Foley artists, otherwise known as sync noise makers, are people who create sounds for motion pictures, animation and documentaries. It is they who, using various objects and their bodies, voice not only characters’ actions—blows, the sounds of clashing weapons, footsteps, or the rustling of clothes—but also natural phenomena, like rain or flickering flames. “Breaking celery creates the sound of breaking bones, and crumpling foil imitates the crackling of fire,” says Dominyka Adomaitytė, a foley professional, skilled in the art of synchronized noise. In this interview, she tells us about her profession, unknown to many, the world of sounds, and her most memorable projects.
Dominyka, when did you realize that you were interested in sound? Perhaps your curiosity emerged when you were still a child?
Maybe I didn’t understand it in my childhood, but looking from the perspective I am in today and remembering certain details, I see how everything comes together. Sound has had a great influence on me since childhood; through sound, I observe and perceive the world and the people around me. On my last birthday, my dad found my childhood poems and read them to me. We were all speechless; one poem was written only with sounds. I didn’t realize it when I was a kid, but that’s probably how I make sense of the world.
In the end, what exactly brought you to the world of foley?
For the first time, I tried foley 7 years ago, had a taste of it and realized I wanted to learn more about it—that maybe it could be what I had been looking for for a long time. And had been on a quest for a long time. First, I enrolled in the French philology course. I listened to French songs and watched movies, and the language entered my life as if by itself; it was not difficult to learn it. Then I studied to become a theater director, and afterwards I took up music composition and jazz singing. Finally, I ended up living in the small town of Arles in southern France; this was where Van Gogh cut off his ear. I was studying sound direction and my husband was in animation. I passed entrance exams and was accepted to the main Czech sound studio, where I started working as a foley artist.
There was a lot of searching in my life, and at one point, it didn’t seem like it was taking me anywhere. But in fact, my knowledge of directing helps me understand sound directors, and my experience in music and singing gives me good insights into sound design. And French philology, like learning any language, helped me discover a lot, enriched my life with new colors, and of course, it also helped me when working in France.
How has this job changed you over the years? Has it impacted your approach to details and the world around you?
Details are the essence of foley, so I started to notice them even better. Sometimes this makes it hard to have a broader perspective, a bird’s-eye view —you get so caught up in the details that you lose sight of the big picture. My keenness for details has also moved into my everyday life. I never liked walking in the city with headphones on, but now I like listening to all the sounds around me even more than before. I like to sense what the environment is made of. After spending a lot of time in the sound studio, it is very good to “clean the ears.” I definitely appreciate time in nature.
When does your work begin? What does the whole creative process look like?
Various situations come up. For instance, when we were recording the sounds for the film “Parade”, the sound director sent me the final cut, and then we had a call that lasted several hours. We usually discuss every scene and detail. For example, how do the filmmakers imagine the sound shoes make—with or without a heel? This has a great influence on the character: he can be more decisive or, on the contrary, subdued. I am not alone in the studio; there is another foley artist and a foley mixer who is recording us. Therefore, it is important for us to understand each other and find a common language.
It feels so good to find a connection with your character. If there are two of us, we split the roles, and sometimes you get so immersed in the character that you don’t even realize it’s you anymore.
Perhaps you have a character with whom you strongly identified during the creative process?
One such case is the character created by actress Rasa Samuolytė in Titas Laucius’ film “Parade”. I walked with her throughout the film and went through the inner quest together. This role touched me a lot, and there were many different foleys and details in the film itself. It was very interesting and sometimes difficult work, but it feels good to remember it.
Can every foley artist create any kind of sound? Do the sounds also depend on the physical characteristics of the person?
I think that any person can learn to make any sound. It’s like playing an instrument, but in this case, your body is the instrument. As a foley artist you learn a certain technique. For example, your muscles are able to create the necessary sound for the steps of both children and medieval warriors. You look for suitable shoes, and you look at where your center of gravity is.
The floor areas we walk on are small, so during the first weeks of my work, I didn’t even feel that I was stepping outside the boundaries. Foley artists probably look rather bizarre from the side (laughs). It’s true that if you spend the entire day recording your steps, you can barely walk the next day. I didn’t know this job was so physically demanding. When I had just started working, in the evenings I wouldn’t feel my body. But little by little the body gained strength and developed the internal muscles needed for creating foleys.
What items do you use in the studio, and where do they come from? Do you already have the necessary objects in your studio, or do you look for them for every new project?
Foley studios accumulate various items, but we also search for them at flea markets. For example, you need a whole collection of footwear: sports shoes, with a harder base, as well as high heels and boots. I have one favorite shirt that I mix and match with other items. There are also unexpected solutions – I discovered baking foil is great for imitating the sound embers make.
Sometimes the answers come from life itself; it happens that you hear something and use that idea later.
Which project was the most memorable for you—the one that taught you the most?
One such project was the cartoon “Even Mice Go to Heaven”. In the movie, the mouse and the leaf die and go to the otherworld. We voiced a lot of locations, so for example, we had to imagine what paradise sounds like, what crab’s movements sound like or the sound of a raccoon clapping. It’s nice that this movie had (albeit minimal) budget for experiments during which we could try what works best for each scene and character.
In animation, foleys play the kay role in creating the ambiance. A feature film has at least the background noise of the set, whereas in animation, the entire sound world is created from scratch. You can create hundreds of versions of the same sound, so it’s important to consult with the director and take his opinion into account.
Don’t you fear that this profession may become redundant because of technology, new inventions, and computer programs?
There are fears that this profession may cease to exist in the future. I believe in the work of humans, and I believe that foleys will definitely survive in art films. After all, even now, when shooting, we sometimes go back to the tape. The original sound, created by man for a specific film, is its strength; it gives a certain sensation. In fact, the work of foley artists is acting because you have to voice the character with your body and get under his or her skin. I don’t know if technology is able to reproduce that.
We are talking about cinema, but probably your experience can be useful in other types of projects.
I am very happy that foleys are not limited to cinema only. Three years ago, I discovered performance art at the book launch of the artist named Elena Selena. We did a short performance; she read a book, and I made sounds. The organizer of the projects of the Paris Cinematheque saw the performance, and she liked it very much. She came up with her own project—a retrospective of Georges Meljes films. According to certain themes, live on stage, the pianist, the voice actress, and I create foleys in the same way as it used to be done in the past. Even though I have a script prepared in advance, it may still fail completely. Sometimes I add extra objects in case I think of a way to use them. The process itself reminds me of dance; when you know the choreography, you move from one thing to another, but there is also a bit of improvisation.
I am also currently setting up the first foley studio in Lithuania. It may still take some time, but in the future, this will be a space where I can do more than creating foleys for different types of film – I will aslo be able to create sound effects for video games, radio plays, as well as organizing educational activities.
We also created a show for the blind with foleys. It was a project that changed a lot of things inside us. I teach animation students; I want to show them how to “open their ears” that ideas can be born not only from the text material, concept or image, but also from sound. It’s great to share these things.
Gretos Skaraitienės nuotr.