Foley artist shares experience through speaker series


The process of breathing life into film and television through subtle sound design was explored Monday in The Great Hall with the most recent speaker for the Media Arts Speaker Series.

The rustle of clothing and the patter of feet heard in film and television are often the work of Foley artists, who record the sounds in separate studios to ensure quality audio for the productions.

These sounds, among various others, are what Jeff Gross and other Foley artists create in order to create the final product in film, television and other audio productions.

“That’s what Foley is – it’s nuance, it’s character,” Gross said. “Foley is really anything you see the actor touch.”

Originally a musician, Gross was prodded toward becoming a Foley artist by a friend who thought he could excel in the field. A combination of knowing the right people, experience and luck lead him to his current position at Sony Pictures.

The artists go through their given material in a few passes. First, they go through cloth – pants rubbing against themselves, jackets rustling, and the like – then move onto footsteps. A large collection of shoes is often kept for the express purpose of having the proper types of shoes for all occasions. The final pass is for props, ranging from the clank of silverware and plates on a table to the slam of a car door.

“The Foley stage is a messy place,” Gross said.

The stage is often a collection of different materials arranged in “pits,” ranging from concrete and tiles to grass and gravel to simulate the different regions where people could be walking or dropping things.

There is a wide array of materials and objects kept in order to make the proper sounds as well. Cassette tape thread is used to replicate the sound of grass, while a bucket full of water is used to replicate the sound of oceans and bathtubs.

“Anytime you see somebody pick up a gun, it’s a doorknob,” Gross said.

The field can be difficult to get into, however. The business of Foley art is dominated by favoritism and bias, according to Gross. To get into the field, you have to know someone in it and be on their good side.

Despite the difficulty of getting into the field, Gross encourages those with a passion to pursue it. His experiences range from finishing the Foley for “Zombieland” in a week’s time to creating a truly alive environment in “After Earth.”

Howard Sagalow, retired but participating in the ENCORE program, was impressed with how much Gross knew about Foley and his experiences in the field. He worked for Skywalker Sounds in the administrative business side, so he often watched the sound artists in order to keep track of events, time and budgets.

“He knows his trade,” Sagalow said.

Reza Ali, an engineering student at Pierce College, says he originally came for the food, but the presentation really drew him in and kept him in his seat. He agrees that sound is extremely important in film and television productions – any mistakes can be highly noticeable.

“The audio and visual – it must go together,” Ali said.