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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Foley artist renaissance?

Richard Verrier of the Los Angeles Times has a charming and informative piece today about Foley artists. You know, the folks who add sound effects to movies by doing things like walking through gravel or cracking a whip. Verrier recounts the history of Foley artistry, invented by Jack Foley, who added sound effects to 1929's `Show Boat,' and later figured out how to create the sound of Roman legions marching in armor for `Spartacus.' (Answer: jangling keys.)


Verrier says the field is enjoying a bit of a boom:


    You might think that [the] profession, which got its start with the birth of the "talkies," would be one of the first casualties of computer-generated cinema. After all, foley artists — whose craft was invented in the 1920s by an enterprising stuntman and director named Jack Foley — pride themselves on being low-tech.


    But thanks to improvements in digital recording equipment and the boom in computer animation films that lack ambient sound, foley artists are becoming increasingly important players in movie production.


    In the last few years, several Hollywood studios have upgraded and expanded their foley soundstages, known as "pits," to help artists make noise the old-fashioned way. They gleefully stomp on cereal boxes, crush pine cones with hammers, whack car doors with crowbars. Why synthesize a sound, they argue, when you can have the real thing?


    In the last 10 years, increasing demand for foley artists has doubled their ranks to about 100, mostly in Los Angeles.


    At Sony Pictures Studios, the volume of foley work has doubled in the last three years.