Beginner’s guide to Foley editing

Though we watch movies, they are very much an audio experience, too. Between the dialogues, music, and sound effects, the audio track of a movie has a far greater impact on the story than its visuals. One of the most popular ways to enrich the sound track of a movie is the wonderfully organic technique of Foley. And while the Foley artist often whisks away the credits, it is the Foley editor who literally ties the sound together. A beginner’s guide.

What Is Foley Editing?

If the Foley stage were a kitchen, the Foley artist would be the sous-chef selecting the ingredients. The Foley mixer will be the one preparing all the ingredients. The Foley editor would be the master chef creating the actual dish.

Sound effects rarely consist of a single sound. To create a “punch in the gut” sound, the Foley team will usually combine several hitting sounds to get to the desired flavor. They’ll whop a bean bag with a bat. To accentuate the impact, they might add the sound of a heavy object on a leather pad. To give the final sound effect a bit of oomph, they’ll add more bass by dropping a heavy jute bag on an empty barrel. Finally, they might opt for the sound of a cracking rib for good measure, by twisting and breaking leek close to the microphone.

The Foley editor is the expert that does the hyper-minute job of syncing the sounds with the video frames. Meanwhile, he or she might also remove and fix unwanted sounds from the original Foley recording. The Foley editor can also modify sounds to better fit the scene or the character’s mood. In the end, the Foley editor, together with the whole Foley team is responsible for orchestrating a movie’s ambient sounds into a perfectly synched and believable audio track that elevates the story.

How Much Time Does Foley Editing Take?

Any recorded material from the Foley stage needs editing. The Foley editor will always find imperfections to fix and syncs to improve. That’s why it’s generally accepted that one day of Foley recording equals one day of Foley editing. Syncing and fixing take time to get right and it’s important enough not to be done under a time crunch.

Common Mistakes in Foley Editing

Most mistakes in Foley editing are rooted in exactly that, time pressure and trying to work too fast. The beginner Foley editor will find the exact first frame of impact or action and place his sound there. But one out of five times, the syncing will sound off when reviewed at playback. So, this is not the right technique to stick with. It may be a good starting point, but the more accurate editor will always review the work with a few seconds of pre-roll playback. Because that way, the Foley editor will experience his work the same way the audience will… at playback.

And that’s the best advice you can take as a beginning Foley editor, check yourself. Always back up and double check your work. Review per sound, and then review the whole scene. In 20% of the cases, you will find something to correct. Imperfection is unforgiving in sound work. The best Foley editors are detail-oriented to the extreme. But then again, nothing is more satisfying than perfectly synced sound effects!

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Buddy Iahn
Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites. Email: info@themusicuniverse.com
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