Tag Archives: Foley Artist London

Shorts in the Spotlight

Some work I did last year got some recent attention. Operator, directed by Caroline Bartleet, won best British short at the Baftas this February. This was quite a nice surprise as I’d completely forgotten I’d worked on it; Alex Joseph and I recorded all the Foley at the end of a session for another film. Hats off too to the film’s sound designer Lisa-Marie McStay who picked up the award for best sound design at London’s Underwire festival.

Another pleasant surprise was The Drum magazine’s pick for their ad of the week back in October. Film is Fragile was a collaboration between The Mill and BFI to promote the restoration and digitisation of the UK’s historic film collection.

Once again, Alex asked me to look after the footsteps in the film. We were both volunteering our time on this and I soon realised it consisted of clips of characters running in classic films. It didn’t take too long  to complete in the end; I’ve gotten pretty used to grabbing old recordings. In fact I’ve managed to create a library in my brain that can go straight to the appropriate reel in a film edited 5 years ago; picking the right shoes, surface and pace. Well, that’s the intention anyway, results can be mixed.

So is this still Foley? No, not really… not if considering the definition of recording bespoke sound effects for linear picture. However that in itself can be contested; the line between sound effects and classic Foley is frequently blurred, especially when taking game sound into consideration. Nonetheless, nicking old recordings and cutting them to picture is pretty common with low/no budget shorts and worked well in this case. Many Foley editors will also supplement recordings with old favourites. These supplements may be used to add weight to tracks or sell the texture of a surface.

In the case of this film, the copied footsteps were quite simple. The snow feet and the wet beach feet were both layered up, however the rest (all of which were concrete) sat there quite nicely on their own.

So two quickly made Foley soundtracks that caught a bit of attention; if only the long-slog projects did the same!

An Adventure in Animation Foley

I recently returned to the choppy waters of freelancing; this has proved to be both exciting and stressful. On the plus side, I’m writing this from a pretty bar in Yorkshire bang in the middle of the afternoon – the downside is that I’ve developed an unhealthy attraction and yet a simultaneous aversion to emails.

Another joyous positive for the life of a freelancer is the freedom to take on work away from the norm. I was recently invited to join Dave Darch and his team working with young people with the BFI and THAMES film music project for a Foley workshop, complimenting their 10-week music for film course. I turned up armed with a back-breaking array of props, shoes, cloths and vegetables with the full intention of wiggling them all in front of the students.

A high percentage of these items were indeed wiggled. The young people also got a chance to wiggle them to their own films that they’re working on. I think they enjoyed their day; it’s not often folks get a chance to step into someone else’s shoes or transform a hand drill into a pistol. At the request of Dave, I brought with me some examples of my Foley to picture, including a section of Moshi Monsters: The Movie. It hadn’t occurred to me that not many folk get to watch moves without the finished mix; they all seemed to be transfixed.

I didn’t write up anything about Moshi when we were busy working on it. This is due to the fact I was bloody knackered at the time.

Moshi Monsters

The film was the first by Shoreditch’s award winning digital company Mind Candy and was released straight after their win at the Children’s BAFTAs. Mind Candy’s Lead Audio Designer, Daan Hendricks, got in touch with us when I was at Creativity Media and we joined his team on the sound design, Foley and effects mixing. This would be my first theatrical animated film and I was bricking it.

I wasn’t overly familiar with Moshi Monsters and the idea of creating their movements for the first time in a film was a little daunting. Thankfully, I had Alex giving me a whole bunch of advice and we were soon strolling around Soho poking heads into various shops and market stalls looking for interesting food stuffs, toys and materials that would bring these characters to life.

The workflow of the film in terms of the Foley was a little different to that which I’m used to. Spider Eye, the animation studio, would send us sections of the film once they were fully rendered and green-lit. Therefore, we worked in a very non-linear fashion, recording and fitting Foley in a very stop-start manner until we received picture lock. We took a couple of days recording with Gwilym Perry (now of Doppler and Dubbs) in Twickenham’s theatre 3 then finished the rest of the film with Simon Trundle at Universal Sound. These two studios have their own unique characteristics and the two mixers their own separate approaches, both of whom contributed such wonderful creative ideas and experience, I really valued working with them both.

The five Moshi Monsters who lead us through the film are the same monsters that children ‘adopt’ in the online game. Katsuma (a cat with an inflated sense of self), Poppet (the level headed character), Zommer (think of Scooby Doo’s Shaggy but more of a zombie), Furri (lovable hairy oaf), Diavlo (fiery) and Luvli (sultry). They are also joined by Poppet’s favourite Moshling, Mr Snoodle (a little horse which looks like an elephant puppy).

These are characters that kids will know and love so it was pretty essential to make their movements reach expectations. In terms of cloth tracks, I pretty much followed their animal type or resorted to simple cotton cloth. The supporting characters, however, offered more creative opportunities. Shelby, a turtle character, needed an interesting material for his moves. Alex suggested using PVC which was duly adopted and had a nice sound to it. Buster Bumblechops (a Jurassic Park Richard Attenborough type in an adventurous mood) was performed with canvas and rougher cloth. The character Furry was… furry. I performed his moves with fur. Imagination was required elsewhere.

Footsteps provided the other major preparation challenge. I couldn’t decide whether to follow what was on screen or to go with the nature of the characters instead (soft, wet, rocky, bristly etc). We experimented with different materials but- for the most part- went with less abstract choices… if you can call udon noodles less abstract for a footstep. In fairness, the leads were walked lightly with fairly standard shoes. One character was barefoot but heavy set; I walked him with my hands but made them very ‘slappy’. Daan wanted a kinda plastic/rubberish footstep for Mr Snoodle. After much rummaging around, Universal’s Paul Hanks came up with using finger tips upon a wellington boot. This project induced a very collaborative environment and the Foley benefitted from this.

A section of the film that we spent quite a bit of time on was set on a snowy mountain; the footsteps involved the usual cornstarch and rock salt. The scene involved an avalanche that was a bit of fun to create. This is one of those moments where the Foley stage is used by the sound designers and fx editors to obtain something for themselves. Both Alex and Daan were keen to collate a bank of recordings that they could later affect for their own design and fx tracklays. Acquiring the help of another soundie, Ryan Lee Twyman, we flumped and bellowed pillowcases full of flour onto the floor all in full view of the Neumann and contact mic. The recordings accumulated but a distinct sound of falling snow was missing. As I brushed the ground ready for another load to drop, Alex was still monitoring the mics. Turns out a little hand brush on the concrete with cornstarch to scatter makes quite a lovely avalanche sound when you’ve got a contact mic there doing its thing.

As enjoyable as our more experimental recording sessions were, I maintain that some of the best work comes from having no time to think. The 5 days I had at Universal Sound with their handsome mixer Simon was hard work. Good grief, we had so much to get through whilst my dreamy old colleague Stelios and intern Daniel were editing the fruits of our work. As I wasn’t as familiar with the props at Universal, Simon came up trumps in suggesting props to use. We flew through scene by scene and in all honesty I can’t remember a lot of the things I used because we worked so quickly everything relied upon instinct rather than considered thought.

Something particularly enjoyable about working on this film was the expeditions to source prop material. I spent an absolute age looking in different toy shops across London; trying to find items that would pop, whistle, squish, squeak, rattle and hum. These toys proved very useful for both Foley and the sound design. Mr Snoodle’s flappy ears were made with a whoopie cushion, flies were made with buzz magnets and tuning forks, large drinking straw-like pipes were made with a whirly tube slid inside a washing machine tube and the Moshi’s arch enemy’s army of glumps were complimented in the Foley stage with a rubbery toy cheese filled with slime. It was beautifully disgusting and fun.

Here’s some pics of the recordings.

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Here’s the trailer for the film.

Rubber Soles, Plastic Foley

Plastic Movie Poster

Today sees the UK theatrical release of heist thriller Plastic. Directed by Julian Gilbey and produced by Terry Stone, the film is based on a true story of a group of university students supplementing their loans with credit card fraud, suddenly finding themselves in need of £5m to get a gangster and the threat of violence off their backs.

Got to say, I’m pretty darn proud to have been in the sound team on this film, coming out of the re-recording theatre, we were all pretty chuffed with the final mix. It’s loud (where needs be) and proud. The Foley sat in nicely, some spot-on recordings by Universal Sound, and got featured nicely in the mix. Mmmm.

Last year I started to be more active in assisting Alex in the hard FX side of our films. Mostly helping out with doors and cars. The doors I love, the cars less so. There’s so much faffing around trying to get the right sound out of a multitude of different library tracks and complimentary elements (animals, tyre squeals, gravel crunch, machinery and miscellaneous sounds in the library named ‘track 01’). Nonetheless, Plastic proved a really thrill to assist on the FX because everything needed a bit of beef and creative attention. It felt good to step up and assist on the more literal parts leaving Alex to get on with his design and the scenes requiring a lot of attention. Of which there were many.

The other challenge on this film was my first venture in looking after the VFX, more to the point, looking after the master sound PT session and trying to maintain its structural integrity once the VFX updates have come in. Alex warned me I’d have a task on my hands, turns out he was right. There was lots of liaising with our picture department and the VFX supervisor, then there were spreadsheets. Oh joyous spreadsheets. There’s quite a lot of organisational considerations looking after these VFX. You’ve got to determine which VFX shots will have to be checked out for sync purposes or needing some more effects laying down. Muzzle flashes need double checking in the session in case the gunshot sync has changed, blood spurts need new sound effects adding to compliment the new visuals, iPhones and laptops need new fx laying down if the visuals have changed and the Foley often needs revisiting in case on-screen typing has changed the keyboard tapping sync.

So here’s the trailer for Plastic. It’s our first Paramount release. Not only was the Foley and effects a pleasure to work on, the mix was damn good fun. Julian has such enthusiasm and awareness of sound post and its impact upon the film’s excitement and emotion. This made me extraordinarily happy.

Plastic is released in UK cinemas today.

Sound of Cinema, Sound of Panic

Oh hello. It’s been a while since I wrote some words on here. I’ve been setting aside free time to learn Chinese and watch Breaking Bad (still haven’t seen season 5, please don’t spoil anything please, please, please). Anyway, by the time I’ve gotten through all of that, I’m a bit reluctant to look at the computer any longer.

Well, this is a shame as there’s been so many cool things happening over the past year. One of which, I thought I’d share tonight.

At the close of 2013’s beautiful summer (it was bucketing down outside), Alex and I appeared on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune live broadcast at Southbank’s BFI theatre 1, launching the broadcaster’s Sound of Cinema season. The producer asked Alex to discuss sound design and he invited me along to talk about Foley. It was around this time that the first nerves wafted over.

This was rehearsal, there were a few more people there when it came to broadcast.

This was rehearsal, there were a few more people there when it came to broadcast.

On the day of the broadcast, we were in Soho with the Mind Candy sound crew mixing the Moshi Monsters movie (ah man, that’s a whole different post, so much fun) and so had the capacity to accumulate some interesting items to audition on stage. We sourced some rhubarb, a melon, some knives and forks and Alex’s toy plastic tennis racquet. My good friend and fellow sound editor Patch also came up trumps and donated his (empty) wallet and a builder’s trowel.

So here’s the actual broadcast. Patch was good enough to record this for me and it’s not on the iPlayer anymore so I figured it’s cool to share.

So a few things happened…

1. I forgot how to form sentences

2. I forgot how to say words without sounding like a 1950s newsreader

3. I declared that we use leather for creaky floorboards (wat?)

4. I forgot that wet leather does not creak

5. Alex smashed it

Despite points 1-4, it was still a whole bunch of fun. Once I’d gotten over the intensity of my heart beating at around 80 decibels, the sight of a room full of people hearing about sound design and Foley, possibly for the first time, was brilliant. They were either really interested in our craft or had mastered the art of looking really interested in two people bash things around on a stage whilst waiting for the classical music to return.

The fruity aftermath

The fruity aftermath

So yeah. That happened. I think the best thing was my mum and dad were listening at home and I think they finally understood what us noisemakers do every day. Thanks to Alex (and the radio show producers) for inviting me along and Patch for the mute wallet.

Our Girl

Last night Our Girl was broadcast on BBC 1 here in the UK. I was pretty excited about this as it was my first Foley job for broadcast drama and I had friends and family members sat around the country in front of their televisions sending various messages of support and intrigue. The programme is set around a young woman, played by Lacey Turner, stuck in a rut and low on self esteem. At her lowest point, she comes across an advert for the army and decides to enlist. The subsequent training and new encounters forges her character and alters her outlook on life.

3545125-high_res-our-girl.jpg

I was approached by the programme’s sound editor and dubbing mixer, Steve Chase who, alongside post production supervisor Elaine Jaxon, were after a Foley artist to compliment the sound and fill in any production sound gaps.

Soon followed a trip to the BBC’s studios in Elstree for two days of boots, anoraks and sandbags. At one and a half hours, the programme is easily the length of a feature film, however with two days to record all the material, I was relieved to see Steve’s comprehensive sheet of cues. We sped through the programme applying footsteps to scenes where the feet weren’t prominent in the production sound or for those that were crying out for a little attention (soldier’s boots in the training camp’s corridors or stiletto heels walking down the high street at night). We took the same approach for the effects, paying attention to anything that was missing or needed an extra touch.

There were plenty of moments to be creative in terms of problem solving. When a background character is seen wheeling around a wheelbarrow, we needed to find an alternative due to a serious lack of wheelbarrows in the studio. Elaine located a postal trolley and was soon encouraged to join in as we pushed it, rattled it and moved the wheel against the concrete. It all sounded rather nice in the end.

There were also opportunities to be inventive. When the lead character stands up on a toilet seat to peer over the cubicle wall, we found that a canteen tray made a good substitute for a cheap club toilet seat. This also offered another opportunity to use sound to reinforce the crummy, cheap life and environment that she was living in. Steve encouraged me to pipe up with any of my own ideas which was great and very much appreciated.

The programme is currently on the iPlayer (UK viewers only) and will stay there until Sunday evening. It reached 5.3m viewers on Sunday evening which was pretty rad.

A Puzzled Foley Artist

At some point in the autumn of last year, I got a call off my friend and long time collaborator Dean Covill, giving me a heads up on a short film he was working on for Oliver Kember at some time in the then near future. I was reel deep in Foley editing to the point of alcoholism and delirium, so could only grunt a few words back such as “sure” and “of course I’ll have a good, long think about making the sound of a Rubik’s Cube.”

In all honesty, that was the last I thought of it until the morning came when I was supposed to actually get on with the recordings. That wretched, slow realisation of disorganisation dawned upon me and I was left with no option but to rummage around in the Foley boxes and hope for the best.

There’s something to be said for abandoning forward thinking and relying on instinct because I swear that all the times I’ve had oodles of time to prepare and consider forthcoming recordings, I tend to accumulate a whole lot of items that get pulled, bashed, shook and snapped, yet never really hit the mark. Over-thinking gets in the way of instinctive imagination, whereas just glancing round the room will transform an umbrella to a yacht’s sail or an old kettle into a steering wheel . In this instance, I was saved by a 50p toy car and the removable wheel from my plastic stacking drawers.

Rubik's Car

The wheel itself was quite thin so weight was gained from the car. I could place the car’s wheels in the grey wheel’s groove and mimic the rotation and slide of a Rubik’s cube. As long as I held the car’s wheels quite tight whist pushing and twisting it against the grey wheel, the rattle remained muted and clacky rather than thin and annoying.

The short film is entitled Puzzled and drifts back to the 1980s when Rubik’s Cubes were the best thing since Etch A Sketch and the ultimate goal was to be the first kid at school to solve it. As a result, there was quite a lot of fiddling with the car and wheel to do, every now and then the car would slip and it would come loose. I was worried this would all be too noisy and the whole recording would sound like a toy shop falling over, however upon playback with a little level reduction, it slotted into place and felt kinda reminiscent of gun handling Foley; utter ridiculous upon solo, however perfectly feel-good when played against the picture.

I think the whole exercise was a bit of a confidence boost. I’ve got a film coming up in a few weeks where I’ll be the only Foley artist in the recording theatre and the temptation to pre-plan and prepare each and every prop has become harder and harder to resist. In reality however, all Foley artists rely on their intuition to find the right materials to create the correct sound with the perfect performance. Easy!

Anyway, I must thank Oliver and Dean for having me in on this project. I rather enjoyed the story, will link it here if it finds its way online, it’s rather endearing. I also love how each project Dean sends my way there’s some lovely leather satchels to record. This is always appreciated mate, especially because I spent a lot of money buying them from vintage stores before discovering the magic of charity shops.

Both Oliver and Dean are on Twitter. Follow them if you fancy.