Foley for the Caribbean

Updated: Mar 4, 2019


 

I've done a minimal amount of Post Production work, next to none at all if I'm being honest. I dove into some foley work last year with a small project where I created some footstep and ambient sounds for a game designer, but I didn't do much other than stick a shoe on my hand and pretend to walk on a couple of bricks and some gravel, nothing too complicated. I really want to expand my knowledge in postpro so a friend and I decided we would put some practice in by replacing all the audio in the bar fight scene from Pirates of the Caribbean 2 with assets that we had created ourselves. Even though we've chosen only a minute of the footage to work on, there is still a lot going on in the scene that requires some kind of audio accompaniment. I figured the best first step I could take would be to mark out particular sounds I might need for the scene and then researching foley techniques for recreating that sound.

 

First I decided that it would be easiest for me to get a grip on the sounds we needed by plotting out where all the most obvious sounds would be in the scene, I did this in a Pro Tools session with basic markers.

Then to narrow this down a bit further, I went through the markers that I had plotted through the Pro Tools session and made a proper list of all the sounds and where they occur to make it easier during our sessions.

After a practice session in a foley studio I have a decent idea of how we would be able to achieve a lot of these sounds, however there are a few that I'm not sure of. The swords we can easily replicate with just metal bars and such, people falling over and being pushed can be done by ruffling material and clothes, and footsteps can be done by literally stepping on the right surfaces. However, punches, gun shots, bullets bouncing around and even glass smashing are a little bit iffy. To figure these out I'll need to do a little research.

 

Musket

The beginning of this clip shows a musket being shot into a chandelier, which ends in the bullet bouncing around and eventually smashing a bottle. Aside from the obvious gunshot, I'm also wondering how I can get that classic "ping" and "pyow" when the bullet ricochets of the chandelier. I'll get to that in a minute, but I'll start with looking into the actual gunshot. I found a couple of videos on YouTube that suggested recording the sound of a firecracker going off, but since I don't really want to take explosives into a recording studio I think I'd be best off doing this a different way. Which is when I found this video (below) which offers a solution besides using a firecracker; blowing up and popping a plastic bag.

The demonstration in the video doesn't really foster a good result, but it did give me the idea to possible pop a balloon instead. It'll be nice and loud, and would serve nicely as the initial crack of my gun shot if I pitched it down and possible compressed it to get it sounding nice and fat. Now seeing as we're not recreating sound for a modern gun, rather an old musket, I'll need to know exactly what that sounds like. This video (from 1:13) is a great example of a musket sound.

There's three distinct sounds we can hear in the firing of a musket, a click slightly before the explosion, one during the explosion and the explosion itself. For the clicks I decided that maybe just the sound of a gun cocking could prove useful. This Soundsnap article suggests that - "You can have complete control over the speed, energy, and power of the gun cocking by manipulating a briefcase latch." Which I thought would be a good thing to try considering I do own a briefcase, and worst case it means I can manipulate some other equipment that snaps, clicks or latches to recreate this sound. The explosion could be recreated with the balloon idea, however it might not work exactly as I expect so some back up plans might be in order. The ever useful forum site GearSlutz provides this users solution to recreating explosions; "A wonderful start is to take a metal container, loaded up with other loose metal items and drop it from about waist height- try recording with different degrees of preamp overload. do it on dirt as opposed to a solid, even surface... The thing which will really give it space and detail is the tail, which you might add reverb to. Another great add to the effect is the sound of a gas burner igniting- try doing it with a stove and a match, and again- different degrees of mic/pre distortion can be pretty convincing." While thinking of sounds I could use for the clicking and mechanism of the musket I noticed, that grabbing my car keys in a particular way resulted in an clunky, mechanical sound. So while I was sitting in my car waiting for my girlfriend to finish work I quickly grabbed my phone and recorded the sound of my keys, here's what it sounds like; ( i believe the best takes are at 0:07 and 0:10)

There is a fair amount of background hum in this recording so I will probably rerecord for the project, but I think it might be best if we try a couple of the techniques for making explosions. We would then choose which technique sounds the best and then couple it with the sound of a briefcase latch and my car keys together for extra complexity in the sound.

 

Breaking Glass

There are more than a few parts in this scene where a bottle or glass is thrown against a wall or smashed with a sword. The most obvious approach is to record some actual bottles smashing against different surfaces but seeing as that can be quite dangerous, I wanted to look into whether or not it's possible to achieve a similar sound in a safe manner. The first suggestion I came across was from a YouTube video;

However, I happen to agree with one of the comments on this video; "This sounds nothing like breaking glass." especially considering the glass smashing sounds in the scene we're working with come from large bottles and not small glasses. I also noticed that the sound of the keys in this video is quite distorted, this is possibly because it's such a pronounced sound in small diaphragm mics. Because we will most likely record something like this outside, we will be using my handheld zoom recorder, and this video made me think that I might get a similar distortion in doing so. My concern was later validated by a forum on GearSlutz related to recording glass shattering; "Make sure the peak crash sound won't distort the electret mics of the Zoom. You might want to run an alternate track with a dynamic, for safety." After a bit more research I've come to grips with the fact that we might actually have to smash some glass bottles to get the exact kind of sound we need. To do this safely we're going to need to construct a kinda of "containment area" out of wood or cardboard to keep glass shards and dust from spraying everywhere. We'll also need thick gloves and eye wear to protect ourselves. We'll also need to consider protecting the microphones we're using, so our zoom recorder will need to be placed at a distance as it's quite sensitive, and for closer recordings we could use my SM57 as it's a dynamic mic and will be able to support that initial transient of the glass smashing.

 

Punches

It's becoming more apparent that sound in movies is usually greatly over exaggerated, because general every day sounds aren't as exciting as they need to be on the big screen. This is most obvious in the sound of somebody getting punched. Hopefully you've never punched anybody in real life, or watched it outside of a boxing ring, but you probably know that it doesn't sound like that classic "POW" or "WHAM" that you might expect to hear in cinema. Matthew Alice of San Diego reader mentions that "Naturally, the sound of a real fist meeting a real face isn't what the foley artist is trying to replicate. Most likely the director wants an exaggerated, shocking sound." So embellishments and hyper realistic (meaning not very realistic), are key. He also mentions a couple of tried and true methods for recreating these sounds; "As for the classic sound of fist meeting jaw, there are a couple of ways to achieve it. If you're going for a meaty-squishy sound with overtones of a high-pitched smack, hit a frozen head of Romaine lettuce on the edge of a table, then combine that with the sound of a wooden slat being snapped. Cabbage smacked with a hammer also works. Or a boxing glove hitting a phone book." I have to admit I'd heard of a couple of these methods before, like punching a head of lettuce or a cabbage. But in this industry, hearing is believing so I wanted to find some audible examples of these techniques. The first video I came across in regards to foley didn't feature any of these techniques but it did suggest another one (watch from 1:09).

So while the unembellished sound of a fist hitting skin doesn't cut it, layering gradually heavier sounds can produce a "meatier" end product. In this video they start of with just the sound of the foley artist punching into the palm of their hand, then he puts on a glove and punches the palm of the glove for a heavier sound, then he punches a rolled up yellow pages for a deeper, bassier sound. The idea of layering sounds together is definitely something we could look into, but maybe just with different sound sources to match what our clip is showing. For example, if someone was hit in the face, we would probably hear things like bone being hit and potentially cracked, as opposed to getting hit in the stomach, which would render a heftier thud.

 

Summary

When it comes to foley sound, there isn't one right way to do anything, creativity and experimentation is key. One person will tell you that they know how to get a perfect sound for one thing, and another person will tell you that they're doing it wrong. At the end of the day, if it sounds convincing next to the picture then it's the right way to go. Seeing as my project partner and I are fairly unfamiliar with foley, we will be trying out a bunch of the methods mentioned in this blog, along with others that we might find useful along the way. However, we won't be afraid to try different techniques and approaches along the way.


 

References:

27 Secret Tricks for Foley Sound Effects on Your Film. (2017). Retrieved from https://blog.soundsnap.com/2017/10/23/27-tips-tricks-creating-foley-sound-effects-for-film/


Foley an explosion? - Gearslutz. (2009). Retrieved from https://www.gearslutz.com/board/post-production-forum/373928-foley-explosion.html


Recording Glass Smashes - Gearslutz. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.gearslutz.com/board/post-production-forum/1196297-recording-glass-smashes.html


Alice, M. (2002). How do they make the sound of a punch in the movies?. Retrieved from https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2002/feb/07/how-do-they-make-sound-punch-movies/#


eHow. (2009). Filmmaking Special Effects : How to Make Movie Gunshot Effects[Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2heI5Yw9s0&feature=youtu.be


Sydney Living Museums. (2014). Loading and firing the Flintlock musket [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfGOLqxcbIg&feature=youtu.be


kkehoe5. (2012). Breaking Glass from Keys- Foley Audio [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVOcD9D244Y&feature=youtu.be


INSIDER. (2018). How Punching Sounds Are Made For Movies | Movies Insider[Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjABmkGpzrI&feature=youtu.be