Tag Archives: Alchemy Post Sound

Adding precise and realistic Foley to The Invisible Man

Foley artists normally produce sound effects by mimicking the action of characters on a screen, but for Universal Pictures’ new horror-thriller, The Invisible Man, the Foley team from New York’s Alchemy Post Sound faced the novel assignment of creating the patter of footsteps and swish of clothing for a character who cannot be seen.

Directed by Leigh Whannell, The Invisible Man centers on Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), a Bay Area architect who is terrorized by her former boyfriend, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a wealthy entrepreneur who develops a digital technology that makes him invisible. Adrian causes Cecelia to appear to be going insane by drugging her, tampering with her work and committing similarly fiendish acts while remaining hidden from sight.

The film’s sound team was led by the LA-based duo of sound designer/supervising sound editor P.K. Hooker and re-recording mixer Will Files. Files recalls that he and Hooker had extensive conversations with Whannell during pre-production about the unique role sound would play in telling the film’s story. “Leigh encouraged us to think at right angles to the way we normally think,” he recalls. “He told us to use all the tools at our disposal to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. He wanted us to be bold and create something very special.”

Hooker and Files asked Alchemy Post Sound to create a huge assortment of sound effects for the film. The Foley team produced footsteps, floor creaks and fist fights, but its most innovative work involved sounds that convey Adrian’s onscreen presence when he is wearing his high-tech invisibility suit. “Sound effects let the audience know Adrian is around when they can’t see him,” explains lead Foley artist Leslie Bloome. “The Invisible Man is a very quiet film and so the sounds we added for Adrian needed to be very precise and real. The details and textures had to be spot on.”

Alchemy’s Andrea Bloome, Ryan Collison and Leslie Bloome

Foley mixer Ryan Collison adds that getting the Foley sound just right was exceedingly tough because it needed to communicate Adrian’s presence, but in a hesitant, ephemeral manner. “He’s trying to be as quiet as possible because he doesn’t want to be heard,” Collison explains. “You want the audience to hear him, but they should strain just a bit to do so.”

Many of Adrian’s invisible scenes were shot with a stand-in wearing a green suit who interacted with other actors and was later digitally removed. Alchemy’s Foley team had access to the original footage and used it in recording matching footsteps and body motions. “We were lucky to be able to perform Foley to what was originally shot on the set, but unlike normal Foley work, we were given artistic license to enhance the performance,” notes Foley artist Joanna Fang. “We could make him walk faster or slower, seem creepier or step with more creakiness than what was originally there.”

Foley sound was also used to suggest the presence of Adrian’s suit, which is made from neoprene and covered in tiny optical devices. “Every time Adrian moves his hand or throws a punch, we created the sound of his suit rustling,” Fang explains. “We used glass beads from an old chandelier and light bulb filaments for the tinkle of the optics and a yoga mat for the material of the suit itself. The result sounds super high-tech and has a menacing quality.”

Special attention was applied to Adrian’s footsteps. “The Invisible Man’s feet needed a very signature sound so that when you hear it, you know it’s him,” says Files. “We asked the Foley team for different options.”

Ultimately, Alchemy’s solution involved something other than shoes. “Like his suit, Adrian’s shoes are made of neoprene,” explains Bloome, whose team used Neumann KMR 81 mics, an Avid C24 Pro Tools mixing console, a Millennia HV-3D eight-channel preamp, an Apogee Maestro control interface and Adam A77X speakers. “So they make a soft sound, but we didn’t want it to sound like he’s wearing sneakers, so I pulled large rubber gloves over my feet and did the footsteps that way.”

Invisible Adrian makes his first appearance in the film’s opening scene when he invades Cecilia’s home while she is asleep in bed. For that scene, the Foley team created sounds for both the unseen Adrian and for Cecilia as she moves about her house looking for the intruder. “P.K. Hooker told us to imagine that we were a kid who’s come home late and is trying to sneak about the house without waking his parents,” recalls Foley editor Nick Seaman. “When Cecilia is tiptoeing through the kitchen, she stumbles into a dog food can. We made that sound larger than life, so that it resonates through the whole place. It’s designed to make the audience jump.”

Will Files

“P.K. wanted the scene to have more detail than usual to create a feeling of heightened reality,” adds Foley editor Laura Heinzinger. “As Cecelia moves through her house, sound reverberates all around her, as if she were in a museum.”

The creepiness was enhanced by the way the effects were mixed. “We trick the audience into feeling safe by turning down the sound,” explains Files. “We dial it down in pieces. First, we removed the music, and then the waves, so you just hear her bare feet and breath. Then, out of nowhere, comes this really loud sound, the bowl banging and dog food scattering across the floor. The Foley team provided multiple layers that we panned throughout the theater. It feels like this huge disaster because of how shocking it is.”

At another point in the film, Cecilia meets Adrian as she is about to get into her car. It’s raining and the droplets of water reveal the contours of his otherwise invisible frame. To add to the eeriness of the moment, Alchemy’s Foley team recorded the patter of raindrops. “We recorded drops differently depending on whether they were landing on the hood of the car or its trunk,” says Fang. “The drops that land on Adrian make a tinkling sound. We created that by letting water roll off my finger. I also stood on a ladder and dropped water onto a chamois for the sound of droplets striking Adrian’s suit.”

 

The film climaxes with a scene in a psychiatric hospital where Cecilia and several guards engage in a desperate struggle with the invisible Adrian. “It’s a chaotic moment but the footsteps help the audience track Adrian as the fight unfolds,” says Foley mixer Connor Nagy. “The audience knows where Adrian is, but the guards don’t. They hear him as he comes around corners and moves in and out of the room. The guards, meanwhile, are shaking in disbelief.”

“The Foley had a lot of detail and texture,” adds Files. “It was also done with finesse. And we needed that, because Foley was featured in a way it normally isn’t in the mix.”

Alchemy often uses Foley sound to suggest the presence of characters who are off screen, but this was the first instance when they were asked to create sound for a character whose presence onscreen derives from sound alone. “It was a total group effort,” says Bloome. “It took a combination of Foley performance, editing and mixing to convince the audience that there is someone on the screen in front of them who they can’t see. It’s freaky.”

Creating Foley for FX’s Fosse/Verdon

Alchemy Post Sound created Foley for Fosse/Verdon, FX’s miniseries about choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and his collaborator and wife, the singer/dancer Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Working under the direction of supervising sound editors Daniel Timmons and Tony Volante, Foley artist Leslie Bloome and his team performed and recorded hundreds of custom sound effects to support the show’s dance sequences and add realistic ambience to its historic settings.

Spanning five decades, Fosse/Verdon focuses on the romantic and creative partnership between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. The former was a visionary filmmaker and one of the theater’s most influential choreographers and directors, while the latter was one of the greatest Broadway dancers of all time.

Given the subject matter, it’s hardly surprising that post production sound was a crucial element in the series. For its many musical scenes, Timmons and Volante were tasked with conjuring intricate sound beds to match the choreography and meld seamlessly with the score. They also created dense soundscapes to back the very distinctive environments of film sets and Broadway stages, as well as a myriad of other exterior and interior locations.

For Timmons, the project’s mix of music and drama posed significant creative challenges but also a unique opportunity. “I grew up in upstate New York and originally hoped to work in live sound, potentially on Broadway,” he recalls. “With this show, I got to work with artists who perform in that world at the highest level. It was not so much a television show as a blend of Broadway music, Broadway acting and television. It was fun to collaborate with people who were working at the top of their game.”

The crew drew on an incredible mix of sources in assembling the sound. Timmons notes that to recreate Fosse’s hacking cough (a symptom of his overuse of prescription medicine), they poured through audio stems from the classic 1979 film All That Jazz. “Roy Scheider, who played Bob Fosse’s alter ego in the film, was unable to cough like him, so Bob went into a recording studio and did some of the coughing himself,” Timmons says. “We ended up using those old recordings along with ADR of Sam Rockwell. When Bob’s health starts to go south, some of the coughing you hear is actually him. Maybe I’m superstitious, but for me it helped to capture his identity. I felt like the spirit of Bob Fosse was there on the set.”

A large portion of the post sound effects were created by Alchemy Post Sound. Most notably, Foley artists meticulously reproduced the footsteps of dancers. Foley tap dancing can be heard throughout the series, not only in musical sequences, but also in certain transitions. “Bob Fosse got his start as a tap dancer, so we used tap sounds as a motif,” explains Timmons. “You hear them when we go into and out of flashbacks and interior monologues.”Along with Bloome, Alchemy’s team included Foley artist Joanna Fang, Foley mixers Ryan Collison and Nick Seaman, and Foley assistant Laura Heinzinger.

Ironically, Alchemy had to avoid delivering sounds that were “too perfect.”  Fang points out that scenes depicting musical performances from films were meant to represent the production of those scenes rather than the final product. “We were careful to include natural background sounds that would have been edited out before the film was delivered to theaters,” she explains, adding that those scenes also required Foley to match the dancers’ body motion and costuming. “We spent a lot of time watching old footage of Bob Fosse talking about his work, and how conscious he was not just of the dancers’ footwork, but their shuffling and body language. That’s part of what made his art unique.”

Foley production was unusually collaborative. Alchemy’s team maintained a regular dialogue with the sound editors and were continually exchanging and refining sound elements. “We knew going into the series that we needed to bring out the magic in the dance sequences,” recalls production Foley editor Jonathan Fuhrer. “I spoke with Alchemy every day. I talked with Ryan and Nick about the tonalities we were aiming for and how they would play in the mix. Leslie and Joanna had so many interesting ideas and approaches; I was ceaselessly amazed by the thought they put into performances, props, shoes and surfaces.”

Alchemy also worked hard to achieve realism in creating sounds for non-musical scenes. That included tracking down props to match the series’ different time periods. For a scene set in a film editing room in the 1950s, the crew located a 70-year-old Steenbeck flatbed editor to capture its unique sounds. As musical sequences involved more than tap dancing, the crew assembled a collection of hundreds of pairs of shoes to match the footwear worn by individual performers in specific scenes.

Some sounds undergo subtle changes over the course of the series relative to the passage of time. “Bob Fosse struggled with addictions and he is often seen taking anti-depression medication,” notes Seaman. “In early scenes, we recorded pills in a glass vial, but for scenes in later decades, we switched to plastic.”

Such subtleties add richness to the soundtrack and help cement the character of the era, says Timmons. “Alchemy fulfilled every request we made, no matter how far-fetched,” he recalls. “The number of shoes that they used was incredible. Broadway performers tend to wear shoes with softer soles during rehearsals and shoes with harder soles when they get close to the show. The harder soles are more strenuous. So the Foley team was always careful to choose the right shoes depending on the point in rehearsal depicted in the scene. That’s accuracy.”

The extra effort also resulted in Foley that blended easily with other sound elements, dialogue and music. “I like Alchemy’s work because it has a real, natural and open sound; nothing sounds augmented,” concludes Timmons. “It sounds like the room. It enhances the story even if the audience doesn’t realize it’s there. That’s good Foley.”

Alchemy used Neumann KMR 81 and U 87 mics, Millennia mic pres, Apogee converters, and C24 mixer into Avid Pro Tools.

Capturing Foley for Epix’s Berlin Station

Now in its second season on Epix, the drama series Berlin Station centers on undercover agents, diplomats and whistleblowers inhabiting a shadow world inside the German capital.

Leslie Bloome

Working under the direction of series supervising sound editor Ruy Garcia, Westchester, New York-based Foley studio Alchemy Post Sound is providing Berlin Station with cinematic sound. Practical effects, like the clatter of weapons and clinking glass, are recorded on the facility’s main Foley stage. Certain environmental effects are captured on location at sites whose ambience is like the show’s settings. Interior footsteps, meanwhile, are recorded in the facility’s new “live” room, a 1,300-square-foot space with natural reverb that’s used to replicate the environment of rooms with concrete, linoleum and tile floors.

Garcia wants a soundtrack with a lot of detail and depth of field,” explains lead Foley artist and Alchemy Post founder Leslie Bloome. “So, it’s important to perform sounds in the proper perspective. Our entire team of editors, engineers and Foley artists need to be on point regarding the location and depth of field of sounds we’re recording. Our aim is to make every setting feel like a real place.”

A frequent task for the Foley team is to come up with sounds for high-tech cameras, surveillance equipment and other spy gadgetry. Foley artist Joanna Fang notes that sophisticated wall safes appear in several episodes, each one featuring differing combinations of electronic, latch and door sounds. She adds that in one episode a character has a microchip concealed in his suit jacket and the Foley team needed to invent the muffled crunch the chip makes when the man is frisked. “It’s one of those little ‘non-sounds’ that Foley specializes in,” she says. “Most people take it for granted, but it helps tell the story.”

The team is also called on to create Foley effects associated with specific exterior and interior locations. This can include everything from seedy safe houses and bars to modern office suites and upscale hotel rooms. When possible, Alchemy prefers to record such effects on location at sites closely resembling those pictured on-screen. Bloome says that recording things like creaky wood floors on location results in effects that sound more real. “The natural ambiance allows us to grab the essence of the moment,” he explains, “and keep viewers engaged with the scene.”

Footsteps are another regular Foley task. Fang points out that there is a lot of cat-and-mouse action with one character following another or being pursued, and the patter of footsteps adds to the tension. “The footsteps are kind of tough,” she says. “Many of the characters are either diplomats or spies and they all wear hard soled shoes. It’s hard to build contrast, so we end up creating a hierarchy, dark powerful heels for strong characters, lighter shoes for secondary roles.”

For interior footsteps, large theatrical curtains are used to adjust the ambiance in the live stage to fit the scene. “If it’s an office or a small room in a house, we draw the curtains to cut the room in half; if it’s a hotel lobby, we open them up,” Fang explains. “It’s amazing. We’re not only creating depth and contrast by using different types of shoes and walking surfaces, we’re doing it by adjusting the size of the recording space.”

Alchemy edits their Foley in-house and delivers pre-mixed and synced Foley that can be dropped right into the final mix seamlessly. “The things we’re doing with location Foley and perspective mixing are really cool,” says Foley editor and mixer Nicholas Seaman. “But it also means the responsibility for getting the sound right falls squarely on our shoulders. There is no ‘fix in the mix.’ From our point of view, the Foley should be able to stand on its own. You should be able to watch a scene and understand what’s going on without hearing a single line of dialogue.”

The studio used Neumann U87 and KMR81 microphones, a Millennia mic-pre and Apogee converter, all recorded into Avid Pro Tools on a C24 console. In addition to recording a lot of guns, Alchemy also borrowed a Doomsday prep kit for some of the sounds.

The challenge to deliver sound effects that can stand up to that level of scrutiny keeps the Foley team on its toes. “It’s a fascinating show,” says Fang. “One moment, we’re inside the station with the usual office sounds and in the next edit, we’re in the field in the middle of a machine gun battle. From one episode to the next, we never know what’s going to be thrown at us.”