This time at Foley First we would like to talk about creating a Foley spotting session and why it is important for us and for Foley recording. There are no firm rules on creating Foley cue sessions.
Everyone does it his own way. But I wanted to share my thoughts on how we do it here at Foley First and what benefits this technique gives us.
WHY DO WE NEED A SPOTTING SESSION?
Time is money.
It’s hard to imagine how much time you will waste if you start recording a film without a Foley cueing session. This is especially true for complex and massive projects, where the count of characters featured on screen can reach 20 or more and all the recorded props may not fit on 20 tracks.
There was a time when we did not use Foley cueing, but we quickly realized that without cueing, the Foley recording process goes on forever. Without cueing, Foley artists and Foley mixers get tired of constantly rewinding the material during their Foley recording session to find spots that need to be recorded. Even more frustrating, without cueing we used to have to go back to the film after the recording because missing sounds were spotted during the Foley editing.
An accurate and thorough Foley cueing session gives us:
- A clear understanding of where and what should be recorded.
- An effective streamline of the Foley artist’s workflow while recording (the less an artist has to change shoes, surfaces, and props, the easier and more fun the recording is).
- The ability to keep track of the recording progress and the volume of recorded material at any given time, providing predictable time management without compromising quality.
- A stress-free, calm, enjoyable, and relaxed working environment for the Foley artist and Foley mixer/recordist during Foley recording. Constantly rewinding through the film while recording is exhausting for everyone. It is better and less stressful all around to learn the film before the recording process begins.
- As a bonus, daily checking of the recorded material on the Foley editor side if the work is being carried out in parallel.
- A beautiful and colorful Foley session.
On average, the time we spend cueing the steps in a 90-minute film ranges from 10-14 hours depending on the number of characters, the frequency of texture changes, and how rapidly the scenes and shots cut. It sometimes takes up to 24 hours with massive and complex films for us to carefully spot all the footsteps and learn the film before we start Foley recording.
I always prefer not to get in a rush or try to save time while doing foley spotting. If you try to save time in spotting, the saved two hours on not carefully spotted Foley can result in an additional half-day of recording footsteps.
I always record the steps as carefully and detailed as possible in the film, regardless of the quality and genre of the feature. I do a few takes before I get what I want, and what I feel will convey the character’s mood. As a rule, it takes a huge amount of time and effort. In this case, a good Foley spotting session can be your best friend, or without it, the work becomes a time and energy killer.
We work in Nuendo, and this DAW has a large number of tools available for creating intuitive spotting. I can’t say if it is possible to fully apply our technique in ProTools without making your project very busy. I just hope you will get the main idea about how it works on our end.
Our Foley footsteps spotting session consists of 4 main track groups:
- «Scenes» or «Scenes track»
- «Notes» marker track
We mainly use audio tracks with blank clips as spots where FS recording is required, but this does not override the additional use of marker tracks in the project. Moreover, Nuendo allows creating an unlimited number of such marker tracks to set point markers or cycle markers — name and color them as you prefer.
This track displays scenes cut throughout the movie. Specifically scenes, not shots like in EDL.
What is it for?
With this spotting, it is easy to track the progress of the recording. After working for two days recording footsteps, coloring green all the blank clips linked to the scenes I covered in that time, I can see the amount of work done and roughly predict the amount of work remaining.
Also, the «Scenes» track helps to work with Foley processing while reviewing the recorded material. When I need to process, say, only the footsteps of one character within one scene, I don’t need to find the beginning and the end of this scene. In Nuendo, you can select a clip and set the cycle marker in one click. Visually it becomes easy to see where the clips of steps that require processing are located. It looks like a trifle, but the whole process is built from such trifles and leads to time savings.
We do not apply any names to the «Scene track» clips. It is not required and would only add confusion to the main Foley cueing session.
«Notes» marker track
This marker track contains markers that indicate characters’ shoes in the picture, where we can hear how the shoe interacts with the surface in the guide track or how a certain surface sounds. Working with the scene and with the film in general, it is important to record Foley as close to the sound in the guide track as possible. During Foley cueing, the mixer plays back the guide track and fixes timecodes where he can hear or see the shoes.
In the «Notes» track, we also spot other hints or important things we would like to keep in mind.
I find it important to have this group of tracks separated from the characters’ tracks layout. This allows me not to keep information about surfaces that should be used in the description of clips for the characters’ spotting. For me, the best solution is to create two groups.
I often resort to using the concrete pit to build some complex textures, and I would prefer to record these textures all over the movie at once so that I don’t have to go back to it and clean up the concrete pit for the main purposes. If the surface to be built is mentioned only in the description of the characters spotting clip, then looking for this surface throughout the film is a tedious waste of time for me. As we say, it’s flies in one place, cutlets in another — in other words, you don’t have to put different things in the same place.
The surfaces (track names) in the «Surfaces» group that we most often use are:
Concrete, dirt, hollow wood, hardwood, tile, carpet, grass, sand, cars
If there are transitions from one surface to another surface in a scene, that transition is indicated in the spotting session. In our spotting sessions, you can also often see the layering of two textures. For example, a carpet is always laid on another surface. There is always tile, concrete, hardwood, or hollow wood underneath. Therefore, textures in a film like carpet-tile or carpet-wood in footsteps spotting sessions look like a layering of two tracks in the «Surfaces» group.
Of course, atypical textures are found all the time in feature films, and they have to be quickly constructed in the Foley room. This information is also displayed in the spotting session. It’s great when you can set your own colors to clips and tracks. For example, grass=green, wood=brown, etc. Reading colored clips is much faster and more convenient than monotonous gray clips.
It’s ideal if the Foley recordist/mixer knows all the surfaces that the Foley artist uses on the Foley stage. This allows him or her not to create a huge number of tracks in the «Surfaces» group. For example, if the Foley mixer knows that for a texture in the film signed as «hollow wood», the Foley artist will use a specific surface in the foley room, and for «hollow wood 2» he or she only needs to slightly modify the same surface to get a new sound, then in the «Surfaces» group the Foley mixer will not create a new «hollow wood 2» track, but only «hollow wood» is used. In this case, the clips in the «hollow wood» track which relate to «hollow wood 2» can be colored with a different color. Or, for another example, grass, which may look like a mown lawn or long field grass. I recreate these textures in one Foley pit, but with a different sound. Consequently, it makes no sense to create two tracks in the spotting session for «low grass» and «high grass».
It may seem that this group alone would become bulky. If it does, you can use folders in Nuendo. It’s convenient.
In this foley spotting group, we keep information about all the movements of all the acting characters of the film, including off-screen characters.
It is important that clips in this group are cut very carefully and do not contain long pauses between characters’ movements. Otherwise, the Foley team will waste more time recording Foley.
At our Foley studio, the «Characters» group is divided into 3 main track groups:
- Lead and supporting characters plus characters who have names.
- Crowds and Extras (including bit parts, featured extras, and other small roles with or without dialogue).
- BG (background characters, including non-featured extras).
The name of each track in the first group of steps matches the name of the acting character and does not contain any additional information about the character. The clips of the rest of the footsteps groups may contain extended information about the characters featured in the scene. All the tracks have names and may look like:
FS_JOHN, FS_OLIVIA, FS_CROWD_01, FS_CROWD_02, FS_BG_01, FS_BG_02.
I think it’s important to have all main characters’ clips on their track to avoid their clips jumping from track to track from scene to scene if you are going to optimize and/or minimize the Foley session delivered. This minimization can be inconvenient for the re-recording mixer, so naming tracks like FS_01, FS_02, etc, is not a good idea.
Thus, by having two key and independent spotting groups for footsteps, such as «Surfaces» and «Characters», a Foley Artist together with the Foley mixer can optimize and organize the entire process of Foley recording. The Foley artist may prefer to start work focusing on a surface and not frequently change microphone positions to move to another surface. Or, conversely, focusing on a character, he might want to minimize the number of shoe changes. In both cases, such Foley cueing makes it easy to navigate the project for Foley mixer.
If a character changes shoes in a film, this information can also be mentioned by coloring the character’s clips or as a text in the «Notes» marker track. Nuendo’s game-changing feature is that you can take a camera, shoot your boots, and put this image right into the audio track, haha. So smart!
It should be mentioned that we do not record audio clips over the blank clips of the spotting session. At Foley First, we keep the spotting separate from the recording tracks. Everyone has their own quirks.
The props cueing is done in the same way using blank clips and audio tracks. But as you can see from the screenshot below, we also actively use the «Notes» marker track for all the specific things which do not drop into the main sounds category. Like in the footsteps spotting session, there is also a «Scene track» featured here. But these «Scene tracks» are located in different Foley sessions since props recording and steps recording at Foley First is done in parallel in two Foley rooms.
The main groups of props in a spotting session very often include such tracks as:
Dishes, paper, bags, chairs, plants, jewelry
These are the main groups of sounds that usually appear in every feature film. Everything that is not included in the group of typical sounds in the main spotting is spotted in the «Notes» marker track. This marker track is more busy than in the FS spotting session. It looks like full freedom for a graphic designer.
We do not add information to the description of spotting blank clips like «Drop dishes on the table.» For a Foley artist, this is obvious. But we use detailed naming for the audio file of each recorded sound.
As you can see, the HANDS tracks are missing here.
I’m pretty sure most mixers prefer to have individual tracks for this Foley group in the delivered session. We do not do spotting for hands. And like Foley clothes, we record all hands in one or two passes throughout the film from start to end.
Such props Foley cueing (see screenshot) requires about 10 hours.
All told, it can take 20 to 36 hours to create a full Foley spotting session for a 90-minute feature film. This may seem like too big a job for one person. Yes, it’s not an easy thing. But we are talking about detailed spotting required to record full coverage, high-detailed Foley for a project.
It’s important to remember that even if it seems like you will save time working without Foley cueing, it’s better to take the time for Foley cueing because otherwise the recording process really will take much longer.
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