Foley sound refers to sound effects that are created and recorded in sync with the film. Foley sound is customized for each film and scene. Traditional sound effects, in contrast, are recorded on the street, for example, or taken from a library of standard, pre-recorded effects, and then edited into the film in the post-production phase. Note that any sound effect introduced in post-production would be distinct from sound recorded during synchronous shooting.
Effective Foley sounds are indistinguishable from “real” sounds recorded synchronously during shooting.
Jack Foley is the sound engineer who pioneered what is now known as Foley sounds. He worked at the Universal Studios. Today, Foley artists work in specialized studios equipped with tools to create various sound effects. They do so while watching the film on a screen, so that they can create sound effects in sync with the film.
Here is a video showing Foley sound artists at work in a studio, synching up sound effects with the film playing on the screen in front of them.
Sound effects are crucial to a gruesome scene in Richard Eyre’s 2018 King Lear. Gloucester is blinded after he has been deceived by Lear’s two elder daughters and betrayed by his own bastard son, Edmund.
The scene makes audiences imagine the violent scene without showing it. It does feature the sounds of gouging out eyeballs and dripping blood.
It does not show us the fingers that gouge out Gloucester’s eyeballs. Instead, with a medium closeup shot, the camera is trained on Regan’s facial expressions as Cornwall holds and guides her hand to complete the revenge act.
Your Turn: [Content Warning: physical violence and blood]
Watch and listen to this short video and reflect on the impact of sound effects on the scene. Without the visuals, are the sound effects more or less effective in conveying the cruel act? This is the scene of the blinding of Gloucester from Eyre’s 2018 King Lear.
- Ament, Vanessa Theme. The Foley Grail: The Art of Performing Sound for Film, Games, and Animation. 3rd edition. New York: Routledge, 2022.
This book by Award-winning Foley artist Vanessa Theme Ament offers multiple sound “recipes” that include proven Foley methods you can immediately use on your own projects. There are also Interviews with current sound artists from around the world.
- Donnelly, K.J. and Ann-Kristin Wallengren, eds., Today’s Sounds for Yesterday’s Films: Making Music for Silent Cinema (Palgrave, 2018).