Years ago, before the technological revolution that bought us computers and synthesisers and digital special effects, filmmaking was a decidedly DIY affair. Editing was done by hand, visual effects required the creation of large-scale practical illusions, and sound effects from the fantastical to the banal required a team of hard-working professionals to bang objects together.
These sound engineers were (and still are) known as ‘foley artists’, in recognition of the original effects creator, Jack Foley, who invented the craft in 1927. And they had to be pretty resourceful when curating sound for film. Need something that sounds like walking through crunchy snow? Try squishing corn starch in a leather bag. The gallop of a horse? Clap together some coconuts. Unlike other aspects of filmmaking, things haven’t actually changed that much for foley artists. When The Lord of the Rings films needed the snarl of an orc, they took a microphone to the ocean to record the squawks of baby elephant seals.
Photos of these old-school sound artists depict respectable-looking men in suits, though they could often be spotted brandishing a shotgun, banging a gong or smashing frozen lettuce – all in a day’s work. Even today, movies would feel a lot different without foley artists (did you catch this trailer of The Mummy, which was accidently released without sound effects?).
If you want to check out the original foley artists in action, MessyNessyChic has a selection of behind-the-scenes photos of the magical world of sound coming to life.