By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationGeneral

The following is an excerpt from Designing Sound for Animation by Robin Beauchamp. This nuts-and-bolts guide to sound design for animation will explain to you the theory and workings behind sound for image, and provide an overview of the stems and production path to help you create your soundtrack. Here, Beauchamp provides insight on the Foley approach.

Foley is to SFX what ADR is to dialogue, bringing synchronized performance to the movements of individual characters. This technique is named after Jack Foley who created and applied this approach on many of the films he worked on for Universal Studios. There are three basic types of Foley: Footsteps, Prop Handling, and Cloth Movement. Each of these elements is performed by Foley artists who possess a keen sense of timing and a creative approach to selecting and manipulating props. Foley is recorded on a Foley stage, outfitted with a variety of walking surfaces called Foley pits. The recording engineer for the Foley session is called the Foley mixer. In increasingly rare sessions, an assistant engineer called a Foley recordist is hired to handle logistics. The Foley editor is responsible for cleaning up the Foley cues, tightening up the sync, and organizing the session for pre-dubbing.


Those familiar with the polished look of commercial recording facilities might be taken back by the appearance of a Foley stage (Figure 6.1). The towering collection of props gives the appearance of an un-kept garage rather than a high-end production facility. A functioning Foley stage can be constructed with modest means. Many Foley stages are designed with a live room for the Foley artist and a control room for the Foley mixer. Both rooms are treated acoustically to minimize reverberation. To minimize unwanted noise, computers, projectors, and other competing sounds are placed in an isolated machine room. Vaulted ceilings accommodate projection/video screens and oversized props. Foley pits can be built on top of existing flooring or sunken into the flooring (Figure 6.2). Prop storage with adequate shelving is in constant demand. At the heart of the control room is the DAW (digital audio workstation), the audio interface, and a basic mixing console. As Foley is recorded on relatively few tracks at any given time, there is no need for the large consoles associated with film mixing or scoring sessions. A limited number of high quality microphones and pre-amps are sufficient and can serve equally well for Voiceover and ADR. The audio software used in Foley must support video playback and basic cueing functions. A small pair of speakers can provide an adequate level of talkback to facilitate the session. Always place your best speakers in the control room so the mixer can hear potential issues with individual takes.

Figure 6.1 Foley Stage at Sound One, New York. Photo Courtesy: Sound One/CSS Studios, LLC

Figure 6.2 Foley Pits


As with music cues, Foley is recorded in post-production. When spotting a film for SFX, the question often arises as to whether to record Foley or cut the effect. The decision to Foley often comes down to the need for a performance in sync to picture. Foley is the logical choice for effects that are either too complex or too specific to be cut from a library. The performance element of this technique yields organic timings and interactions that are impractical with most editing techniques and production schedules. In some cases, cut effects and Foley effects are combined or “married.” For example, the sound of a gun firing is a cut effect while the handling of the gun, shells dropping to the ground, and flesh impacts are Foley effects. A supervising Foley editor can readily identify which cues require Foley and cue the session appropriately.

“If it’s asteroids exploding and rocket ships flying by, that wouldn’t be us. We carry the reels that have a lot of people that are moving, and walking, and doing stuff.” – Dennie Thorpe


Foley artists are physical actors who possess a strong sense of timing and a keen understanding of dramatic nuance. Dancers and musicians tend to excel in this field as they can break a scene down into rhythmic subdivisions and match their performance to these complex patterns. Foley artists often perform in pairs, especially if layered sounds or character interaction is required. They develop a unique vocabulary to describe the sounds they create (onomatopoeia), for example, “I need a more gushy splat here.” Foley artists are responsible for selecting the props used. They work with the Foley mixer to determine which takes are most suited for individual cues.


Footsteps, human or otherwise, are Foley effects, performed by the artist’s feet or hands. In traditional animation, footsteps were often covered by music cues or sound making devices creating the classic sneak step. In contemporary animation, footsteps are being represented with greater realism. For example, the sound of a tiny mouse nervously scurrying across the kitchen floor is performed by the Foley artist patting individual footsteps with their hands. Then, as the giant man enters the room, the Foley artist straps on an oversized pair of boots and stomps about on a representative Foley pit. When a Foley artist walks a character, we are often able to determine the size, age, gender, and emotional state of that character without ever seeing the image. This dimension of character development is at the core of why we record Foley.

Excerpt from Designing Sound for Animation by Robin Beauchamp © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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