The Ultimate Guide for Beginner Foley Editors. Part 1

August 14 2021
9 min
Yuri Pridachin
Own and Operate at Foley First

Hey! Yuri from Foley First is here.

I am excited to discuss Foley editing in the film industry and share our experience in this craft. Since this article turned out to be quite long, it is divided into two parts. In the first part, I will cover what Foley editing is, what the goals of Foley editing are, and the main mistakes beginner Foley editors make. The second part of the article will focus on the basic techniques and tips that we follow here at Foley First to get great results in Foley editing.

What the Foley editing is? Goals

Foley editing is one of the most important stages in Foley production. The Foley editor, like the Foley artist, is a key player in the re-creation of sound effects, as he or she not only does the technical work primarily of putting sounds in sync, but can also significantly affect the audience perception by creating and modifying the material recorded by the Foley artist.

I often see situations where one person takes two positions, such as Foley recordist/mixer and Foley editor, on the same project. I can't say that this is a good idea and that it won't harm the quality of the material produced, since the amount of work required for Foley recording and Foley editing are comparable. It is hard for only one person to take care of everything in a short timeline. But I do understand what studios or companies are guided by when they assign two positions to one person.

I consider an experienced Foley editor to be a significant player on the Foley team, especially if he or she totally understands the Foley artist and knows how to work with his or her material. If this tandem is well-coordinated, the whole process will be stress-free, fast, and creative. The Foley editor may seem to be just a person who puts sounds in sync, but let's dig a bit deeper.

More than just putting sounds in sync

Yes, the priority of Foley editing is putting all the sounds in sync as precisely as possible. Each sound effect or group of sounds (such as footsteps, props, and clothes) must be perfectly synchronized with the picture and the action that the characters perform on screen. In this article, I will not discuss exactly how we do Foley editing or what shortcuts we use, but I will give you some tips that will help you avoid common mistakes made by beginner Foley editors, which we all also faced in the past.

At first glance, Foley editing looks fairly routine and not very creative, but wait. True, a beginner Foley editor must have patience, perseverance, and dedication since at the start of this journey with the highest set quality standards, it will not be easy. You can count on that. But after a Foley editor learns the technique of putting sounds in sync well, he or she begins to do this technical work reflexively and at the same time starts to think wider to understand the film and to feel the creativity in the industry fully. Foley editors start to think like a dramaturgist. 

It's hard to understand the bliss-out of working on Foley before you’ve mastered basic editing techniques, but once you have, you will feel it. 

Foley editing is a craft, and only experience will help train the eye to pick up on the difference of sync in 1/2 frame or even 1/4 of the frame while working with material. In the beginning, a Foley editor, as a rule, doesn’t see this difference and doesn’t understand how to edit footsteps to get rhythmical, organic, and even musical arrangements. But if you, as a beginner Foley editor, have a good mentor and a constant flow of projects, then most likely, after 500-800 minutes of edited material, you will be able to see and feel progress and begin to understand how it works not only in the technical but also in the artistic aspects of the work.

Fixing artifacts

During Foley editing, artifacts and unwanted sounds are often found in recordings coming from the Foley stage. This might happen when a Foley mixer/recordist doesn’t have enough time to remove them before delivering material to the Foley editor due to tight deadlines, or if he or she is completely outside his or her competence level in a company.

Things like clicks in steps, props, or cloth recordings should be fixed and removed during Foley editing. Of course, I am not talking about running it through serious plug-ins processing like de-clicker, de-noiser, and others. I mean that the Foley editor can and should fix minor flaws manually before the material gets to the sound effects editor or the re-recording mixer's desk.

fixing artifacts in Foley editing

It's great if a Foley recordist provides notes for the Foley editor about what he or she doesn't like in the recordings and what he or she can't fix at the Foley recording stage so that the Foley editor knows what to pay special attention to fix or improve later. To do this, the Foley recordist must know how Foley editing works and be certain that the Foley editor can fix the flaws in the recording. For example, as a Foley artist covering all the footsteps, I might like a specific shoe, its weight, the surface texture, and how it all together glues to the character on screen in the feature film. But maybe I don't like that the shoe translates some minor artifact that I know can be fixed at the Foley editing stage. So, in this case, I don’t waste time on shoe repairing. Instead, I continue recording, but leave a note in the project session for the Foley editor.

When the whole team is in close cooperation and focused on the result, the result will be great.

Artistry improvement

An experienced Foley editor is a wizard. As I said, having mastered basic technical skills, the Foley editor starts to understand the film and characters. This is important because when the Foley editor feels and understands the character, he or she can subtly work with each recorded footstep individually and with the material as a whole. Working with takes, the Foley editor can not only correct technical flaws in steps or props but, above all, compose interesting and artistically accurate arrangements of steps and characters' movements. In addition, a Foley editor can modify them, changing the character's mood.

«What is he talking about?»

Okay. Imagine a Foley artist trying to recreate an artistically and technically complex bunch of character footsteps in a long scene. None of the takes entirely falls into the category of ideal, but the Foley artist knows that he likes the performance of the first half of the footsteps in the first take, the performance of a second third or so in the fourth take, and the performance of the rest in the ninth take. Additionally, the Foley artist provides notes pointing out several footsteps which, perhaps, would be better to replace, resorting to alternate takes for those individual steps. Talk about a crazy and meticulous Foley artist. (This happens!)

In this case, the Foley recordist/mixer can compile footsteps from different takes, getting the best arrangement (the ideal take) in both his and the Foley artist's opinion. However, both (Foley artist and Foley recordist) did so many takes that they got tired, blurred their ears, and were not actually sure of the result. Consequently, they let the Foley editor know that it would be worth paying special attention to the arrangement of takes in the scene. For her, as a person with fresh ears, it seems that the other two have gone crazy, and she replaces some of the steps from other takes during the Foley editing in order to improve the footsteps arrangement and more accurately convey the emotion of the character.

I believe that a large team at all stages of Foley production can make significant product improvements. Everyone has to do their job. That is why the idea of combining positions of Foley mixer/recordist, Foley editor, and Foley supervisor into one person on one project seems to me to be a losing proposition for the project’s quality. (But definitely a win for tight budgets.)

How much time does the Foley editing take?

Golden rule and editing accuracy

  •  One day of recording is one day (or more) of editing.

This is a rule that is universally applicable for estimating Foley editing effort. If less time is spent, then most likely it will not be precisely edited material.

Yes, you can assume that the amount of time required for Foley editing primarily depends on the quality of the recorded material and Foley artist’s skills, but believe me, you will spend approximately the same amount of time nudging the clip 2 frames up or 5 frames up if you know in which direction to nudge.

The most important factor affecting the time spent on editing, in my opinion, is the editing accuracy and how accurate a sync your eye can see. If the 1-frame snap grid is the main tool for the Foley editor, it will most likely do its job quickly. But I'm pretty sure that the resulting work will have a rough sync. Maybe some of the re-recording mixers won't see this rough sync, but most of them will, especially on big screens. It’s another thing when the Foley editor works with a grid of +-1/4 or +-1/2 frames and can see the difference of half a frame. In this case, the time spent on Foley editing cannot be less than the time spent on recording. Often it’s even more.

In addition to editing accuracy, several other factors also greatly influence the time spent on Foley editing. I'll discuss them in part two of this article, which has more on Foley editing techniques.

No Foley artist can perform ideally

I am convinced that no Foley artist can record material that does not require Foley editing. I also believe that if you dig deeper, almost every sound has imperfect sync, inexact length of “phases,” and requires basic fade-in and fade-out fades.

Generally, for a beginner Foley editor, it seems that the material that comes from the Foley stage is already good enough, and everything sounds and looks in sync. An experienced Foley editor, though, will always see a lot of work that needs to be done. Yes, the standards are different for everyone, but be sure that, as a rule, the Foley editor is not left out of any project, no matter how experienced the Foley artist is.

Foley editing during recording. Is it a good idea?

I think it's a good idea if the Foley mixer/recordist has some time to put the recorded sound in sync. That will help the Foley editor to easily navigate the recorded material in sound-rich scenes. Nevertheless, it will not (and cannot be expected to) look like completely edited and finished material because it is impossible, without loss of quality, to do in an hour what properly requires 8 hours.

I also think it's great when the Foley recordist has several films under his belt, edited by him personally—or at least has some quick editing skills. This experience is beneficial in Foley recording. For example, a Foley artist might perform a complex arrangement of steps, but can't do it as synchronously as he wants because it requires him to simultaneously see if he misses steps and whether he is performing correctly or not. In this case, the Foley mixer can do quick rough edit to make sure that the recorded material is decent for fine-editing, and then the Foley editor will finish the job for sure.

Preparing Foley session for editing

Check your frame rate

I prefer to use my own project template for Foley editing and import tracks from the session that came from the Foley stage instead of editing in someone else's project. Since my template has its own fps, and the imported session can differ, it is crucial to verify that the fps of my session matches the fps of the imported session.

I know that it seems like I'm talking about pretty obvious things, and checking fps really is obvious, or should be. But I also know that around my way, every (absolutely every single one—I'm not kidding) entry-level Foley editor went through the experience of, after completing the work on Foley editing, discovering that they had worked in a session set in a 23.97 frame rate while the imported video file had 25fps. This situation threatens that the entire editing will be damaged after converting the session, and you will have to check or redo your work, perhaps even start-to-finish. So, check the fps.

checking fps

Import guide tracks

Using guide tracks for Foley editing is highly desirable. I would say even necessary. I will tell you why guide tracks are needed for editing in the second part of the article. If your client can also provide you with OMF or AAF files with production tracks, don't hesitate to ask them to do so.

Import Foley session from Foley stage

As I said, I prefer to use my own project template for Foley editing and import tracks from the session coming from the Foley stage. That makes it possible to avoid renaming tracks on each project and keep track colors that are convenient and familiar to me. Generally, my Foley editing project always looks the way I am most comfortable with and understand at a glance, with engrained tracks layouts, folders, rulers, and sometimes even plug-ins.

Techniques that lead to mistakes

All Foley editors in our team went through the learning path from scratch. Thanks to the help of the senior Foley editor and Foley supervisor and a constant stream of projects, they became professionals in this craft in six months to a year. Starting at the beginning of their journey, though, all the team members (and I) made the same systematic mistakes, which sometimes led to the wrong technique for accurate and efficient editing. In addition to the fact that this was happening on our team, we sometimes hired freelance Foley editors for contract work on projects. Surprisingly, we discovered that their editing techniques sometimes led to not carefully synced material.

Here are some techniques that I have found can lead to mistakes in Foley editing.

Spotting by frame

Spotting by Frame is probably the number one most common mistake beginner Foley editors make. I frequently see a beginning Foley editor trying to spot the single frame on the screen where the action starts in order to put a clip with the Foley sound right there, in that single spot. This is especially true for Foley footsteps when the Foley editor, step by step, tries to spot the frame on screen with the point of contact of the foot with the surface and put the sound there. After that, a Foley editor thinks that the work is done.

What is the problem here? 

The problem is that people are watching the movie on the playback. 

Therefore, the Foley editor should also work with the material, finding perfect sync using his eyes, on playback.

The method of syncing sound to the spotted frame can be used to roughly determine the sync when the Foley artist performed much earlier or much later action in the shot. But later, more accurate editing is required using at least 1-2 seconds pre-roll playback. This is especially crucial for editing Foley footsteps because if the Foley editor puts the beginning of each step under the frame where it saw the contact of the heel with the surface, this does not mean that on playback the steps will look synchronous.

Short pre-roll playback

The top number two mistake is when the Foley editor does not use significant pre-roll playback to check the sound sync. For example, the Foley editor tries to place the step in sync using a short pre-roll on playback of less than one second. I will discuss the pitfalls of this method in the second part of the article.

Failing to check it twice

Even if the Foley editor does not have time to double-check his work, he needs to find this time. I am firmly convinced that self-checking in Foley editing is one of the key factors affecting the quality of the delivered material. After the Foley editor has finished editing the scene, it is crucial to double-check the entire scene on playback. As a rule, during a double-check you will find that 10-30% of the material may require corrections or improvements.


The Ultimate Guide for Beginner Foley Editors. Part 2


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Text edited by Rebecca Wilson Jones

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