It is undeniable that the sound within a movie is just as, if not more important than the visuals. Having said this, the skills of a sound engineer or Foley Artist are just as relevant as that of a cinematographer, lighting specialist and even director. The sound within a movie not only emphasises the mood and contributes dramatically, but also is crucial in creating a quality end product, bringing all the elements of a movie together, and sound engineers are responsible for this.
The skills required to be a sound engineer and Foley Designer are very similar and both interchange between the creative and technical aspects of the job. However, a Foley artist is more of a specialist in the way he/she creates specific sounds that mimic real life ones to fit into a film, while the sound engineer deals more technically. A film sound blogger put it simply by saying while the FX (sound engineer) adds in the impact, the Foley adds the human touch. To become a Foley, one must know all the skills of a Sound engineer first, and to become a sound engineer, the three most important things one has to obtain are qualifications to prove their skills, work experience to develop them and the right connections to make a living off of it. Skills of a Sound Engineer include the ability to operate audio equipment, set it up and take it down, record sound effects and mix sounds. Also, it is essential for them to have a perfect sense of timing, quick reflexes and reactions, good team work skills, perfectionism when it comes to detail, great communication skills, and the ability to solve problems effectively. University would undoubtedly be extremely beneficial to learn and develop these skills, and the qualification received at the end would open doors for greater opportunity in this career, but gaining work experience in this industry in the field of sound is absolutely essential. Shadowing professionals in theatre is a great place to obtain this, as well as through internship or apprenticeship.
As mentioned previously, University would be a huge help in getting a career in sound engineering started. At the Birmingham City University, an undergraduate course in Sound Engineering and Production is offered. There is one for 3 years, and another one which spans for 4. The latter includes a one year work placement, and in an industry where getting experience is so vital yet so difficult, this course in particular would be ideal.
Gary Hecker, a well known Foley artist who has worked in the field on more than 200 films is considered one of the best ones in Hollywood. He has been nominated for over 20 Golden Reel Awards for his outstanding sound editing, having won three. Some of the films he has worked on include 300 (2006) Hancock (2008) The Hunger Games (2010) Robin Hood (2010) and War of the Worlds (2005). His 30 year spanning career means that although uncredited, he was even the Foley artist in Films as early as The Exorcist (1973). ‘I saw Foley when I was 16 years old,’ commented Hecker, ‘and I wanted to do that for my career’. The first film that he apprenticed on was The Empire Strikes Back, and he says that this gave him the motivation and insight into the industry to move forward. He calls himself a ‘sound effects artist’ and considers the props he has collected over the years his musical instruments in making Foley sound. These include over 50 pairs of shoes, guns, sandpits, chains, metal scraps and anything that one can think of. The Foley artist commented that’A whole part of what I do is watch movements of an actor and try and duplicate what the actor is doing.’He demonstrated this in an interview about the sound in the movie ‘DJango Unchained’ (2012). After choosing the right pair of boots to mimic the clicking footsteps of one of the characters on the screen, he then went on to duplicate another characters breathing. In this particular scene, the character played by Jamie Fox was hung upside down with a mask on his face. Hecker used a heavy metal pot to replicate this, and placed it over his mouth to record his own breathing. Creativity is undoubtedly a necessity when working in this career, and Gary Hecker proves this perfectly. ‘When I come to work,’ he commented, ‘I look at the screen, and that is my canvas- I paint all day with sound’.
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