Processing Foley with plug-ins

May 28 2020
8 min
1672
Author
Yuri Pridachin
Own and Operate at Foley First

Hey! It’s Yuri from Foley First.

Sometimes Foley Artists and Foley mixers who are just entering the industry ask me about what kind of plugin processing we use for Foley recording and before delivery. That’s something I am happy to talk about. But first of all, I would like to mention that this short article is not an expert opinion, a guide to using, or a call to action. Also, there is no paid product placement. I simply would like to write about our personal experiences and the techniques we use at Foley First. Again, everyone does as he thinks best, and everyone uses their technology and experience, gained over the years--no one person has the definitive, single right answer. We, like many others, have our methods, and I am glad to share this experience. Hopefully, it will be useful to someone.

WHY WE PROCESS FOLEY

The quick answer is to save the re-recording mixer time spent on Foley integration. We like to improve the recorded material before delivery.

I think having the Foley processing cycle in my production chain is as important as having a Foley supervisor on your team who is not involved in the Foley recording process. That person can evaluate the overall product with fresh ears. It can be one person, by the way, but it doesn’t have to be. The more people and independent opinions are in your team, the better they all can make the product.

Foley processing, even merely equalization and compression, allows you to determine as accurately as possible how well the material integrates into the picture. It is an excellent way to assess and fix mistakes that were made during recording and editing. Unlike listening to the dry material, once you apply the reverb bus on a scene with the recorded Foley, it will quickly become apparent how good it sounds.

Yes, we can’t know all the techniques the re-recording mixer uses while working with the Foley on the other end — what plugins this person uses, what parameters he or she applies to equalization or compression. But obviously, we can save them the pain of doing work on elementary processing of the Foley or correcting material that doesn’t sound decent.

PROCESSING FOLEY ON THE RECORDING

It’s great if you have a lot of time for experiments on the Foley stage. But, as a rule, we all are caged by deadlines, and it usually happens that no extra ten minutes to find the perfect sound can be spared. Here at Foley First, while we do record material (primarily steps), our general tools for real-time processing that we can’t live without are:

EQ

The essential tool for tuning the sounds of surfaces and distancing. But since we all work on headphones at the Foley stage, we prefer not to get absorbed in playing with EQing. It’s better to make final adjustments in post-processing.

Compression

This is not the most commonly used plugin in our Foley studio, but it helps a lot with recording props and steps with a high dynamic range, or steps with high transients (for example, shoes with wooden soles on a wooden surface). The compression also allows the Foley walker to control the sound in his headphones and to feel comfortable and confident while recording high dynamic scenes with constant transitions such as run-scuff walk-run-scuffs.

Having experimented with audio gear for a long time, I came to the conclusion that using an all-in-one-box interface is something that keeps us working fast and flexible. Standalone preamps, compressors, and equalizers – all of them make adjustments to the SNR. Yes, the sound may be more interesting and rich when using super-expensive standalone units, but we are a budget studio. Here at Foley First, we settled on the use of Antelope Audio interfaces, a fairly flexible solution with good preamps, conversion, and very high quality real-time processing.

Reverb

One of the most critical things in the recording process is to make sure that Foley puts in the picture very well. Rarely, we use Altiverb or Steinberg’s Reverence offline processing on props. But if I as a Foley walker, during Foley recording, have doubts about how well the steps fit the guide track, it helps a lot to send them on the reverb bus to check the result.That gives an objective view of how correctly the texture and shoes match. Sometimes it seems that a dry signal sounds excellent, but after putting Foley into the acoustics, the scene falls apart, and vice versa. Check Foley with the reverb before delivery? Absolutely!

POST PROCESSING

Reviewing and post-processing. That’s my favorite production stage after recording and editing. If, during the recording, the processing was not so significant, then during post-processing we can modify the recorded material much more. It is crucial to keep in mind that the control room must be very well treated and have a decent curve of the room frequency response. Otherwise, you can only ruin the sound.

So, in order of importance:

EQ

EQ can be applied to almost all elements of Foley, starting from putting corrections to the low cut filter on footsteps, to, say, adding more articulation to various kinds of cloth and doing a boost on mids. Of course, we don’t process every single region or clip, but we do clean it from unnecessary frequencies for the further mix.

What do we use? Fabfilter Pro-Q, which is one of the fastest and most GUI-friendly plugins. This one is perfect if workflow speed is crucial. And with it, you can immediately see where a problem is.

Multiband compression

I love this processing, and I very often use this plugin for:

 

Correction of surface and the mass of the boot.

It’s just a great solution when I can adjust the mass of, say, a heavy boot on hollow wood. Instead of using full range compression, I can simply attenuate or boost a frequency range that sounds too much or too little, keeping untouched all other frequency nuances.

Controlling the range with the random high dynamic level.

It is also an indispensable solution for aligning unnecessary frequencies in footsteps on dynamic scenes. Say, one way or another, a boot on the dirt with active walking can transmit a small boomy effect at 100-250Hz, which does not always give the character the mass you need, but instead more sounds like a Foley pit artifact. In dynamic scenes, this frequency range can randomly strike in the mix. Multiband compression like Fabfilter Pro-MB is the must-have for controlling that.

By the way, there was a case where we had a character in a scene wearing the sneakers and constantly scuffing on a tile. I liked how the sneaker sounded on the surface while walking and running, but the scuffs were sounding just horrible. Having determined the undesirable frequency range on the recording, we simply attenuated that with de-esser for the scuffs, and kept all the frequencies working while walking. I am pretty sure that a multiband compressor is a great solution for this as well.

Transient / Envelope shaper

This is a thing that I can’t live without in Foley footsteps! What problems the transient shaper solves for me!

 

Tapping. Changing the shoe shape.

Most modern street shoes and sneakers have a solid rubber sole that sounds like tapping and doesn’t sit well in the mix. Surely, a compressor with a fast attack could also solve the problem of transients attenuation, but an envelope shaper definitely does this job better. Even if you have only one pair of big sneakers which does not match the character in the footage, the transient designer chained with a multiband compressor can completely transform, lighten, and make steps sound softer. In fact, even a shoe with a wooden sole or hard rubber sole on a hard surface can sound softer. That’s cool!

We, as big Nuendo fans, use built-in envelope shaping plugins. Nuendo and Cubase provide a free integrated multiband envelope shaper, which allows me to reshape the sound of the shoe. For example, I can cut transients and make a boot sound softer on mids and highs, but at the same time, I can add sharpness and sustain on the low mids to completely modify a regular boot into a heavy boot.

 

Applying shaping to grass and gravel.

A transient shaper also is a great tool for making these high transient surfaces sound less sharp.

 

For about six months, we owned the gear SPL Transient Designer and kept track of how convenient it was to use for Foley recording, and we compared it with the software. SPL Transient Designer is a good piece of gear, but it made some adjustments to the SNR. Therefore, quickly enough, we surrendered this solution.

Is SPL convenient on the Foley stage? Absolutely.

Does it sound better than a software counterpart? I think, no.

De-click, De-crackle, De-noiser.

We do use de-click and de-crackle very rarely. But de-crackle, together with the envelope shaper, has proven to be suitable for processing grass surfaces, especially when I needed to get the sound of a low soft grass like a lawn instead of high and dry grass. De-crackle can also help to make your tinsel or tape sound softer.

De-noiser? Never. If there is a lot of noise in the signal, we rerecord it!

 

Reverb it!

Again. One of the most necessary post-processing steps for understanding what we’ve done and how the re-recording mixer will be able to work with it on dubbing is to reverb it.

I send Foley on the reverb bus to check how it suits the picture while we do Foley recording and then again during post-processing.

 

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Thanks for reading!

 

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