The Ultimate Guide for Beginner Foley Editors. Part 2

August 28 2021
10 min
1302
Author
Yuri Pridachin
Own and Operate at Foley First

Hey! Yuri from Foley First 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 covered what Foley editing is, what the goals of Foley editing are, and the main mistakes beginner Foley editors make. This part of the article focuses on the basic techniques and tips that we use here at Foley First to get great results in Foley editing.

What helps in creating perfectly edited material

Knowing shortcuts and macros. You need to become a shortcut ninja!

Yes, you definitely have to learn all the shortcuts and, even more, know how to create macros if the DAW or other third-party software you are working on allows you to do it. The process of Foley editing consists of thousands of repetitive routine actions, and saving even a fraction of a second for each of them can significantly reduce the overall work time spent on film editing—and make the process more enjoyable. For example, if you were to use the mouse and the top corners of the clip to create the fade-in instead of using a shortcut like “apply fade-in to cursor,” you can imagine how much time you would waste in processing, say, a thousand clips.

We work in Nuendo, and assignable shortcuts and programmable macros are an everyday thing here. Macros are an excellent tool for scripting an action queue that can be applied with just one click.

As an example: personally, before starting Foley editing, I prefer to prepare all the clips. This process involves cutting the unnecessary information in the clip before and after the audible Foley sound itself and then applying fade-in and fade-out to the cropped area. I can’t calculate how many actions I have to take to get a clip in a prepared form, even using all the known shortcuts. But by creating a script and programming macros, this preparation process can be performed in 2 clicks for each clip. That's a huge time saver!

Applying macros in Nuendo

+-1/2 frame grid

As I discussed in the first part of the article in the Golden rule and editing accuracy section, it is very important which snap grid you use for Foley editing. A beginner Foley editor can usually see the difference of sync by 1-2 frames, but, gaining experience, the eyes and the brain begin to perceive differences up to 1/4 of a frame, especially in dynamic scenes. I recommend using snap grid + -1/2 frames. Nudging clips with a step of 1/2 frame is also optimal for footsteps and props fine editing, in my opinion.

Using pre-roll

The way a person perceives sync with ears, eyes, and brain when using a long pre-roll is very different from how we see sync when playing the sound using a fraction of a second as a pre-roll. Therefore, I would recommend using a couple of seconds of pre-roll to the targeted sound as a general rule.

It’s not just your eyes and ears that require a long pre-roll. Another factor that can cause inaccuracies in Foley editing when using a short pre-roll is that your DAW and codec may take a moment to stabilize, especially when using external decoders. 

That's also why it is important to do double-checking and, in particular, to check the editing of the entire scene as a whole, from start to end on playback. At this stage, you check the sync not of each sound individually but watch the whole movie in a group with all the other Foley sounds.

Using pre-roll playback

The use of long pre-rolls in footsteps editing is especially crucial. As a rule, I do not put each step into a frame in the picture where we see the contact of the foot with the surface, but instead I create a footsteps bundle by progressively building an arrangement starting from the first step. Step by step. This definitely increases the time spent working on the material, but it improves the quality of Foley editing.

To help you understand what I mean, imagine that we have a character’s walk pass consisting of twelve steps. I mentally arrange the steps into three “bundles” of four steps each. Starting with the first step, I put it in sync by eye using pre-roll playback. Then I move on to the second, but I work on it in context, always letting the first step sound as part of the pre-roll. Next is the third step, and then the fourth. By this time, for the fourth step, my pre-roll is as long as it takes for me to hear all four steps in the chain. After completing the first four steps, I move on to the next bundle of the next four steps using the same method. Finally, I work on the last four steps.

This method allows me not only to do technically synchronous editing, but also helps me to compose organic and musical phrases. Working on a bundle of sounds is very different from working on each sound separately. After I've finished Foley editing all the steps, I go back to the first step and play the entire phrase of twelve steps from start to end. Believe me, even after such involved self-checking within the arranged footsteps pass, you will still find minor flaws that require subtle adjustments, both in terms of syncing and, possibly, in terms of the Foley artist's performance.

As I said in the first part of this article, Foley editing is a technical and, most of all, very creative work, somewhat similar to a musical one.

If, in working on a steps arrangement, it seems to you that one of the steps looks out of sync no matter what you do, try to nudge the step in front of it instead. Perhaps it’s actually this step making your eye and brain think that the next step is out of sync.

Working with guide tracks

Foley is an addition to the production soundtrack and sometimes its complete replacement. You don’t know how the re-recording mixer or sound effects editor will use the material you deliver—whether they will use it in addition to the production track to enhance the scenes, whether the scene will be completely recreated with ADR so that all recorded Foley will be required, or whether they will refuse to use Foley in the scene altogether. Despite not knowing how your work will be used, it's best to have all of your edited material in sync with the production soundtrack as much as possible. This applies to both footsteps and props.

If in the guide tracks we can hear the steps of a character, then the recorded Foley footsteps of the same character should be fully synchronized with the guide track and sound in unison.

It’s worth noting that there are times when some scenes or fragments of scenes in the guide track are initially out of sync with the picture. In this case, we do not use the guide track as a guide, but sync the Foley by eye.

The guide track in the video file often contains a mix of all the production soundtracks and can also include a music soundtrack, which is not always desirable during recording or editing because it can make it difficult to hear the steps in the guide track. If you have the chance to request a session with multichannel production soundtracks or separate DX / MX / SFX stems from an editor, do so. It is likely that in one of the booms or stem you will hear something that you will not hear in the guide track contained in the video file.

Fades

In the sessions of other Foley editors, I have seen fade-in and fade-out having not only linear but also exponential and even custom complex curve shapes. We almost always use the linear fade-in and fade-out for all groups of sounds, and, personally, I see no reason to waste time building non-standard curves. Yes, perhaps when you’re listening in a solo mode, the clip with the exponential fade-out might sound more accurate than a linear fade-out, but are you sure you will feel the difference in the mix under backgrounds, music, and dialogue?

Working with Foley "microscopically," it is effortless to dig yourself in excessive perfectionism and technical nuances that don't make sense during re-recording.

Fades in Foley editingAll x-fades that we use have exclusively exponential curves (equal power). Thus, unlike linear ones, they allow roomtone not to attenuate where the cross-fade is applied.

Sliding the contents feature

Nuendo has an awesome tool allowing you to slide the contents of events. You can move the contents of an event without changing the clip's position in the project window. The content of the clip moves without being snapped to the grid. I have found this option to be very useful in footsteps Foley editing, especially on fast footsteps passes or running where each cut step in the arrangement is very close to the others, and they all have x-fades. In this case, you do not need to nudge the clip of each step and touch the cross-fades, but you can fine-tune the sync using this function.

Sliding the contents in Nuendo

Working with “phases”

Working with phases is key, especially with Foley props editing. By "phases" I mean the sound content within the recorded clip/region which requires precise synchronization with the picture.

For example, the Foley artist recorded the movement of a character's bag, which involved grabbing the bag off the table, rattling it, opening it, pulling something out, closing it, rattling it again, and putting the bag back on the table in one take. We name each of these separate actions "phases." Even in short 2 second recorded clips, as in ADR, it is important that all the phases inside are in sync and ideally glued to the picture. It is unlikely that time stretching will be used when working with "phases," but you can definitely see many cuts and x-fades here.

For beginner Foley editors, it is challenging to work with phases because the inexperienced eye and brain cannot make out inaccuracies in either the performance or the sync of the recorded sounds, just as it's hard for them to figure out which recorded phase or microphase refers to which action in the frame if we are talking about fast actions in the scene. Only experience and constant training will help you begin to see each phase separately, to understand where it should be moved and whether it should be shortened or lengthened in order to achieve perfect syncing, and, just as importantly, to analyze on the fly if the sound is naturally following this or that phase of the picture or if it requires replacement. 

If, when working with short, single sounds like "hands on the table," "door knocking," or others, I don’t seem to have a good performance from the Foley artist, I can copy-paste from another place in the film where a similar sound exists. But it’s much harder to find similar-sounding long sounds or phases because most of them are both complicated and unique. If it seems to the Foley editor that the phases of the recorded sound or the entire sound cannot be synced with the picture as precisely as is necessary due to carelessly recorded material, then it's time to use takes.

Working with takes

Takes play a huge role in Foley editing—I would even say the most important role. Their presence allows us not only to have alternatives to flawed material with a picture, but also provides an opportunity for artistic experiments.

As a Foley artist covering all the footsteps, I always make at least 2 good sounding takes for the Foley editor for later use if the need occurs. However, in especially complex combinations of steps or where I am not sure that my performance and sync are good enough for further editing, the number of takes can be more than 5.

Here at Foley First, we can't live without using takes. Yes, you might imagine that when the Foley editor does not have alternative takes, the work will go faster and be more fun since he or she will have to work with what is there or find the material as a replacement from other scenes in the film. This may be good for timing, but it generally doesn't improve quality. And we are talking not only about footsteps editing but also about working with props and replacing the phases of the props. Many technical things can be fixed in Foley editing using takes, and with takes available, most likely the Foley team will not be recording the Foley supervisor's notes after editing, unless it is about improperly chosen props, shoes, surfaces, etc.

I believe that working with takes is just as much a must-have as knowing shortcuts. 

Editing bags and clothes under edited FS

The editing and syncing technique of props (such as bags and clothes) under the edited steps seems correct and effective to me. In this case, the Foley editor does not synchronize steps and props or clothes by eye but does it primarily by ear, relying on listening to the edited footsteps. This method allows you to create musically correct arrangements when both the bass (clothes) and kick (footsteps) sound quantized. I think the musicians know what I'm talking about.

You can read about how we do clothes recording and editing in this article.

Processing Foley

We have a long article on processing Foley. You can find it here. I want to mention processing Foley in this article as well, as I believe that the processing of Foley, not only during Foley recording but also at the editing and/or reviewing stage, should take place if it improves the recorded material. It can also reduce the amount of time it takes to integrate Foley into the mix for a re-recording mixer.

Checking

It's important to discipline yourself to always review your work, especially for beginner Foley editors. Working locally with each sound individually, the eye and ear are blurred fast. You have to periodically take short breaks, drink coffee, give the brain a rest, and then look at the scene or individual arrangements with a fresh eye. 

Believe me, after a break, there is a high probability that you will find some of the sounds are out of sync, the footsteps arrangements sound bad or inorganic, and inaccurate edits have been made. I believe that if the Foley editor has not checked his work several times, then this work is not sufficiently polished to perfection. Self-checking is a great opportunity to find and correct your own mistakes.

Personally, I prefer to do multi-step checking, starting with checking the edited footsteps. For example, after I have spent some time editing the character's footsteps for a long scene, I give myself a couple of minutes to rest, and then I check the scene from beginning to end in one pass. 

Moving forward, I work with props following the same pattern. After each sound has been synced, it is important to play the entire group of props in the scene from beginning to end without stopping. At this stage, you may find out-of-sync sounds or hear sounds that seem unnecessary in the scene or that interfere with the dialogue. Or it may even turn out that the recorded Foley overwhelms the listener with too much information, and it is better if some sounds are muted.

After taking another short break, I will listen to the entire scene with the footsteps, props, and audible guide tracks. This is a great opportunity to see how the Foley works from a different perspective, not under a microscope, and understand how organically Foley fits in the production soundtrack. It's great if the Foley editor can do a little volume balance and use reverb for better understanding while reviewing the scene. At Foley First, I prefer to have the Foley supervisor take over this job. As a person with a fresh eye and ear, he or she can find things requiring adjustments that will affect the film's artistic component but were missed on recording and editing.

Self-checking is one of the most vital things in Foley production. Multi-step checking is even better. Nothing is more motivating than having a client approve your work without notes—when he is happy instead of asking you to fix stupid and obvious mistakes that you missed but could have found just by double-checking your work.

Delivery

Should I bounce clips?

At Foley First, we prefer to deliver a Foley session that has is non-destructive look.

What does this mean?

This means that any character's footsteps pass consisting of 10 steps will look like 10 individual clips with x-fades instead of one bounced/rendered clip. This way, the mixer can always modify any fade-in /out or x-fade, nudging or fast deleting each clip/step, etc. In addition, and more importantly, a mixer can use the clip gain option for each separate step instead of having to cut a bounced clip before doing it.

Some of you may disagree with me, and it may seem like the mixer should not see the flip side of editing. So I just asked the mixers about it, and this is what they think:

"I would say 100% it should be non destructive. Any editing or crossfades should be visible and be able to be changed by the mixer. It doesn't really matter how it looks on the timeline, just that it sounds right."

"I prefer having the individual edits and clips available personally. Individual clip gain ability is what I am mostly like."

"It doesn’t really matter much to me if I can see the edits or not."

Conclusion

These are the tips and tricks we rely on at Foley First to create great edited work! I hope it helps you in your work as well.

 

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Thanks for reading!

Text edited by Rebecca Wilson Jones

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