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Recording Foley 

Christian Lund: 
I am looking for Methods to make the steps and presence sound so real as possible.. 

  • How do you make good perspective in your foley?
  • How about using multiple Mikes? 
  • How far can you go with foley? 
I mean can you do BG for airports or big car crashes only using foley. 
My experience is that a lot of the trick in using foley lies in the mixing of it. And of course adding reverb is obvious. 

Mark Berger:  
Some of the more interesting ways of recording foley (sounds made by the body interacting with objects) happened back in the old days of recording sound for features, when we had time, and when a few people could actively participate in all aspects of creating a soundtrack. 

For example on Godfather II, Walter Murch and I recorded almost all of the foley in spaces that duplicated the real space of the scene.  Footsteps on carpet?  Go to Francis' screening room and record feet on carpet.  Walking up tenement stairs?  Find a building with marble steps and an echoed stairwell and Walter records me  walking two flights up towards the mike. Then we switch.  Great perspective changes - volume, presence, echo, diffusion, texture, detail - all real. 

This could sometimes even be dangerous.  One of the first things I ever recorded for a feature was the footsteps of all the henchmen running around Michael Corleone's house after the assassination attempt.  Very late one moonlight night, we went to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco - a very large, quiet parking lot bordered by a sidewalk leading to a grassy courtyard in front of the museum.  We set the Sennheiser 405 microphone on the edge of the fountain, turned on the Nagra III, and proceeded to run around the lot, onto the sidewalk, even on the grass. 
  There was a struggle - Walter grabbed me, our feet scuffled, hands slapped jackets, clothes were ripped,  breathing got heavy, one of us was thrown to the ground and noisily subdued.  It was all great 'foley' - in a real space, bouncing off the walls of the museum, great perspective, two people randomly running, changing surfaces lots of real 'grit' - do that a few times and you've got a great track. 

There's nothing like foley. On camera sync?  No problem.  People walk at an amazingly constant rate.  Get a metronome that has a light and calibrate the dial in frames/footstep.  Measure the scenes you want to record.  Go to the space, set the metronome, walk the walk.  Back in the editing room, touch up the sync by cutting the track to picture. 

What's the missing element today? Time.  Enough time to think about the sound, set up the places, do the recording, cut the tracks, mix them, make everything sound fresh, new, real, different, unique. 

How far can you go with foley? What you describe is by definition not foley per se.  While foley would be a valuable added element in a car crash, it would be a difficult exercise to try to create a complete crash.  Could be interesting, though. Some of the more interesting foley I have heard has been the sound of leaves and branches while in a forest, effects with rubber, footsteps in snow (while rock salt and cornstarch can sound great, nothing beats the real thing), and  teeth grinding together.  Water is generally less successful, unless recorded in a large pool. 

In my opinion, half of the trick in using foley is in the recording, half is in the mixing, and half is in having a director that doesn't just shut it off, but takes the time to work with it. 

Kevin Powell:  
Nice story Mark! It makes sense to me. I am wondering if you don't add another layer of noise/ambience now and make the scene more noisy than you want it to be. Do you remember if the Foley was panned with the movement of the actors in Godfather II? 

Mark Berger: 
Yes, recording the foley outdoors does add another layer of ambiance to the scene, but that is precisely the point.  It's not just ambiance, but foley in its own ambiance.  It's not just broth, but clams stewed in their own juice. The additional effects ambiance can be reduced to compensate for the foley ambiance. 

Godfather II was released in 1974, and was in monaural.  I believe the first major Dolby stereo release was Nashville, in 1975.  In any event, my current practice is not to pan principal actors' foley, especially while they have on-screen dialogue.  This avoids the interesting phenomenon of the feet walking right while the mouth is talking center.  Background foley can be panned to give additional realism to the stereo field. 
Edited excerpts from CAS Forum May, 1999  
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