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What does a Foley Artist do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A Foley artist creates sounds for movie, television and theater productions that mimic the inherent sounds of daily life to add realism to the story being told through the actors. She may work for a studio or theater production group or be a self-employed contractor. Her job is normally as part of a sound technician team that provides and controls a variety of sounds throughout the production.

The Foley artist position differs from that of a sound designer. A sound designer normally manipulates existing audio effects through mixing or distortion to create the desired sounds. A Foley artist, on the other hand, is typically expected to create natural sounds through maneuvering everyday objects.

Some of the most common sounds required to be produced by a Foley artist include doors opening and closing, people ascending or descending stairs, shuffling papers and pets scratching. Other typically requested sounds are wind blowing, thunder, blows being struck and the sounds of fire igniting or crackling. Occasionally the sound of colliding objects, such as automobiles or trains, is required.

Many Foley artists have their own props to create the most commonly requested sounds. These props frequently include boards, metal boxes and balls, shells, shoes and boots, and various types of materials such as aluminum foil, paper and rubber. Vegetables and fruits that emanate human sounds like striking blows and crunching bones when dropped, broken or struck are often found among this artist’s props as well.

Before a production gets underway, the sound supervisor normally reviews the audio requirements of the project. Once these are determined, the sound designer and Foley artist are generally given a list of what they need to create. Both of these sound effect professionals are ordinarily required to revamp their suggested effects as the production progresses. They often work in conjunction with each other on the final sound requirements to assure the correct timing and integration of their respective work.

Besides being extraordinarily resourceful and creative, a successful Foley artist is generally expected to have exemplary timing skills to assure the sounds are perfectly in sync with the actions being performed. She is also normally expected to have the ability to quickly switch between a variety of sounds that may be required in a short amount of time to make the production smoothly flow. Good hearing capabilities are a typical requirement for a Foley artist.

There are no formal educational requirements for the position of Foley artist. Courses in sound and audio engineering, theater arts or film production are desirable. A background in sound effects or Foley arts in a theater, film or television production environment are generally considered assets for aspiring Foley artists.

The title of this position comes from a man named Jack Foley. He is generally considered the pioneer of creating natural sound effects through using common objects. Foley was instrumental in the transition of silent movies to talkies that occurred in the United States in the early 20th century.

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Discussion Comments

By Mor — On Dec 03, 2013
@Ana1234 - Actually I think most foley artists will still make a lot of their own sound effects, just because it makes it easier to fit them into the film in just the right way.

There are some famous ones that seem to get used in every movie though, like the Wilhelm scream. It's got to the point where directors use it on purpose because they know people will recognize it and it's just a little nod to people who know it.

By Ana1234 — On Dec 03, 2013

@MrsPramm - I think that the old foley artists were a bit more clever with what they did than they are now because they can just look up a sound effect in a library and add that without having to make it up on their own.

It is still quite a difficult job though, because you've got to make sure that everything works well together and that people can hear sounds in a way that makes sense. If you really think about what you're hearing in a film, it isn't always natural and often it's been put in afterwards to make something clear. Like footsteps are often added in when they wouldn't have actually been picked up by the mic or heavy breathing or other things that add atmosphere.

And, of course, they have to take a lot of sounds out as well, since it's almost impossible to get a clean take without any plane or traffic noise in the background and that's almost never going to be good for the film.

By MrsPramm — On Dec 02, 2013

If you're interested in this sort of thing there's a pretty good documentary about the making of Dumbo which had a lot about the foley artist sound effects used. Back then there were no digital options so every sound in the film was made basically by hand and I remember being surprised at some of the objects they used to simulate sounds like rain or the train moving.

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