Films are enormous projects that require a collaborative effort from a range of different professionals. Filming crews, lighting experts, and make-up and costume designers, all work together to craft the on-screen magic we know and love.
However, there is one aspect of the production process that often gets overlooked, and it’s arguably the most important: the sound. Without sound, we’d have no idea what is going on and the sense of immersion and realism would be lost. Sound is the unsung hero of the film, and the processes and techniques that go into creating sound effects need to be seen, or heard, to be believed.
Canadian Andy Malcom is a special kind of sound designer known as a Foley artist. Let’s take a closer look at what a Foley artist does and discuss Malcolm’s incredible career.
What’s Special about It?
Foley artists are almost entirely unknown outside of the industry, but they serve a vital role that makes films, TV shows, and video games what they are.
Think about a scene in an action film where the hero takes down the villain, or in a horror film where a zombie takes a bit out of some unsuspecting victim. Each of these scenes has distinctive sounds, the thud of a punch or the crunch of a zombie bite, for example. How do you think these sounds are recorded? Actors don’t actually punch each other on set, and directors aren’t likely going to be able to find a real zombie to star in their film.
The answer is through Foley. Foley artists, named after the creator of the process, Jack Foley, create all the sounds we hear in media using a variety of creative tricks and techniques. Footsteps are a Foley artist’s bread and butter, as these cannot be reliably recorded on set. Foley artists will set up different surfaces in their studios and use hundreds of different pairs of shoes to recreate the footsteps we hear on screen.
It’s not simply a case of recording the sounds either. Foley artists must get the timing and rhythm perfect so that the sounds we hear match the visuals we see.
The Variety of Sounds
Footsteps aren’t everything a Foley artist does. Think of what you hear when you watch a film, everything from the squeak of a chair on the floor to a multi-vehicle road accident, all of these sound effects must be designed and recorded by Foley artists.
How do they do this? Well, the techniques they use will depend entirely on what sound it is they are trying to recreate. For things like footsteps and slamming doors, it’s fairly straightforward to figure out how they’d do it, but what about sounds like a flying alien spaceship or an explosive magical spell?
Foley artists use everyday objects to create otherworldly sounds. For example, snapped sticks of celery could be recorded to represent the sounds of crunching bones, while two coconut halves could be used to replicate the clip-clop of a trotting horse.
There have been many successful Foley artists over the years, but few are as highly regarded as Andy Malcolm. Let’s take a look at his illustrious career.
How Did He Get There
Malcolm got his break way back in 1975 when he received a Foley artist credit on the pirate adventure film The Swiss Family Robinson.
From then, Malcolm worked non-stop, he provided Foley sounds for an enormous range of different projects, including feature films, shorts, and TV shows. He is still working today and has been credited as a Foley artist on nearly 700 projects. This incredible, decades-spanning career is why Malcolm is considered to be among the best of the best and one of the most experienced and knowledgeable Foley artists in the industry today.
Some of his latest credits include blockbuster hits such as Dune, The Greatest Showman, and Bladerunner 2049.
Like any creative practice, Malcolm has and still does face stiff competition. Gary Hecker has been in the game for nearly as long as Malcolm has, and has provided Foley sounds for huge features including Star Wars, Spiderman, and Fast & Furious, as well as for video game franchises like Call of Duty.
However, Malcolm has more than held his own and is still widely considered to be one of the most talented and influential living Foley artists.
Foley is a highly specialized art form that requires years of practice and experience to master. However, could the latest AI tools turn the industry on its head? Foley artists have long competed with one another, and they may have to compete with machines in the very near future.
Andy Malcolm has a long and storied career, you’ve no doubt heard his work before without realizing it. He’s far from finished, and he’ll certainly be providing Foley for blockbuster films for many years to come.