By Jennifer Walden
Foreign distribution companies insist on a fully formed M&E mix, complete with Foley, but for low-budget films there often isn’t room for it. It’s a catch-22. Not footing the bill for Foley work can keep indie filmmakers from making money in the global market.
Dave Nelson, owner/supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer at Outpost Studios in San Francisco, has an economical solution: using Foley Collection and Kontakt 5 to track Foley when filmmakers can’t afford live Foley sessions. “Films that aren’t financially successful here in the United States often do really well in foreign countries because people are fascinated with American lifestyle.”
Outpost Studios offers 7.1/5.1 Dolby mixing, dialogue editing, sound design, music composition, Foley, ADR and voice recording for the film, digital media and audio book industries. In addition to working in the studio, Nelson also teaches Music Editing for Film at The Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
For years, Nelson has been using Native Instruments Kontakt sampling software as part of his sound design workflow. He’s recently added Foley Collection, a series of instruments for Kontakt that address Foley sounds. The entire collection can be purchased (in Euros) for 549, in specific bundles for 149.90 each, or as individual instruments for between 7.50 and 9.99. All prices Foley Collection even offers the option to “Ask for your own instrument” in case you don’t see one you need.
Nelson reports having worked with some of the best Foley artists in the biz: Jennifer Myers, Jana Vance and Ellen Heuer to name a few. But while Foley work is prevalent in big cities there are many films that don’t have the budget for Foley work. “Generally, Foley artists don’t charge by the hour,” he explains. “They work by the day. Looking at the cost of the studio and the Foley artists, we’re talking upwards of $3,000/day. These days people are making movies for $15,000, for the entire production.”
On a tight budget, Foley Collection can be a real asset. Nelson quickly points out that while Foley Collection could never replace Foley artists, it does handle footsteps and the cloth pass extremely well. “There is still no way you can have a piece of software that can do props because you could never guess all the props a film might need. I have an entire store room filled with Foley props,” says Nelson. “As good as Foley Collection is for footsteps, you’ll still have to do props.”
The Foley Collection for footsteps gives Nelson the ability to choose from a variety of surfaces, choose from a variety of shoes for men or women and automate the tuning of the feet. “Basically, there are only three notes to play: right, left and scuff. But they’ve added so many velocity layers that you can never really play it the same way twice. So it’s a good imitation of how people walk. They don’t walk with the same velocity and exactly the same strength on every footstep every time.”
It also gives an accurate portrayal of the character’s weight because the harder the ‘note’ is played, the heavier the footstep will sound.
Nelson is currently working on filmmaker Erica Jordan’s feature In Plain Sight, which will be hitting the film festival circuit in October. The film follows humanitarian photographer Lisa Kristine on her travels to shoot portraits of victims of slavery. During one scene in the film, photographer Kristine is walking across a desert landscape. “Foley is so great that when you add someone’s feet to a scene, even when there is no dialogue, it just helps you to focus on the character,” says Nelson.
The Foley Collection allowed Nelson to choose multiple surfaces as separate instruments and blend those sounds together to create realistic desert footsteps. “They have gravel, and sand, and you can mix those together by having one MIDI channel be a little bit of gravel, and another MIDI channel being more sand. It’s pretty complex,” he explains.
For Nelson, one of the most helpful features of Foley Collection is the inclusion of cloth pass options. “When I’m teaching and lecturing, I often refer to the cloth pass as the glue that holds the Foley together. When we cut live Foley, after we’re done adding all the specific sounds, we do a cloth pass.”
When playing footsteps, a variable cloth pass instrument can be added that can be timed to the footstep or set to happen after it. There is a variety of cloth instruments to choose from: leather, tracksuit, parka, cloth suit, cotton and blue jeans. There are also options for accessories, such as: boot buckles, keys, a plastic bag, or a woman’s handbag. While working on Dante Betteo’s crime-drama film, The Other Barrio, Nelson used the cloth pass instruments to create Foley for a scene that involves several characters moving around while having a conversation in the back seat of a car. “In that case, I tried just adding the cloth, and it did pretty well. It’s not the same as doing a cloth pass with live Foley where I can be more specific.”
Kontakt 5 and Foley Collection offer a lot of flexibility for how a scene can be tracked. According to Nelson, he can have the cloth on a separate channel, or as part of the footstep channel. He can use several different footstep instruments in combination to create complex surfaces, like gravel and sand for the desert, or have Kontakt set up for surface transitions, for when a character walks from wood floors onto carpet.
“I’m always changing and trying new ways to bring all the elements together. Of course as you get more and more complicated, the Kontakt instrument itself gets pretty complicated. If you have multiple characters you don’t want to share the cloth for all the characters,” says Nelson. “Surface changes, which are very common in live Foley work, are a bit more difficult in Kontakt because you need a whole different instrument for a surface change. It can be pretty time-consuming to set up in Kontakt, but the fact is, you can set it up and it does work.”
Nelson uses Kontakt 5 in Pro Tools 11. When mixing in 5.1, he says, the Foley usually comes out of the center speaker. He also uses Kontakt 5 for sound design, which would be sent to the L-R speakers and the surrounds. That means he needs two separate Kontakt devices in Pro Tools. “You need a pretty powerful Pro Tools system if you’re going to use it in conjunction with your normal post production workflow,” he says. “I’m running several native plug-ins, like Kontakt and Spectrasonics’s virtual instruments Omnisphere and Stylus. I was trying to do this in Pro Tools 10 and those were using up resources very quickly. I went to an AAX card and Pro Tools 11.”
Using an M-Audio O2 USB keyboard to trigger Foley Collection instruments in Kontakt 5, Nelson is able to perform footsteps to picture in a matter of seconds. “It’s almost surreal in a way,” says Nelson. “To do a regular Foley session you have to set up your props in a dead quiet room, bring in the Foley artist, get the mics set up, and decide what shoes you’re going to wear. Foley Collection streamlines that process in a crazy way.”
Nelson described the Foley he did for a scene where a character is walking down an alley towards camera. As Nelson tracked the footsteps, he was able to play them louder and louder as the character got closer. In Kontakt 5, he was also able to add reverb at the end. “That’s a lot of processing to do in five minutes, and it sounded really good,” says Nelson.
Nelson reveals that filmmakers who choose to forgo Foley work often come back to him once they’ve sold a film to a foreign distributor. It costs around $15k to come back and add Foley to a film. “The problem with that is the whole film gets better when they add Foley to it. So not only do they come in to do the Foley but they often want to remix the whole film. I think the people at Foley Collection are really smart to address this gigantic issue that is always sitting there in all post environments.”