How to make sound effects using household items
The secret to enhancing the sounds effects in your films and media is likely sitting in your very own home and it’s called Foley. Read on to find out how you can get started!
So what do walking horses have in common with coconuts? How about staplers and gunshots? The answer is, sonically speaking, a whole lot of frequencies!
We’re talking about Foley - the art of creating sound effects to add to film and other media in post-production. While using stock sound effects from various libraries can undoubtedly yield great results and save crucial time, accurately and convincingly depicting the visuals may require additional work.
That’s exactly where Foley sound comes in and the secret to it often lies in everyday, household items. In more recent years, this practice has fallen victim to sample replacement. However, these sound libraries can’t do everything, and they certainly don’t come close to giving you the individualized touch of homemade sounds.
Want to create and add a realistic gunshot effect to add dramatic impact to your film? What about adding some big budget flair to your trailer by recording and dropping in some homemade explosion sound effects? Why not mimic the quintessential sound of unsheathing a sword, parrying a rapier, or other fight noises by (safely) using your kitchen knives?
Read on to find out how you can use Foley basics to create your own homemade sound effects and enhance your post production arsenal.
How do we make sound effects? It all starts with the recording process and this can generally be broken down into two, distinct, categories.
Room acoustics are essential to capturing a good recording, it is important that your sound has sonic depth, width, and height. Spatial attributes such as these make all the difference between hi-fi and lo-fi recordings. Predictably, a typical room in an average sized home is going to be acoustically inferior to a larger room in a professional studio, designed with acoustics in mind.
Fear not and don’t let your environs dissuade you from capturing Foley sound effects at home, because these days, the difference in quality might not be as wide as you’d think. For example, if you’re working on a scene shot indoors, the sound of your home might blend in just fine with an interior location.
Also, a generation of ears raised on YouTube and web-series is likely more forgiving of grittier sounds. Lastly, these days there are literally hundreds of simple and easy-to-use software applications that can easily save you from excess noise, sixty-cycle hum, and other intrusions prevalent throughout your home.
The second component of the home-recording apparatus is microphone selection, which is crucial to making foley audio “fit” with audio recorded on location. For interior scenes, most hyper-cardioid condenser mics will capture good audio. Sensitive microphones are great at picking up subtle nuances in certain sound effects.
Proximity and placement of the microphone in relation to the source of sound greatly affects how the foley is recorded. Close-up shots may require closer microphone placement, or put distance between the mic and sound source if you desire more room sound.
Always remember to experiment with different microphone positions and choose the placement and preamp levels that best represent the visual in the film.
Standard miking technique is, to a large degree, standard miking technique; if you’ve miked a drum, you can mic a punch, and if you’ve miked a singer, you can mic a zombie's voice.
That being said, do not forget the power you wield in post-production. Many of these sounds will work fine as they are. However, unlocking their creative potential often requires manipulation.
Slowing down the time, dropping the pitch, experimenting with ambiances, and adding subtle harmonic distortion can go a long way in securing otherworldly tones or big cinematic quality. The processing you apply and the effects you are able to achieve are, to a large extent, dependent on the DAW you are using as a recording platform and it’s extra functionalities.
Foley artists use many objects to achieve accurate audio depictions of the visuals. Depending on the genre of the film, pretty much anything and everything is fair game. However, before recording, your first step should be reviewing the film and compiling a list of sound effects you will need to (re)create.
There are plenty of tried-and-tested objects and techniques that foley artists have used for decades including:
- Thin sticks and rods produce excellent whoosh SFX
- Old chairs and stools are perfect for controlled creaking
- Heavy-duty staple guns can easily create gunshot sound effects
- Large, rolled-up phone books can double for for realistic body punches
- Twisting and snapping celery sticks makes for convincing bone breaks
- Hitting coconuts together is virtually indistinguishable to a horse walking
- Substituting the sound of frying bacon is (oddly enough) a great way to achieve pouring rain sounds
- Waving a sheet of aluminium in front of the mic will produce thunder-like sounds and altering your movements will add realistic variation to the effect
- A classic horror movie staple and (thankfully) one that does not require a stethoscope to replicate, is the heartbeat sound effect. Simply take a plastic trash can, flip it over, and push the bottom in and out. Adjust the rhythm according to your desired heartbeat speed.
The above information represents only a small fraction of what’s possible around your house and how to get started with foley sound. It’s meant to get you started, to inspire new ideas, and to diminish any fears about how to make sound!
There are bound to be challenges and difficulties as you explore the exciting world of creating bespoke audio for your creations so be sure to check back through our blog for some surefire troubleshooting suggestions