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The Foley Grail  - The Art of Performing Sound for Film, Games, and Animation

PDF The Foley Grail - The Art of Performing Sound for Film, Games, and Animation Third edition published 2022 by Routledge

Book author
  1. Vanessa Theme Ament
1632219846 9780367442248

The Foley Grail

This book teaches you how to master classic and cutting-edge Foley techniques in order to create rich and convincing sound for any medium, be it film, television, radio, podcasts, animation, or games.

Award-winning Foley artist Vanessa Theme Ament demonstrates how Foley is designed, crafted, and edited for any project, down to the nuts and bolts of spotting, cueing, and performing sounds. Various renowned sound artists provide a treasure trove of indispensable shortcuts, hot tips, and other valuable tricks of the trade.
This updated third edition features the following:
  • New chapters dedicated to Foley in games, television, broadcasting, and animation, as well as what is new in sound for media education
  • A multitude of sound “recipes” that include proven Foley methods you can immediately use on your own projects
  • A diverse range of case studies from well-known films, shows, games, and animation
  • Interviews with current sound artists from around the world

By exploring the entire audio postproduction process, this book provides you with an excellent understanding of where Foley fits in the business of filmmaking and is a perfect guide for both newcomers and experienced sound designers wanting to learn more about this art.

Accompanying the book are online resources featuring video demonstrations of Foley artists at work, video tutorials of specific Foley techniques, lectures from the author, and more.

Vanessa Theme Ament is the former Edwin F. and Virginia B. Ball Endowed Chair in Telecommunications at Ball State University, Indiana. She hails from the film industry in Los Angeles, where she was a Foley artist, sound editor, and voice actor for film and television. She has worked on many notable films, including Predator, Die Hard, Noises Off, A Goofy Movie, Dolores Claiborne, Malice, RoboCop2, and Platoon, which won the Academy Award for Best Sound in 1986. She received her PhD from Georgia State University in Moving Images Studies.


In this third edition of The Foley Grail, I am humbled by the many professionals who have contributed their insights and experiences to this endeavor. As someone who now teaches and writes about film sound, I could not be useful in the classroom, nor be able to access the wisdom of so many wonderful film industry professionals, were they not generous with their time and graciously supportive of my mission to document film sound in general and Foley more specifically. There are some common misconceptions about those who work in film: that they are pretentious, entitled, or removed from the world most others inhabit. I have not found that to be true for most of my colleagues. They are hard-working people who realize how fortunate they are to work in an industry that makes art and to be able to raise families in a privileged environment. However, they also are like so many working professionals: they get up early, drive to work, make deadlines, coordinate with others, get critiqued by their supervisors, worry about their next paycheck, help their children with their homework, and are happy to watch a ball game in the evening or on the weekend.

I wish to thank, yet again, David Stone, who teaches sound design at Savannah College of Art and Design, who for 20 years was my husband and who is a great dad to our son, Nathaniel. His illustrations for The Foley Grail have added humor and a light-hearted playfulness that I treasure. Dave began as an animator and moved into film sound, where he was a valuable addition to both television and feature films. He won the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects for his supervision of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), along with Tom McCarthy, Jr.

I want to express my appreciation for guidance from Dr. Rick Altman, film scholar extraordinaire and a motivating force in my desire to pursue the goal of a PhD after decades in the film industry. I want to also thank Dr. Ted Friedman, who is an inspirational thinker and tremendous teacher at Georgia State University in Atlanta. So, too, must I thank Dr. Jack Boozer, who taught screenwriting at Georgia State and, along with being my dissertation advisor, introduced me to the magic of adaptation in film. Additionally, I wish to thank Dr. Alisa Perren, who opened up the world of media industries and production studies, which allowed me to better understand where I “fit” in the scholarly world of film studies.

I want to express my gratitude to the faculty and leadership in the Telecommunications Department of Ball State University. My five years at Ball State as an endowed chair in such a supportive and collegial program allowed me to explore many opportunities. I could never have expected my five years at this university to have been as formative and influential in my pedagogical expertise, yet as we often discover in life, we are continually surprised by what is presented to us as we travel our journey.

I must thank my son, Nathaniel Ament-Stone, who is now a lawyer in New York, but I still think of him as my greatest ally and strongest critic, both in my writing and in my personal interactions. We learn a great deal from our children, and he is one of my most insightful teachers. I also wish to thank Dr. Richard Edwards, who wears several hats in my professional life. Richard is a brilliant film scholar, gifted pedagogist, and relentless champion of my work. It is rare to find a colleague and friend who can pull out the smallest detail in my writing and suggest improvements, yet support my vision, whatever it may be.

Finally, I want to thank Routledge and Taylor & Francis for continuing to support my work. A special thank you goes to Katherine Kadian and Alyssa Turner at Routledge, as they have been with me through every inch of the process to bring this third edition to fruition.

Preface to the Third Edition

With the release of the second edition of The Foley Grail in 2014, my perspective on the world of Foley had become more nuanced. I was completing a PhD in Moving Image Studies at Georgia State University and about to embark on a five-year appointment at Ball State University as the Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Endowed Chair of Telecommunications. The fact that I was writing a dissertation, which is an industrious and highly academic exercise, while completing the second edition of this book, a practical and more accessible aspect of writing, embodied the perfect illustration of how I have lived in two worlds since 2009: that of a film practitioner with the added incarnation as a film scholar. These two worlds can collide and be in competition with each other for my attention and my passion. How- ever, over the past years, since writing the first edition of The Foley Grail, I have evolved as I have taught courses in film sound, video production, ethics in media, culture and media, film history, film aesthetics, and several immersive courses that allowed students to experience a more professional approach to directing and producing films.

Additionally, I have designed two Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) utilizing the Canvas learning management system: one for Turner Classic Movies, Mad About Musicals, and the other for the University of California, Riverside, The Art and Craft of Remote Teaching. I have interviewed faculty who teach a multiplicity of disciplines, directed the video series Hey, Scotty Bear! to empower students to learn more effectively during the remote learning era of Covid-19, and have written Divergent Tracks: How Three Film Communities Revolutionized Digital Film Sound (Bloomsbury, 2021) in addition to several chapters and articles about film sound and online learning.

While at Ball State University, I found myself hosting Cinesonika, a festival and conference for sound academics and students, and bringing film industry professionals David Stone, Steven Lee, Peter Damski, Gary Rydstrom, and John Semper to Ball State to impart wisdom and practical advice to both undergraduate and graduate students. Additionally, I gave five, yearly presentations on my research and teaching experiences, as well as attended many festivals and conferences for filmmakers and film scholars. While teaching Mad About Musicals, I was fortunate to share time with Ben Mankiewicz on Turner Classic Movies and to host the film Silk Stockings at TCM’s yearly festival in 2018. Over the past seven years since the second edition was published and because of these various experiences while at Ball State University, I have altered my perspective on what is essential to know about Foley and have reconfigured this new edition to be more effective for use as a guide for a class semester.

Most of the interviews collected for this updated edition were conducted virtually during the Covid-19 pandemic. I was not able to visit movie lots or sound facilities or even meet with people on their Foley stages or editing rooms. Instead, the interviews were illuminating in a new way, as part of each discussion included how the individual was handling the pandemic and the resulting isolation. A few of these professionals were able to work at home or work on their Foley stages as “closed sets” with no visitors. This edition includes an expanded selection of international Foley artists, additional perspectives of more supervising sound editors, mixers, and American Foley artists from Chicago and Austin, film students turned professional Foley editors, a production sound mixer and boom operator, a film trailer editor-mixer, and an animation director. I have also included a “roundtable” discussion of a team of Foley experts who work at a facility in upstate New York to illustrate the collaborative practices of a comprehensive Foley company. It is my goal to further amplify the experience and appreciation of Foley and to include more insights into the aspect of film sound that is receiving increased visibility.

Foley is a fluid craft. It takes on many colors and textures depending on the past experience of the artist, the aesthetic tastes of the culture, and the demands and budgets for the specific projects. By including as many voices as is possible within the constraints of any written endeavor, I hope that the reader can better understand and embrace the people, art, and profession of this essential aspect of postproduction sound.


Postproduction sound is an area of filmmaking that is attaining a broader audience as more films are made that feature stunning, imaginative, and creative sound design. Action films, fantasy films, and most assuredly the recent trend of superhero films require sound that captures the viewer and helps transcend the ordinary world. However, sound design also includes the more subtle and nuanced aspects of the aural narrative, which can progress the story and collaborate with the film score. So, too, can postproduction sound enhance the real world of the characters who live their daily lives and captivate us with story, relationship, and plot.

Foley, the performative aspect of postproduction sound, holds a special place in the soundscape. The footsteps, props, and cloth movement of the various characters in film become more grounded and “real” when we connect their embodied sounds with the visual presentation. The Foley artist performs the “sonic personality” of the various characters in the narrative. Just as the actor creates the inner life of the performance, the Foley artist creates or highlights the aural life of the character. How the character walks and handles various objects is a focus for the study of acting. How the character’s walk and handling of objects sound is the focus of the Foley artist in film, television, games, animation, and web series. The skill of Foley takes years to master, and those who make a living as Foley artists must be skilled at both synchronization and mimicry. They must walk the characters and handle their objects with sync that has the right energy and feel, and they must mimic the personality of the character.

The Foley artist must also understand how picture editing manipulates the timeline, how cinematography captures the scene, what the sound editor’s work entails, and how the rerecording mixers will combine the production sound, the sound effects, the Foley, the replaced voices, and the musical score. But primarily, the Foley artist must have a sensitivity to what the actor and director intended in a scene, so that the performed sound supports, and does not distract from, the performance of the actor.

This third edition of The Foley Grail expands what the previous two editions have introduced and amplified. In this edition, there are stories of Foley artists from various nations, in addition to Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Austin, and Chicago. There are similarities among all Foley artists in their goals and approaches to the craft,
but the differences are what is more interesting. The reason for this is simple: Foley is not a monolithic craft, nor is it a codified system that all must and do abide. While some film communities have workflows that are connected, others have constructed their own unique approaches to the addition of footsteps, cloth, and props to the sound design.
Additionally, included in this edition are more voices of those who do not perform, edit, or mix Foley, but are media professionals who must incorporate Foley into their work or have experience with those who do. Also, there are insights from professionals who have adapted Foley to other uses, such as film trailers and radio dramas. Several former sound design students who now work in the industry share their journeys and how school and the professional world are similar and different.

This book is divided into four distinct parts. Some of this material has been updated from previous editions, and new material has been added. Thirty-two additional professionals have been interviewed for this addition, and previous contributors have been contacted for updates. The four sections are constructed to better enable a reader new to Foley to build comprehension about the craft, while those who are familiar with it might read with fresh eyes. There are 15 chapters in this edition to correlate with a traditional college semester and to assist in guiding the student toward platforming understanding and skills.

Part 1 begins with a chapter that presents the historical development and evolution of Foley in the United States. The second chapter gives an overview of Foley in other countries, including Canada, England, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Serbia, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Chile, Turkey, India, Pakistan, and Taiwan. Following this historical and cultural contextualization is a chapter that discusses the aesthetics of Foley as it is perceived and performed.

Part 2 contains the protocols and conventions of Foley, with the first chapter outlining the roles of the various professionals involved with postproduction sound and their connection to Foley. The next chapter offers a detailed guide for spotting, cueing, and editing Foley using the industrial filmmaking method as a blueprint that can be adapted to other types of media. The third chapter in this section gives guidelines for and examples of various theories and methods for designing a Foley stage, and the fourth chapter discusses the role of the Foley and rerecording mixers, how they perceive the mission of Foley, and how they assist that mission.

Part 3 is the practical application section of the book for those who want guidance on the art and craft of the Foley artist. This section contains six chapters that amplify the skills, uses, and “recipes” for Foley. The first chapter details how footsteps are performed. Following the guidance on footsteps is a chapter about the manipulation of props. The third chapter gives insights and hints on how to master sync as a Foley artist. The fourth chapter discusses Foley for animation, games, radio plays, and film trailers. The fifth chapter presents some basic conventions for how to make specific kinds of Foley sounds, and the final chapter in this section illuminates how some strange and special requests for the Foley artist can be addressed.

Part 4 consists of two chapters. The first chapter is a “roundtable” of various experts discussing a variety of topics, including a group of Foley professionals who work together in one company and who address how they work as a team while retaining a sense of individual artistry. Former sound design students discuss how they adapted to working at a major studio, and a production mixer reveals how her introduction to film sound led her to start an organization to assist women in sound. Also included is a brief mention of films by and about women in sound and a museum that is dedicated to film sound. The final chapter is a selection of quotes from various professionals who offer advice and insights about Foley.

This edition of The Foley Grail has retained the “bones” of the first two editions, but the reconfigurations and additions are intended to lead the reader into the world of Foley from a different entry point. The reader can choose to focus on any particular section that is appealing or start at the beginning and take the journey from the evolution of Foley to aesthetics, to the various professionals involved with postproduction sound, and to the nuts and bolts of Foley, culminating with the perspectives of professionals that will enhance the reader’s understanding of the work, life, and culture of the Foley artist.
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