes into play when you need a sound that you can't easily find in a library and that you have no hope of capturing in real life. Think of an eagle swooping in from overhead, or the sound of a shark leaping out of the water. Even mundane, everyday sounds can be difficult to capture—the sound of someone wiping their boots on a mat or turning a door handle can be difficult to achieve organically. 

Foley artists can not only make a sound but enhance existing ones so that they sound more natural.

Foley artist-Exploring the use of foley in film and videography-Clipchamp Blog

What does a day in the life of a foley artist look like?

The day in the life of any sound designer can be quite varied. Between stints in a sound editing booth, spending time in a recording studio, and capturing sounds in a natural environment, a foley artist can spend a week in a variety of locations. 

Depending on what sounds a foley artist might need to capture, they could find themselves hanging out in a skate park recording the sound of a skateboard on a half-pipe, underneath a roaring waterfall, or in the middle of a highway as cars speed past.

As long as there are microphones around and the necessary equipment to manage them, a foley artist's day is only limited to what they need to record, and how good it needs to sound. However, eventually, all foley artists will need to sit down, sort through their collected sounds, find the best ones, and edit them so that they'll fit into the material they're intended for naturally. 

Every good foley artist knows how to make the most of their recordings, which means knowing their way around sound editing software.

What is the best sound effects website?

It's hard to pin down the best sound effects website, as to a certain degree it's all very subjective. 

Whatever sound effects website you choose, make sure it's actually presenting sounds that are royalty-free, which means you won't be charged for when they're used. Otherwise, your budget might be increasing substantially if the sound's original owner comes after you when you've used the same car horn 50 times in your feature film.

How important is sound design in films?

Sound clues us into things we might not have been aware of, and good sound design can effortlessly immerse an audience into a scene they might otherwise feel left out of.

Sound design is so important because audio information helps the brain make sense of the visual information it's processing. Even though you're seeing someone being punched, the “thwack” noise you hear that accompanies that punch can make it more visceral and intense.

Sound design can also add a comedic or dramatic effect to a scene—high strings can make tension appear out of thin air in a horror movie, while the sound of a rushing river in the background can imply a sense of calm or peace. 

Check out this clip of excellent sound design from the 2015 horror film, Krampus:

Get started with using sound effects in your videos

If you’re looking to add royalty-free sound effects into your videos or record an expert voice over for your demo video, try it with Clipchamp

Love learning about video production? Level up your expertise by reading our video glossary.

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