Hearing is Believing: Foley in Film and Video Production

A Film Production Technique Borrowed From Radio

WGY Sound Effects, 1920s

Foley audio is the technique of reproducing everyday sound effects in post-production to enhance the audio of a film or video production. This technique first started in radio broadcasting. Radio serials were early forms of mass communication storytelling. While the actors sold the story with their dialogue, broadcasters noticed something was missing. The stories were lacking an immersive element that made the listener feel like they were living the narrative.

Audio engineers were brought in to recreate sound effects that matched the story. At first, these engineers would make these sounds live in-studio with the actors. Later, they would pre-record these sounds and use them over and over for multiple productions, one of the first incarnations of "stock footage".

As motion pictures evolved from silent films to talkies, filmmakers wanted to take full advantage of the new element in the medium. So they took a page out of radio's book and hired what would become the first Foley artist, Jack Foley.

Jack Foley, A Pioneer in Authenticity


Jack Foley got his first start in movies with Universal Studios in 1914. He was brought in to add post-production sound effects to a film called, "Show Boat". Foley would create the template for post-production audio that is still used to this day in which the audio engineers play the video footage and record the Foley audio in sync with the scene.

At first, Jack Foley would use these sounds to compliment the field recordings. After many projects and edits later, the engineers discovered that they could use these sounds to mask an error in the field recording. If a gust of wind created rattle in a dialogue scene, they could add in a gust of wind sound effect to mask the rattle. Overall, the goal of Foley audio is to enhance the entire audio field to create authenticity. Cinematography makes a scene LOOK real, a well crafted audio field makes a scene FEEL real.

Foley: A Swiss Army Sound Effect


There is really no limit to what Foley sounds you can record for your scene. One of the most common Foley noises is "room tone", a recording of dead air in the location which your scene is being shot. This serves as an underlying track that can cover cuts in audio. For post-production Foley, the most common types of sounds are classified as Feet, Movement, and Specifics.


Feet sounds are as simple as their name, the footsteps taken by a character as they walk, run, or saunter. The video below shows an example of a scene without Feet sounds then the same scene with the Foley added in.


Movement sounds are the subtle sounds that come with a character's movement. These sounds can be swishing of clothes, the sound of furniture as someone sits or shifts, or the sound of a person's pants as they cross their legs. Here's another example of a scene without these sounds and the difference these sounds make.


Specific sounds are tailored to the scene for their actions. These sounds can be doors opening and closing, a character's interactions, or off-screen noises. Feet and Movement Foley can be found in most, if not all, movies. Specifics however vary from film to film and from scene to scene within those films Here is another example of the effect Foley has on a scene.

The Classic Foley Technique

Here is the whole scene followed by a side-by-side with the Foley being captured. 

The Little Things That Matter


As you can see, Foley audio might be a collection of little recordings but they can have a big effect on a scene. The best Foley work, like most technical aspects in film production done well, goes unnoticed. If you can pick out which noises in a scene are real or recreated, the audio engineers have failed at their job. The combination of image and sound should always work together to create a sense of being in the scene. That's why we go to the movies, to be taken away to a place we can't be in reality but should be as real as the world we're taking a momentary break from.

Dennis StackComment