10 surprising ways sounds are made for movies

  • Foley artists create the sounds of a character’s movements and interactions with the world that you hear in movies.
  • Sometimes they need to experiment and get extra creative to find an object that creates a completely unexpected sound.
  • Pieces of fruit and raw meat can be perfect for gore, swords don’t always make the best sounds for sword fights, and sometimes a squeaky piece of furniture is all you need to make a convincing bird chirp.
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Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: When you see this, you don’t imagine that you’re hearing this.

[wet punching]

Or when this dragonfly floats by on the big screen, you aren’t imagining this behind the scenes.

[buzzing]

Foley art is one of those unseen jobs in Hollywood,

[slopping]

making our experience at the movies feel real and immersive.

Take a look at 10 of the most surprising ways Foley artists have created sounds.

[wet crunching]

You can’t exactly punch a real person, so Foley artist Shaun Brennan will start by punching his bare hands.

Punches involve a lot of sound layering. He will add gloves to beef it up, and then take it a step further by punching an old rolled-up phone book wrapped in duct tape.

[thudding]

For a more violent and gory fight scene, he needed something more exaggerated and found that punching raw meat worked well. Shaun needed a cut that best imitated the texture of a human cheek and could also lie perfectly flat on his palm. The answer? A 1-pound piece of raw flank steak.

[wet punching]

Foley artists often need to cover animals as well as humans. One of the most common animals that they encounter is horses.

Thanks to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” coconut shells have become closely associated with horse galloping.

King Arthur: Whoa, there!

[coconuts clacking]

Narrator: Foley artist Marko Costanzo might pull out a pair of plastic coconut shells, but they aren’t always effective. For instance, the sound of the shells comes out if you’re doing the sounds for a horse running on cobblestone.

But for a movie like “True Grit,” where the horses mostly run on dirt and grass, the sound of the shells wouldn’t resonate at all. The low-end thud most associated with horse hooves would come out better with a pair of rocks.

[thudding]

When a horse is moving, you won’t just hear the hooves, so you’ll have to layer in a few other sounds as well. If you need some tail flicks in there, waving around shredded rope does a good imitation of a horse’s tail.

[flicking]

When creating the sound of an animal eating, the first thing you need to figure out is if the food is wet or dry.

Making the sound of a horse eating is also a particular challenge. They typically eat dry food, which is easy.

They also have snouts, however, which can complicate how the sound gets made. To account for the snout, Marko makes a cavern by cupping his hands over his mouth while chewing. This creates a cavity of sound.

[crunching]

For another take of a scene, he had to pretend to be a horse eating out of a bucket. Now, he couldn’t actually stick his head into a bucket. He found that chewing while putting his head between the legs of a stool created the exact echo he was searching for.

Foley artist Matt Davies has worked on several horror films. A few of them called for the sounds of falling intestines, so he successfully experimented with raw chicken. Not only does the chicken’s texture give just the right sound, but the more you handle this meat, the warmer and slimier it gets, making it perfect for multiple takes.

[squelching]

But raw chicken isn’t always the cleanest product for Foley artists to utilise. So when working on the horror movie “V/H/S/2,” he found he could get the same effect squeezing and squishing chocolate pudding and latex hoses for intestinal movement.

Remember this dragonfly from the opening of “Men in Black”? The camera gets up close to the insect and follows it around, so the viewer needs to be able to hear all of the buzzing. When Marko was tasked with recreating this sound, he first thought about playing around with different types of paper. He tried putting a card in a bicycle spoke and then spinning the wheel around. However, it was mostly the sound of the metal spoke that came through.

The dragonfly needed to sound organic. He eventually found that what worked best was a handheld fan. With this device, he could more easily account for the insect’s variation in movement by sticking his finger on the blade.

[whirring]

Plus, there was no metal aftereffect.

Shaun Brennan works on a lot of action movies, which means he’s needed to create the sounds of a gnarly head stomp and smash. For a head crack, you need a bone-crunching effect to get the sound of a skull being crushed.

[crunching]

Ideally the object will provide a crunch and a smush. While celery is usually great for a bone crack, it sounds too dry.

[cracking]

Shaun said that on one occasion, they had just stocked the kitchen with apples for snacking when a Foley mixer suggested trying one out. So he took a few pieces of the fruit and stomped on them with his foot.

[wet crunching]

The apple not only cracks when you stomp on it, but it also gives you that squishy element, which you wouldn’t get from drier fruit or veggies.

Many swords in movies have a ringing quality to them, but it is difficult to make this sound with a real sword, because not only would you get the ringing sound, but you would also get an unpleasant scraping noise. So how do you get the ringing without the scraping?

For starters, Matt Davies knew he still needed to use a metal object, and he landed on a metal shelf support. However, it couldn’t make the desired sound on its own, so he took a cello bow and bowed the side of the metal. Then he immediately waved it around in the air. You can hear what Matt describes as a “magical quality.”

[ringing]

Foley artists Dawn Lunsford and Alicia Stevenson worked on “Bumblebee” and created many of the sounds of the adorable “Transformers” character.

While the sounds of transforming between car and autobot were done digitally, the character still moved around and interacted with the world a lot, which required some clever Foley work.

For the shot where Bumblebee sits on a couch and then breaks it, they had to get both the sound of the massive creature squashing the couch and the couch itself collapsing. To get an object both heavy enough to capture Bumblebee’s size as well as his metal features, Alicia banged an old lawn mower against a car door. Then, on a separate track, Dawn hit a car seat cushion with her hands.

[rustling]

Sometimes Marko needs to mimic the vocals of certain animals when a digital library just doesn’t cut it. Usually he will use his mouth.

[whimpers]

But for a mouse squeaking and a small bird chirping, he found that it was better to let some objects do the talking.

[squeaking]

So he used this wooden chair leg. Marko found that if he took the wooden leg and attached a squeaky knob to it, he could create the sounds of both a bird and a mouse by just turning it. He will do fast and small turns for the mouse, and for the bird, each turn will go on a little longer.

[squeaking]

When Matt had to work on something like the zombies in “V/H/S/2,” it wasn’t the fleshy chewing sounds that were the problem.

[snarling and chewing]

The real challenge came when imitating these creatures vocally. There’s a huge history of zombie noises to draw on.

However, Matt has found that some of the classic zombie sounds just consist of a lot of grunting, which feels less scary today. He found a lot of sounds in more modern zombie features come closer to how gory their noises would be in reality.

[snarling]

So he decided to make the sounds more guttural and phlegmy, and he found the result to be much scarier.

Ian Phillips: Thanks for watching. If you like learning about how sounds are made for movies, subscribe for many more videos just like this one. And let us know what other Foley sounds you’d like to see in action in the comments.

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