The Weird, Analog Delights of Foley Sound Effects

E.T. was jello in a T-shirt. The Mummy was scratchy potpourri. For Foley artists, deception is an essential part of the enterprise.

Anna Wiener
June 27, 2022
The New Yorker

The salvage yard at M. Maselli & Sons, in Petaluma, California, is made up of six acres of angle irons, block pulleys, doorplates, digging tools, motors, fencing, tubing, reels, spools, and rusted machinery. To the untrained eye, the place is a testament to the enduring power of American detritus, but to Foley artists—craftspeople who create custom sound effects for film, television, and video games—it’s a trove of potential props. On a recent morning, Shelley Roden and John Roesch, Foley artists who work at Skywalker Sound, the postproduction audio division of Lucasfilm, stood in the parking lot, considering the sonic properties of an enormous industrial hopper. “I’m looking for a resonator, and I need more ka-chunkers,” Roden, who is blond and in her late forties, said. A lazy Susan was also on the checklist—something to produce a smooth, swivelling sound. Roesch, a puffer-clad sexagenarian with white hair, had brought his truck, in the event of a large haul. The pair was joined by Scott Curtis, their Foley mixer, a bearded fiftysomething. Curtis was in the market for a squeaky hinge. “There was a door at the Paramount stage that had the best creak,” he said. “The funny thing was, the cleaning crew discovered this hinge squeak, and they lubricated the squeak—the hinge. It was never the same.”

Petaluma is a historically agricultural town, and that afternoon was the thirty-ninth annual Butter and Egg Days Parade; the air smelled of lavender and barbecued meat. Inside the yard, Curtis immediately gravitated toward a pile of what looked like millstones, or sanding wheels. He began rotating one against another, producing a gritty, high-pitched ring, like an elementary-school fire alarm. “The texture is great,” Roden said. She suggested that one of the wheels could be used as a sweetener—a sound that is subtly layered over another sound, to add dimension—for a high-tech roll-up door, or perhaps one made of stone. “It’s kinda chimey,” she said, wavering. “It has potential.” A few yards away, Curtis had moved on to a shelf of metal filing-cabinet drawers, freckled with rust. “We have so many metal boxes,” Roden said, and walked away.

“It’s kinda the squeak I was looking for,” Curtis said softly.

“Hey, guys, remember the ‘Black Panther’ area?” Roden called out. “Wanna explore?” She led the group past a rack of hanging chains, also rusted; Curtis lightly palmed a few in sequence, producing the pleasant rings of a tintinnabulum. Roden pointed to the spot where she had found a curved crowbar to create the sound of Vibranium—a fictional rare metal unique to the Marvel universe—before zeroing in on a rack of thimbles, clamps, nuts, bolts, and washers. The trio began knocking and tapping hardware together, producing a series of chimes, tinks, and clunks. Roesch, who calls himself an “audile”—someone who processes information in a primarily auditory manner, rather than in a visual or a material one—had unearthed a sceptre-like industrial tool with a moving part, and was rapidly sliding it back and forth. “Robot,” he said.

The bulk of the sound in film is typically added in postproduction. “I always say there’s sound effects, like footsteps, and then there’s music,” the director David Lynch, whose films are famous for their inventive, evocative sound design, said. “And then there’s sound effects that are like music. . . . They conjure a feeling.” Traditionally, “hard effects” cover ambient noises such as traffic or rain, or the more mechanical, combustive sounds of explosions and gunfire; they are usually pulled from libraries, or electronically produced. Foley effects are custom to a film, and are synchronized to characters’ movements. They might include the sound of someone walking across a room, rolling over in bed, stirring a pot, typing, fighting, dancing, eating, falling, or kissing. The line between the two kinds of effect is thin: Foley artists record the sound of a hand twisting a doorknob, but not the sound of the mechanism turning within. Foley is subtle but suggestive, capturing offstage bedsprings, or the shuffle of a clumsy intruder. In the past hundred years, technology has changed the process of recording, editing, and engineering sounds, but the techniques of Foley have remained stubbornly analog. Behind any given Foley effect, no matter how complex, are one or two people contorting their bodies in a soundproof room.

Foley artists have historically worked in pairs. (Certain sounds are so complex that they require the labor of four hands.) Roden and Roesch are two of the masters in their field. David Fincher, the director of movies including “The Social Network,” “Gone Girl,” and “Mank,” told me that Foley is “a very strange calling,” and “a dark art” foundational to filmmaking. “You’re trying to make beautiful sounds that make their point once and get the hell out of Dodge,” Fincher said. “The people who do it really, really well are few and far between.”

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Sound + Image Lab: Creating a Successful Anthology TV Series, LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS Season 3

Glenn Kiser, Director of the Dolby Institute
June 21, 2022
The Dolby Institute

Season 3 of the eleven-time Emmy winning series LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS hit Netflix on May 20th and we are delighted to sit down with creator Tim Miller, supervising director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, and supervising sound editor Brad North to discuss how they managed to succeed where so many others have failed — creating a hit anthology television series.

“It really comes down to who’s doing the shorts. There’s been a lot of care trying to match-make: The shorts, the stories, the directors, and the studios. You’ve got a whole lifetime of experience with people and studios that Tim has worked with at Blur. People that have been doing incredible content, that maybe haven’t had the opportunity to do a feature yet, because of the size and experimentalism of that particular place. And to be able to hook them up with really good, solid stories that they can put all of their effort into making that, actually, great. You’re not spinning a lot of wheels here. You’re doing amazing. Everything goes right to the screen.” — Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Supervising Director, LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS

Watch LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS on Netflix

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Love, Death + Robots. Inside the Animation: Bad Travelling

June 15, 2022
Netflix (YouTube)

David Fincher, director of Bad Travelling featured in Love, Death + Robots Vol. 3 discusses how he approached directing his first animated short.

Read the LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS. Volume 3 guide

Watch LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS on Netflix

Play, Watch, Listen: Troy Baker talks Love, Death + Robots’ episode Bad Travelling

Alanah Pearce, Troy Baker, Mike Bithell, and Austin Wintory
June 10, 2022
Play, Watch, Listen (Alanah Pearce)

Join Alanah Pearce (game writer), Troy Baker (voice actor), Mike Bithell (game director), and Austin Wintory (game composer) as they talk about all the games, movies, TV and ‘whatever else’ that took their interest that week, from four unique perspectives in the games industry.

Play, Watch, Listen is also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and more. Follow it on Twitter and Instagram.

Alanah Pearce: Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Twitch, Facebook, Patreon
Troy Baker: Twitter, YouTube
Mike Bithell: Twitter, Steam
Austin Wintory: Twitter

The David Fincher Process: 1st Assistant Editor’s POV

Sven Pape, ACE
June 11, 2022
This Guy Edits

The editing and post-production of David Fincher‘s Mank.

Netflix’s Mank was leading 2021 Oscars nominations with 10 nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. First assistant editor Ben Insler opens up the editing timeline of the film and shares insights on the editing and workflow process.

The first 1000 people to use the link will get a one-month free trial of Skillshare Premium Membership.

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‘Love, Death + Robots’ Season 3: David Fincher Gets Animated for the First Time on ‘Bad Travelling’

The animators tell IndieWire what it was like collaborating with Fincher on the mo-cap character animation and giant, slimy crab.

Bill Desowitz
June 9, 2022
IndieWire

It’s easy to see why David Fincher chose “Bad Travelling” as his first foray into directing animation. He made his feature debut with the ill-fated “Alien 3,” after all, and the premise of this third-season episode of “Love, Death + Robots” is a bit like setting the plight of the Nostromo on the high seas: A giant, slimy crab devours the crew of a shark-hunting vessel, with only the cunning navigator surviving to battle the beast. (It also makes up for Fincher’s aborted take on “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” at Disney.)

Fincher also likens “Bad Travelling” to “Ten Little Indians” meets “Deadliest Catch,” with the ship’s navigator, Torrin (Troy Baker), contending with mutiny, betrayal, and a starving Thanapod crustacean that bizarrely communicates through ventriloquism.

“You don’t necessarily want to see them come to unnatural ends,” Fincher said about the crew in the production notes. “The idea was not to make them despicable, but self-serving. That’s the thing I always loved about Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto in ‘Alien’….”

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Pixel Perfection

Jarred Land / RED Digital Cinema

Adrian Pennington
April 2022
British Cinematographer

Jarred Land has spent his career in close collaboration and connection with filmmakers, supporting the execution of their vision with powerful and ground-breaking tools.

Jarred Land runs RED Digital Cinema, the company whose 4K camera went from scepticism to admiration on a run of prestige movies like David Fincher’s Oscar-winning Mank and series like The Queen’s Gambit. Since 2013, Land has led a team focused on precedent-setting technology for filmmakers.

Land didn’t found RED but joined Jim Jannard before the launch of the first camera and during the hardcore, technology banging sleepless nights part of the story, where a small group failed, learned, succeeded. From the first conversation Land had with Jannard and still today, the focus is on providing a more complete tool for filmmakers.

Born in Edmonton, Canada, Land’s father ran gas stations and shopping malls, imbuing in him an entrepreneurial spirit. The teenage Land’s passion was mountain biking which he segued into his own bike courier company in Vancouver.

A chance encounter with a client inspired him to take up videography using the Panasonic tape camcorder DVX100. “I couldn’t go to film school because I was running my company and biking 100km a day, so I set up a bulletin board for help,” he says.

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Soundstage Access: Gwen Yates Whittle, Supervising Sound Editor

Brando Benetton
June 6, 2022
Soundstage Access

For this masterclass on the Art of Sound in film and TV, we welcome on the show Gwen Yates Whittle, a 2-time Oscar-nominated sound professional whose credits include this summer’s Jurassic World: Dominion, Saving Private Ryan, Top Gun: Maverick and the upcoming Avatar: The Way of the Water.

In today’s conversation, the Skywalker Sound member and I break down some of Hollywood’s biggest sound moments. We discuss Gwen’s beginning in the industry and why the prospect of sound editing intrigued her in ways that sound mixing never did; her relationship with detail-oriented directors like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and David Fincher (Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, Benjamin Button, Gone Girl); the process of layering animal sounds to create the dinosaur voices in the Jurassic World franchise—as well as how the pandemic suddenly impacted Gwen’s work. All of this… and much more!

Gwen’s newest movies Jurassic World: Dominion and Top Gun: Maverick are now in theaters across the world, with Avatar: The Way of the Water opening in December 2022.

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Conversations with Sound Artists: Dialogue Editing and ADR with Gwen Whittle

Glenn Kiser, Director of the Dolby Institute
September 21, 2015
SoundWorks Collection / The Dolby Institute

Editing dialog and working with the original recordings from the set is one of the most under-appreciated arts in cinema sound. In this episode of “Conversations with Sound Artists,” two-time Academy Award nominee Gwen Yates Whittle talks with the Dolby Institute’s Glenn Kiser about why George Lucas thinks dialog editing is one of the most important parts of the process, why she loves working on low-budget independent films (“They talk more,”), and why David Fincher and Meryl Streep love doing ADR.

Siren vs. Soldier

Emmy and Oscar award-winner Alberto Mielgo’s animated short “Jibaro” thrills in Season 3 of Tim Miller and David Fincher’s groundbreaking anthology series Love, Death + Robots.

Ryan G. Smith
June 1, 2022
Netflix Queue

When Oscar and Emmy winner Alberto Mielgo was invited to pitch a story for the latest volume of the 11-time Emmy-winning series Love, Death + Robots, the Spanish director, artist, and animator decided to use a folkloric lens to examine the lengths to which some people will go to obtain what they cannot have. The resulting short, “Jibaro,” centers the battle of a deaf knight desperate to slay a golden siren and claim her as a trophy. The mythic creature grows increasingly frustrated, failing to understand why her opponent is immune to the powers of her song.

“It was inspired by those videos on National Geographic where there is an alligator fighting a jaguar for food,” Mielgo says. “It’s a crazy, toxic relationship between two characters, two predators, who both want and need each other.”

The unconventional and breathtaking episode is among nine new shorts included in the third volume of Love, Death + Robots. When executive producers Tim Miller and David Fincher first dreamed up the concept for Love, Death + Robots, they had a clear creative objective: “Let’s make a sandbox where anything’s possible,” explains Fincher, the Oscar-nominated director best known for live-action films like Mank, as well as the TV series MINDHUNTER. Fincher makes his animated directorial debut with the Volume 3 short “Bad Travelling,” a motion-capture masterpiece following a crew of degenerate sailors contending with a giant crustacean who boards their ship with an appetite for destruction. “We’re just telling stories. I think that the best of it works on a childlike level — and a naughty teenager level. As an adult looking at it, I appreciate that.”

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The Most Criminally Underrated Home Invasion Thriller

Ryan Hollinger
May 30, 2022
Ryan Hollinger (YouTube)

This show celebrates Ryan’s love for film, games, art and entertainment through personal retrospective analysis that aims to explore what made them so good.

Time stamps:

00:00: The Story & Characters
04:20: The Intense Filmmaking
08:37: The Panic Room Explained
12:27: Ending Spoilers

Sources:

“Home(land) Invasion: Poe, Panic Rooms, and 9/11”

John Kitterman
May 1, 2003
Wiley

Follow Ryan: Twitter, Instagram, Patreon/Discord