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Movie Sound Effects



As you go through an average day, how many sounds around you do you actually hear? Every time you close a door, do you listen for the click of the lock? Do you hear the clink of a glass as you set it down? Although you may not actively hear these sounds, if they weren't there you'd wonder what was missing. Foley, the process of creating incidental sounds, is the art that completes a film--all by adding sounds for which you never really listen. Whether they're tearing heads of cabbage for a paper shredder in The Temp or The Temp "smooshing" gelatin in T-shirts for E.T.'s wobble, foley artists add sounds that make the experience more real for the audience. The process is named for radio and movie sound pioneer Jack Foley, a technician at Universal Studios in the 1950s who became famous for synchronized sound effects. Foley artists begin their work by watching the film to determine which sounds need to be replaced, which need to be enhanced, and which just simply need to be added. At this time, the sound on the film includes all of the dialogue and sound effects created during the actual production of the film. These sounds are recorded on a production track or guide track. Later, technicians may add crowd noises (also called walla ), the musical score, rerecorded dialogue or ADR (automated dialogue replacement), sound effects, and sound-designed effects. It's not unusual to have 80% of a movie's sound track added and altered in some way after the movie is shot. Some sound effects are common and can be pulled from prerecorded audio libraries. But many are unique to each movie--footsteps, for instance. As they watch the film, the artists identify which sounds they need to create and start thinking of ways to make them. In addition to the noises themselves, the foley artists must consider other factors, such as who makes the sound and in what environment. Some sounds are too complex for one take, so the foley artists carefully combine different noises to fully represent a single sound. In some cases, foley editors can digitally alter recorded sounds to fit a scene exactly. In a foley studio, you'll find different surfaces for walking on, a splash tank , echo chambers, and a mixing booth where the sound engineers record and mix everything. Foley artists spend hours huddled around a microphone, readingcue sheets and watching a huge screen as they meticulously synchronize their noises to the action. So the next time you see a movie, listen very carefully. If you don't notice a thing, you've got a foley artist to thank.
  • How would you create a sound for something that has never been heard by humans, such as sounds on a distant planet or a dinosaur egg hatching?
  • How can foley artists affect the mood or meaning of a film through sound effects?


How many different sounds can you create with just ten items and your tape recorder? For starters, you'll experiment with each individual material and see how many sounds you can make. Then start combining them. As you become more familiar with the properties of different materials, think about other sounds you can create with them.


  • ball bearings
  • balloons (uninflated)
  • bottle of carbonated water
  • bottle of noncarbonated water
  • cellophane
  • cylindrical oatmeal carton
  • Popsicle sticks
  • rubber bands
  • sandpaper
  • stiff pieces of cardboard
  • tape recorder
  1. Experiment with each of the above items to create different noises. Try creating new sounds by manipulating two or more items in combination or changing the environment you are in. Feel free to cut things apart, glue them together, or do whatever else inspires you. Decide what actual sounds your sound effects could represent. Tape-record your sounds. When you finish, write out a list of what each sound on the recording represents, as well as how you created it.
  2. Now, your debut as a foley artist! Play the sounds for a few friends. Do they recognize what you intended the sound to be? If you like, draw pictures or add dialogue to the sound effects to make the noises more recognizable.
  3. Using your new sound effects as inspiration, write a short scene for the radio. See how many different sound effects you can incorporate. How would you write this scene differently if sound effects weren't available to you? Record and share your scene. And when famous Hollywood producers want to hire you to do foley on their films, remember the folks at NEWTON'S APPLE who gave you your start!


  • Harris, R.J., Jr. (1992, Dec 21) The foley artists are a noisy bunch in
    moviemaking. The Wall Street Journal, pp. A1 & A5.
  • Mooser, S. (1983) Lights! Camera! Scream! How to make your own monster
    movies. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.
  • Mott, R.L. (1993) Radio sound effects: Who did it, and how, in the era of
    live broadcasting. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.
  • Mantell, H. (1983) The complete guide to the creation and use of sound
    effects for films, TV and dramatic productions. Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities.
  • Smith, T.G. (1986) Industrial Light and Magic: The art of special effects.
    New York: Ballantine Books.

Community Resources

  • Contact your state's film board to find out who does foley or sound work in
    your area.
  • Tour a local TV or film production company.
  • Contact a local radio station to find out if any DJs use sound effects.
  • Check your local library for LPs, tapes, and CDs containing sound effects
  • Contact the theater department of a local university for a speaker on
    theater sound effects.