Creating Foley Footsteps for Crowd Scenes

May 14 2022
5 min
1521
Author
Yuri Pridachin
Own and Operate at Foley First

Hi there! It's Yuri from Foley First.

Very often during Foley recording, we are faced with massive scenes with lead characters, bit parts, and crowds of people all in one scene. Without a clear systematization of the process of recording the footsteps, covering such scenes can turn into a pain, especially if the massiveness continues from scene to scene.

Sometimes people ask me how we cover such scenes and keep the count of recorded layers to a minimum while maintaining the crowd's feeling in the scene, its dynamics, and its size. I am pretty sure that not every re-recording mixer or sound editor is happy to see more than five tracks of background footsteps in their session in addition to props and clothes tracks.

I'm happy to share our experience and the techniques we use to cover these kinds of scenes here at Foley First.

WHAT WE DO AND HOW WE DO IT

During recording, nothing makes work more accessible and organized than a carefully spotted Foley session. Sometimes the vast number of footsteps that need to be recorded can confuse the Foley mixer and the Foley walker during Foley recording and slow down the recording process. They have to consider the movements of the lead characters, part bits, and crowds, as well as how their dynamics change, how crucial (or not) the coverage of secondary and lead characters in the crowd is, and more. Working without a spotting session very quickly turns a recording session into a headache.

If you need more information about effective Foley cueing, we have a great article that might be helpful. You can find it here.

Before recording, it usually takes us 12-24 hours to prepare the Foley footsteps spotting session in detail and carefully study the film for surfaces, shoes, and characters. This is an excellent opportunity to learn the project thoroughly and plan the sequence of actions during recording. It's also helpful if a Foley recordist knows how the Foley Artist works and what techniques they use when working with crowd scenes.

Yes, two or three days may look too much, especially with tight deadlines, but you can lose much more if you go into a recording session unprepared.

When working with massive scenes, here are the groups of steps which are essential for us at Foley First to have spotted in the session:

Backgrounds

One, two, or three layers of Foley footsteps can cover a general crowd of people moving in a scene in middle or far shots without semantic meaning and obvious syncing while still bringing mood and fullness to the scene where necessary. Here the number of passes depends not only on the massiveness of the crowd but also on the shoe sound palette which you want to convey to the listener. The number of tracks also depends on if surface transitions are assumed in the scene.

For example, if the location is a New York City street in summer, we can record three tracks to fill the BG group:

  • FS_BG_01_men — rubber sole boots/shoes and men’s hard sole shoes.
  • FS_BG_02_soft — sneakers and gumshoes.
  • FS_BG_03_heel — women’s high heels.

This batch of sounds will form a perfect palette of footsteps for the scene and give us the feeling of mixed shoes with different moods. Each recorded layer can then be processed, edited, or muted by a re-recording mixer, giving Foley more control over the crowd’s massiveness during mixing or sound editing.

Obvious Passes (aka “Crowds”)

After the background is covered, it is worth paying attention to the characters passing from left to right, right to left, etc., and characters who are clearly out of the background layers and can be recorded and edited in sync with the picture. Generally, as a rule, we record each of them separately in their shoes (if we see them), but ultimately everything depends on the scene—the dialogue, music, and what mood and palette you want to give it.

For example, if the scene is sparse in terms of the number of crowd footsteps, then it is possible to catch all the slowly passing characters in a row, working with each foot separately. In doing this, the Foley artist wears mismatched shoes, with a different shoe on each foot. This method of filling requires some skill so that each passing character sounds with a different character, requiring that the manner of performance is different for each of foot. However, this technique will save a tremendous amount time and unnecessary changing of shoes for the Foley artist.

Bit Parts

This group of footsteps applies to all the characters in the shot which make sense to cover, including those who have dialogue, who have semantic meaning, who attract the audience's attention, and who interact with the lead characters.

Ideally, for bit parts, I find it better to have each character recorded on their own track so that the Foley editor can put them in perfect sync and separate them from BG or Crowds. In reality, though, almost always we place everyone who falls into this group in the “Crowds” tracks of footsteps. If we know the characters' names, then each recorded character has their name in the file name or the clip description for quick identification.

Whether each of the bit parts will have a separate track in the session depends mainly on the frequency of their appearance in the scenes throughout the film. If a character appears in the shot often and their role is significant enough, they will be located on a separate track. If not, we will most likely put it in the “Crowds” group in order to not clutter up the session.

Some re-recording mixers prefer to have no more than eight FS tracks in their project, some sixteen. For some, there are no limits. We may not always know their preferences, but we can definitely optimize the tracks' layout.

 

I prefer that all lead characters in all scenes are permanently recorded on their own separate tracks, named and sorted correctly, even if they could be optimized in crowd scenes.

Thus, we cover the crowds in scenes with three groups of tracks (Bit Parts, Crowds, and BG), which will be clear for the re-recording mixer. Also, it’s worth remembering that it can be confusing if all the characters' passes are not named and sorted properly and are clustered randomly in the session without any logic.

We had a case where for one feature film, we delivered 20 footstep tracks for a supermassive scene. The sound effects editor told us that this was unacceptable for Foley and that the number of channels was too large. They asked us to optimize all the recorded steps into 6 tracks, thereby destroying the classification and quick identification of the lead characters located at that time on their tracks.

Group Footsteps Techniques

It is not a good idea to try to perform every single person in the crowd to create mass. You can waste a lot of time doing it this way, and, most importantly, the group's footsteps will sound very unnatural.

If syncing does not matter, it is possible to ask a partner to join you and record the crowd with four legs. But I prefer to use a technique where you sit on a chair (that rare opportunity to sit on a chair during recording!) and make several layers of random passes with different shoes on each foot and with varying dynamics of movement for a more natural and diverse filling of the moving crowd in the scene. While you do this, it is essential to keep the dynamics, movement speed, stops, and scuffing of the group inside the scene if possible.

Here is an example of how this technique works.

 

I hope this little article was helpful.

Scroll down to find other articles!
Thanks for reading!

Text edited by Rebecca Wilson Jones

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR BLOG
Read more