What Does a Foley Artist Do?

Although today effects editors can access libraries of thousands of sound effects and use computer software to create and modify their own, they still struggle to create certain sounds—particularly those that must perfectly match the action onscreen. That is the domain of foley artists, who dream up creative ways to use anything that can be transported into a recording studio to create the sounds we hear in movies and other media. Car doors, weapons, refrigerators stocked with noisy food, pinecones (to create the sound of cracking knuckles), kitchen gloves (which, when inflated and slapped together, mimic flapping wings), and, of course, every kind of shoe imaginable are just a few of the props in a foley artist's bag of tricks.

Foley artists are keen observers and sensitive listeners, exceptionally tuned into the world of sound and motion, and able to think in creative, innovative ways about sonic reproduction.

In the film industry, the work begins at a spotting session, when the film's director, supervising sound editor, music editor, and foley editor watch the footage and catalog the needed foley effects, which typically number in the thousands. Foley artists then spend anywhere from a few days to a month devising, practicing, and recording sound effects on the foley studio stage while watching the corresponding film sequence in real time, so as to match the sound and the video to the split second. While foley artists are less likely to work on video games and animated and computer-generated media, it's not unheard of. 

Foley Artist at a Glance

Career Path

There is no school or apprenticeship program for aspiring foley artists, which is in part due to the small number of jobs available in this field. Most stumble into the occupation, learning the craft from an experienced and established artist who's willing to mentor them, and get their foot in the door working on independent films and obscure television shows. Some have prior training as actors or dancers, and most have a background in film sound or recording, for example as a field recordist or effects editor. Foley artists often supplement their income by working in post-production sound as effects or dialogue editors in between gigs. Those who are more interested in applying their recording skills might also take jobs in production sound, as production sound mixers, boom operators, or utility sound technicians.

Finding Work

Most foley artists either work for established foley studios or as freelancers. Aspiring foley artists should be aware that it's difficult to make a long-term career in this field, mainly owing to the relatively small demand—even in Hollywood there are only a number of working foley artists. Still, those who are dedicated and passionate about the craft can find a way. Practical experience is critical: one should start by providing foley effects to short and independent films and practicing as much as possible.

Professional Skills
  • Sound recording
  • Sound editing and post-production
  • Exceptional ears for detail and nuance
  • Physical dexterity, coordination, and fitness
  • Basic acoustics
  • Time management
  • Imagination and creativity
Interpersonal Skills

Foley artists are keen observers and sensitive listeners, exceptionally tuned into the world of sound and motion, and able to think in creative, innovative ways about sonic reproduction. 

Work Life

For all but the most in-demand artists, foley work is intermittent, making it neccessary to find other income sources in between gigs. Most foley artists find additional work in film sound, whether in recording production sound or editing in post-production. Foley itself is physically demanding work, as it often requires matching the movements of on-screen actors and almost certainly means sitting and kneeling for most of the work day.