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What is a Foley Artist?

A Foley Artist is someone who makes ‘Foley’. But what is Foley? In film, Foley is used in post-production to create sounds for the most part, of people moving. So footsteps, rustling of clothes – all these sort of close, intimate sounds that need to sync up exactly to the image. Those sounds are not recorded live on set while the image is being shot, but they’re recreated later in the studio by a Foley Artist. They’ll be watching the screen and then choosing the right sort of shoes, and flooring for instance if you’re doing footsteps, and will then literally pick characters in the image and create these sounds in real emulating the movements of the character on screen.

Foley outside of filmmaking

Foley can also extend to other types of sound, so if you’re watching a nature documentary for instance and you’re wondering how on earth they were able to record the sound of this polar bear pup in the polar bear’s lair, being licked by its mother – well, there wasn’t a microphone there! The sound that you’re hearing was what the Foley Artist in the studio has imagined this would sound like, and has then created this sound using whatever objects and materials they have chosen for this specific task.

Foley as Performance

It’s a high form of artifice, of imaginative sound creation in real time, and that makes it very performative. If you see Foley Artists making these sounds, it’s like watching a performance, it’s a very physical thing. Doing a fight scene for instance, the Foley Artist might be wearing a rucksack on their front and literally grappling with the rucksack so that it sounds like two people grappling in a room.

Foley in Theatre

So Foley is part of the overall sound design of films, and in recent years the art of Foley has been appropriated for theatre as well. There are productions where actors will be creating the sound effects that you’re hearing live on stage, and you can see them creating these sounds. They will have been taught how to do that by a Foley Artist. Or, a Foley Artist might be employed by a theatre production to create sound effects in real time on stage.

There is also a genre of theatre productions that will include live filming. That would be an area where a Foley Artist might be included in a theatre production, so that, for instance, an image is being created on one part of the stage, and the sound for that image is being created in an isolated box somewhere else on stage, and these two elements are being put together for the audience to view on a projection screen.