Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Holy Foley Batman

I did my first ever bit of foley recording on the weekend. There is a scene in the New Project (remember, new in name only!) that needs some music playing on a radio in the background. We'd already identified the song we wanted to use (the intellectual property of Mark and Frazer incidentally, so I'm not setting myself up for any future wrangling) so I layered the mp3 over the footage. It did not sound right at all. It was too crisp and clear, it sounded exactly like it was, an audio file set to video. It did not sound like a radio playing in a living room. I tried playing with the audio filters in Final Cut Express, hoping I could add some distortion and reverb and tinniness. I've never really used them much but I found them much less intuitive than the video filters. I had no luck.

I realised I needed to get an authentic "in room" sound so I decided instead to blare the song through my computer speakers in the bedroom and record the audio. The rooms were of a similar size, with similar acoustics and big soft things laying about. It should be a good replication of the original environment. Not having a separate audio capture device I decided to use the same camera I filmed the scene with and the shotgun mic that was donated to me by the brilliant Brian when we were filming a previous project.

I closed the doors to keep the new kitten out of the room (he's very talkative - luckily Dee was able to distract him!), connected and donned my headphones and held the microphone very carefully, wary of the noise that travelled from too much handling or from flailing wires. I did a test run and decided that standing in the middle of the room gave me the best reverb and the least incidental noise. I stopped the test, pressed record on the camera and walked over to the computer to start the audio. That's when my neighbours started blasting Kelly Clarkson through the walls. The microphone, delicate enough to pick up outside traffic and airplanes, was not missing a single auto-tuned word. Time for a break.

Eventually silence resumed. The headphones were back on. I started the song on the computer and recorded the whole thing. Perfect. Because the same scene features our character in another room within the house, I recorded the audio with the camera from another room too. I also buried the microphone under the duvet in the bedroom for another take to give me more "muffled audio" options.

I imported the tracks into Final Cut and it is an amazing difference. I tweaked the volume enough that the tinny, reverby radio sound is beneath the character's words rather than muddying them and I panned the audio track a little to one side to make it feel a little more like a real background sound coming off from one corner. The scene in the other room with the muffled radio still playing in the background sounds great.

This was my first bit of foley work, and it was really fun! I'm definitely looking to add more. Footsteps, clinking glasses, doors closing, outside traffic, it will all help flesh out the project and it's all good practice. I remember reading something in a book about getting started with filmmaking, they said that in a film, you don't always have to see what you hear, but you always need to hear what you see. If someone is on screen, walking, picking something up, scrunching paper, then the lack of audio can be conspicuous to the audience. The absence is felt. It's important to fill these gaps. It's also important not to overdo it! The best foley work seems to be the foley work you don't even notice. Many people aren't even aware that foley work exists, as it is frequently used so seamlessly.

I foresee some joyful foley sessions in a weekend or two! It will definitely be a learning experience.

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