Introduction: Foley Artistry for an Action Scene

Today, we are going to look into the wonderful world of Foley artistry. What is a Foley artist? A Foley artist is one who provides sound effects for a film through the use of everyday objects and materials that can produce the sound we expect to hear when watching a scene. If we watch some plates break, we expect to hear shattering. If we see a horse galloping, we expect to hear the hoof beats. Picking up these sounds during the actual filming of the scene is exceedingly difficult so Foley artists watch the scenes and provide the sound effects separately. They will watch the scenes, set up their areas, and then record the sound effects live while watching the scene again. In order to talk about some of the tricks up their sleeves, we will be using a very well done video showing a couple of Foley artists recording sound live for an action scene. Throughout the Instructable, we will be referencing particular segments to help visualize the different sound effects and how to do them.

A few general notes regarding Foley artistry:

  • Strategically place recording devices throughout the studio to fully capture all of the sounds that will be produced in full detail.
  • Include a screen with the movie scene playing to follow along with for timing purposes
  • Plan before recording
  • Determine each sound that needs to be produced
  • Determine how it will be produced and the prop that will be used
  • Set up the recording studio so that each prop is within reach and each sound can be executed in sequence
  • BE SAFE!
  • And Have fun!

Step 1: Door Sounds

Here we have some basic door sounds. When providing door sounds, the Foley artist will sometimes use a full freestanding door or a small door with a large number of different locks on it. A large door can make better opening and closing sounds since it has weight to it, but the small door can be used to provide the sound of locking and unlocking of a lock on a wooden surface. The small door could also be used to simulate shutting and opening.


A pair of metal pliers is a good tool to simulate the sound of a key entering a door. An older more worn out pair of pliers with produce a better noise. Newer pliers still open and close very smoothly and therefore will make too quiet of a noise. To make the noise simply hold one handle and let the other one hang down. Swing the hanging handle back and forth to create the metal on metal sliding sounds desired.

Opening and Closing doors

There is no trick to create the sound of doors opening and closing. These sounds are best captured through the use of an actual door. The size of the door can however be smaller than a typical door for convenience purposes (as in the video). The door must have a functioning door knob.

Simply open and close the door according to the scene being reproduced.

Look at 00:15 to 01:00 for examples of producing door sounds.

Step 2: Footsteps

Running/walking noises:

Walking and running noises are best made by shoes that make a decent amount of noise. The type of shoe depends on the type of shoe used in the shot. Tennis shoes are not recommended because their soft rubber soles are rather quiet. Dress shoes make for great walking noises. The hard solid sole provides a clear crisp click with each step.

Creating the proper step to the scene is key for this. Utilizing proper technique is crucial for creating realistic full-sounding footstep noises. A novice mistake in creating footsteps is to step with a flat foot. To create the most realistic footsteps requires a heel-toe motion so that the sound makes a quick double click, as would be created in actual walking as the foot rolls forward with the step.

The Foley artist’s footsteps should be in sync with the actor. This requires a lot of practice and may need multiple takes.

Things the Foley artist should be aware of:

-What movement is the actor making?

  • Running?
  • Walking?
  • Shuffling?
  • Skipping?
  • Jumping/Landing?


-How far away is the actor from the camera?

Running footsteps are produced by stepping more on the toes, as opposed to the heel-toe method used for walking footsteps. Shuffling is produced by sliding the foot.

If the actor is far away from the camera, make sure to make soft sounds, increasing in intensity as the actor approaches the screen.

Step 3: Fight Sounds: Breaking Bottles

Breaking a bottle is a dangerous Foley move. First step is to make sure you have a glass bottle. The use of an empty wine or champagne bottle is recommended. Use gloves for this operation. Get low to the ground, and make sure you are stable (on your knees is best). Line the bottle up with a protruding object that is large enough to break it on, but not too high that it spreads shrapnel. Hold the bottle by the top. When the timing is right, strike the bottle with a decent amount of force, but not too hard that you injure yourself. Make sure the shrapnel spreads away from your Foley area and is recorded on audio.


Step 4: Fight Sounds: Ripping Shirt

When ripping shirt, a simple cloth will do just fine. Pre-prepare a cut in the cloth for easier ripping. Simply place both hands on either side of the cloth, and bring one hand towards you while extending the other away from you. This should rip the cloth and create the preferred sound. Also make sure to rip near a microphone, and be aware of your surroundings.

Step 5: Fight Sounds: Knocking Over Trashcans

This is a trash can, obviously. Before knocking it over, it should be filled with excess paper, other waste to create realistic sound. When actually in the process of knocking it over, be sure to knock it over in the direction of the microphone so it catches the sound and none of the waste gets in your way for the remainder of the shot.

Step 6: Fight Sounds: Breaking Chairs

For the Foley effect for breaking a chair, you don’t actually smash a chair. A piece of wood would do fine. Make sure it is thin enough to break. Proper technique to breaking the wood is to either use your knee as a striking surface, holding the wood with your hands, as shown with the baseball player. Or simply break it with your foot while holding it with your hands, as seen in the video.

This is a dangerous move, and should be handled with care. Do not use a piece of wood that is too thick to break easily, such as a baseball bat. Use of gloves is recommended to ensure you don’t get splinters or blisters. Also practice a couple of times so you get the rhythm down so you don’t strain yourself during the scene. Break the wood away from others, and into the microphone. Dispose of after use.

Step 7: Fight Sounds: Random Debris

Creating sound to simulate the jostling of random debris is very straight forward. Get some light metal and plastic scraps and throw them around. Just be careful to throw them away from the sound area to prevent tripping on them later in the scene. You can see one example of this at 02:28 in the video.

Step 8: Punching Sounds: Hitting Cabbage

There are a number of ways to simulate punching. Different surfaces will provide different distinct sounds. Sizes and densities of objects should be taken into consideration when figuring out what objects would best provide the sound you are looking for.

The first objects we have decided to include are cabbages. Punching cabbage simulates the sound made when punching someone in the face. Obtain a cabbage from the local grocery store. Be aware of surroundings, as well as your own safety when punching the cabbage. Hold the cabbage in one hand, striking it with the other. Punch the cabbage near a sound recording device.

Step 9: Punching Sounds: Hitting Meat

To create a "meatier" punching sound for body shots and even some face shots, the Foley artist will use, not surprisingly, a piece of meat. Hanging the meat from the ceiling as shown above is recommended. Using a piece of meat as large as shown above is not recommended. The piece should be big enough to provide the "meaty" punch sound without becoming too cumbersome. A five to ten pound piece should do the trick.

When recording the sounds, as usual timing is crucial. Being dynamic is also a key to good punch sounds. Match the power of the punches with those of the movie scene (i.e. punching harder or softer).

Remember, using raw meat is unsanitary and can spread illness and disease if the proper precautions are not followed. Make sure to clean up with hot water and soap after dealing with the raw meat.

Step 10: Punching Sounds: Hitting Metal

Recreating the sound of a person punching or body slamming metal objects like lockers or large metal containers can be simulated by punching a thin piece of sheet metal. The piece of metal should be of a size that is easily handled. The technique to create the sounds starts with a hit to the metal of moderate force, followed by a shaking of the metal to keep the "rumbling" sound going for a bit. For an example of hitting metal, look at 2:15 in the video.