Tag Archives for " sound effects "

The Magic Of Foley

WB Foley StageMost people (even many audio engineers) don’t realize that the sound effects that they hear in a movie aren’t real. They’re recreated to sound more dramatic or “more real” than they actually sound. That’s the job of the Foley artist, and there aren’t many of them, even in Hollywood.

The process is named after Jack Foley, who started working at Universal Pictures back in 1914 in the era of silent films. When the first picture with sound was being made, the producers realized that the microphones weren’t picking up much beyond the dialog and the movie sound needed help if it was going to be another close to realistic. The call went out around the lot for anyone who had previously worked on radio, where live sound effects were part of many of the broadcasts. Foley stepped up and used what he already knew, and discovered many new tricks for adding sound effects to movies along the way. Most of his methods are still used today.

What’s interesting about the following video (from the Great Big Story network’s Frontiers series) is the everyday objects that are used by Warner Bros. Foley artists Alyson Moore and Chris Moriana.

I’m lucky in that I live close to most of the big Hollywood studios (I can walk down the block to 2 of them, with 2 others a bike ride away), so I’ve been in Foley stages numerous times over the years. They always strike me as someone’s messy garage, yet everything is there for a reason. This video is only the tip of the iceberg of how Foley works.

[photo: Warner Bros Sound]

Creating Sound Effects Via Algorithm

Sound Effects Via AlgorithmI have great respect for sound designers in that they not only have to create effects that not only sound totally real but, in many cases, better than real. That last part is the key that will continue to keep them working despite a new algorithm from some MIT researchers that can independently add realistic sound effects to silent videos.

The researchers from MITCSAIL used artificial intelligence to enable a computer to learn the movements and surfaces occurring in a video and insert the appropriate sound effects. As you can see from the video below, the results are impressive.

The computer associates what it sees in the video with the appropriate sound from a database, then inserts it as needed. That should send a chill down a few sound designer’s spines.

In order to prove that the method was effective, the researchers did an A/B test on a on a number of test subjects. They showed one video that had the sound effects inserted using normal foley techniques and the other using the algorithm. In most cases, the test subjects failed to notice a difference between the two, and in some cases even preferred the one generated by the algorithm.

If you’re a sound designer reading this and fearing for your job, you needn’t be worried – yet. Although the algorithm shows promise, it has a long way to go. It’s only useful for very short clips as it tends to misfire on longer ones and play sounds at the wrong times, and it’s dependent on the sound library that it has available.

These problems will no doubt be worked out as development continues, but remember, only a sound designer good judgement can make something sound “better than live,” and judgement isn’t exactly the strong suit of computers, at least not today.