I first heard about foley artists when Nickelodeon aired a brief spot on some guy helping to make some animated movie. Probably Ratatouille or something along those lines. Either way, the kinds of implements this foley artist used were very clean: a lot of plastic cups, shiny wheels, brand new drum sticks, and other things that can be placed on top of a table without afterwards having to wipe down the table with 409® spray and Clorox® wipes. He had everything he needed for the sounds effects.
What a pretty picture.
When I started foley for The Woman in Black, instantly I dove into playing with rocks, water, old bicycles, mud, and slats of wood we found lying around the Echo Theatre when it was still the severely tortured Legion venue, as well as any other handheld object, contraption, and malleable substance that could in any way resemble the various sounds we needed to create, frequently going through item after item to get the perfect sound for the scene. Creating foley takes hours of long, dirty development. For example, the sound of the pony and trap getting sucked into the marshes surrounding the causeway near Eel Marsh House. I’m not talking about the pony and trap itself, just the awful creaking, snapping, sucking, slurping, churning sound of quicksand groping and slowly devouring a small carriage and a horse, and the final sounds of the marsh water lapping against the shoreline.
Thus begins the evolution of a catastrophe.
Idea One: bucket of water. Critter fills a bucket of water and places it on the floor. Andrea cups her hands, sticks them in the bucket, and starts splashing around. The splashing is desirable, but it lacks girth. Next.
Idea Two: shirt in bucket of water. Critter brings out a t-shirt and places into the bucket of water. He sweeps the sopping shirt forwards and backwards. Girth-ier, but not quite it. Next.
Idea Three: bucket of mud. Critter, Eden, Andrea, and I go to Jeff’s house and fill buckets with dirt from the berm in front of Jeff’s house. We leave the buckets outside to collect rain and snow. The dirt transforms into mud. We then slosh our hands in the mud in a fashion similar to how Andrea splashed her hands in the bucket of water. Much tastier, but also really gross. The mud smells like some creature’s excrement. Nixed.
Idea Four: plunger in bucket of mud. Andrea uses a new plunger and plunges the bucket of mud. The squelching, sucking sound is really good, but it is still very smelly. Next.
Idea Five: plunger in bucket of water with bed sheet. Critter places a bed sheet into the bucket of water. Andrea plunges the bed sheet. Still very squelchy, now with the additional feature of cleanliness. Success! Add some snapping twigs and cracking particle board for the trap, recordings of startled horse whinnies (because none of us could vocally induce the sound of a horse whinny) for the sound of the dying pony, and some water to gently splash for the eerie sound of water lapping against a shore, and we have a disaster!
So, no. Foley is not luxurious. But getting to devote hours and hours to the cause of cracking, smashing, twisting, dropping, and destroying anything I can get my hands on to create lifelike sounds for a live theatre completely justifies the discomfort of getting there.
– Jared Knight,