The art of sound editing for film and TV
Glen Gathard is supervising sound editor at Pinewood Studios near London. He talks to KFTV about the art of foley recording and how it all works.
Foley and the processes of automated dialogue replacement (ADR) are perhaps among the less understood technical arts that comprise a vital part of the final soundtrack of films and TV shows.
For Gathard and his team of three foley mixers, five foley editors and additional foley artists, it’s about working in an open room at Pinewood kitted out with a variety of different microphones and recording to sound of everything that makes a noise on-screen.
Everything from the sound of booted feet on gravel to a door swinging and closing is recorded in the studio by Gathard and his team.
The art form got a profile boost recently when X-Men star Hugh Jackman posted a clip on social media of him performing ADR for an action sequence in his recent movie Logan, where he reprises the role of comic-book antihero Wolverine.
The actor is shown pretending to sprint – on the spot – through a forest, attacking assailants with imaginary Wolverine ‘claws’ as he tears through the sequence. Sound and effects recorded this way are ideally intended to blend with sound recorded on-set.
“We work in a big open room,” Gathard tells KFTV of his own everyday process in foley. “We have all the details of the characters and who they are and everything the characters interact with that generates sound, and we break that down into manageable elements.”
Gathard’s team works closely with the sound supervisor on each project, who checks on progress to ensure everything is in line with the director’s overall vision for the film.
“The sound supervisor gives us notes at the start of the process – sometimes it’s nothing, sometimes it’s lots,” Gathard says.
“We do a ‘spotting’ session with the entire team to organise all departments and everyone is briefed. It’s good to get constructive criticism along the way. We have a sound team that communicates very effectively.”
The Pinewood team uses up to eight different microphones in a single foley session, which helps vary the acoustics and shift recordings between direct and ambient.
It takes a minimum of ten days to complete all the foley work on a single project, but this can sometimes depend on a specific project’s budgetary constraints.
Work on one of the final Harry Potter films took 12 weeks due to the sheer scale of the project.
“We use everything and anything,” Gathard tells KFTV of the wealth of props he and his team use to generate the sounds they need. “It ranges from 20 different guns through to an Hungarian carriage, different punch-bags and an endless collection of cups and crockery.
“It’s about having different frequency content and augmenting existing sounds. I once bought an old candlestick telephone for the collection from a car boot sale, not because it was a phone but because I realised that when you turned the old number dial it sounded like a tap being turned on.”
Gathard is optimistic about the future of foley as an art form. While technology is helping aid the process – he explains that RX iZotope software is essentially a type of Photoshop for sound – the actual process itself is reliably old-school.
“People do ask sometimes why we don’t just use sound libraries, but the reality is that while they can be useful at times, you lose the performance and the sense of authenticity,” Gathard says. “Part of it is about having respect for the art form.”
Images courtesy of Glen Gathard. 'The Secret World of Foley' via Short of the Week on Vimeo.