Sunday, March 17, 2013

Foley Ghost!

Yebo good people!
Last week teh internetz was a bad kitteh and had to go to bed without post. Had nothing to do with me being stressed off my ass over a difficult deadline combined with new wonderful girlfriend. Really!
This week teh internetz been good, so it deserves a treat. This post!

As a movie based mostly in sound, there are, not counting the obvious elements story and acting, mainly two techniques this will stand or fall by: The sound design, and the art of foley!
Most people understands the concept of sound design to some degree. They may not fully understand how it's done (which is the reason I will make a post like this for design later on), but most people knows for example that the sound of the humongous shapeless cloud being a poltergeist can't possibly be based in nature but being somehow fabricated.

Foley, on the other hand, has lots of misconceptions, which sometimes has changed the meaning to some extent.
The origin of the word "Foley" was, like Dave Foley or Axel Foley, a name. Jack Donovan Foley (1891-1967), known simply as Jack Foley, was an extremely dedicated and talented sound effects artist with a twist: he could do an awful lot of  effects in short time with tremendous quality by actually performing them in realtime in sync while watching the movie on the screen. Over time this impressed people, and producers began asking for sound "like Foley did it". As this caught on it simplified to "do foley".
The actual meaning of this is, hence; to make sound effects in realtime in sync with the movie. Normally in a studio, though many of us, me included, prefer to do it on location for acoustical reasons.

Feet. With Underground boots. In broad daylight no less.
When would one prefer foley over cut effects? You be the judge. What technique works best with which situation is mostly a question of preferences and what the individual technician is most comfortable with, but ultimately each style got its pros and cons.
Cut sound effects need no physical performance whatsoever, and no props. Unless you want to use some. You might need to record new effects, myself I work almost exclusively with my own effects, but you do it as a separate process.
One of the biggest advantages of edited sound effects is that they are very thankful to layer and make really complicated designs with. You can also just whip out a door where you need it and think nothing of it.
On the negative side it can take a lot of time to find the right sound for the right place, and editing things like footsteps and clothes this way is an infinite (literally) source of suicidal reasons.
After editing an entire movie worth of clothes and footsteps eternity has no meaning anymore...

Foley, on the other hand, is a godsend for such things - in a single take you can get leather jacket, Doctor Martens boots, squeaky floorboards, rustle of denim, perhaps some cutlery, and why not some coins in the pocket for good measure. In a single take.
Heavy design? Can has? Sure can, though, like with the previous example, it might not be the best choice unless that's your thing. I'm not exactly sure in which of all my books I read what I'm about to tell, it was either written by David Yewdall or Tom Holman, but as an example in this book the author mentioned a foley group replicating an entire *beeep* subway-station! With trains and all!
To do soumething like that, and get it virtually impossible to tell from the real stuff, is really fucking impressive...but it's also very very difficult. In the same way that you can make sound for an entire movie with only sound edit/sound design, you may very well do it all in foley as well.

Myself, when doing sound design, I prefer a mixture of the two methods - Sometimes making it all with just cut effects, and sometimes beginning with foley and evolving the scenes by heavy sweetening (addition of elements to existing ones) and replacements, 'till it becomes a true design. Movement and cloth I rarely sweeten though.

Could it be the Devil?
As I said initially in this post, there are many misconceptions on the meaning of foley, and also the word has evolved since the good Jack coined it. It wasn't actually he who invented the technique, it was in use long before, but it was he who brought it into the mainstream and gave it a name. As far as I know virtually all sound effects for radio was once made live, with a few exceptions using cart-machines (cartridges with short endless loops of tape), and occasional reel-to-reel for difficult effects.
Like things like sampling and side-chaining, lots of people mistook the method for the effect.
For example: The word "Sampling" was often mistaken for the stuttering effect in the 80's, like "fa-fa-fa-fa-fashion" and such. The word Side-Chaining is often mistaken for the Ducking Effect (triggering a compressor with another signal than the one being compressed) in modern dance-music, though the side-chain channel can be used for everything from De-Essing to Companding to frequency-dependent Expanding as well.
In Swedish, Foley is called "tramp" (roughly translated "stride" or "step". Has nothing to do with easy women) as it's most often used for human movements and footsteps. For the same reason many mix up Foley with the sound of cloth and feet - the single most common thing to use Foley for. Outside the business many even think all movie sound are called Foley altogether.

As with everything else, things isn't just black and white. In movies I refuse to acknowledge Foley as anything but the original term, but quite frankly, in computer games it would be impossible to have real Foley, and only using hard effects would make a very dull game. It would mean hiring the performer by the hour, and I don't think it would take more than a few hours before he or she would begin plotting to kill you irl just to get some rest. And you would need one for each character on-screen.
 What in my opinion makes computer games differ from first and foremost that it's something completely different. You can't really compare sound editing for movies with ditto for games - you may very well use the very same sound effects in both, but they have no resemblance when it comes to incorporating the sounds into the project. In movies, you apply the sounds in fixed mixes to a predefined timeline that doesn't change. Even. In games you apply the sounds to triggered events and mix everything in realtime, meaning the outcome can be very unpredictable sometimes, and things like footsteps can't really be recorded as complete sequences.
As such, I have no problem calling all forms of body-noises in games "Foley" for the same reason I call all non-supernatural horror " Exploitation" in my DVD/BD-library in lack of better terms. It's not technically correct, but there are no better ways to describe it that I can think of right now.


On a totally unrelated note - I'm looking trough Star Trek TOS on Netflix. Haven't actually seen much of it before.
Spock is unquestionable green-blooded due to being half Vulcan! Clearly visible when he gives his father a transfusion in one episode. But he's also human, and humans have red blood! Wouldn't that make his own blood poisonous to him??
Never mind that, the show's creator, Gene Roddenberry, was no hack. A human Caucasian gamer (or anyone white or albino that rarely sees the sun off-screen) has a pinkish hue due to our blood being red, and the skin being slightly transparent. Spock has a slightly yellowish hue due to his blood being green.
But when we gets sexually exited, we get red-faced! A blushed face can be very erotic for the partner. Myself, watching my beloveds throat turn blushed in excitement makes me raise a tent worthy of an entire carnival I can tell you.
When Spock really wanna dip the pickle, does he blush in a Vulcan way as well? I can't speak for you guys and gals, but if my girlfriend say me naked and her face turned green, I would NOT take it as a compliment...

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