10 observations about creating ‘foley’ in post production. Monty Python: King Arthur vs The Black Knight

This classic piece of cinema comedy gave us plenty to work with in terms of foley and dialogue. The process of creating and recording everything that needed to be done almost took an entire 6 hour block of scheduled class time. The process of creating, recording and editing sounds to match the on screen action, proved to be a ‘worthy adversary’ for those seeking to enhance their ‘battle skills’ in sound replacement.

First Steps In Sound Replacement

We were instructed by our post production lecturer Nick Metcalfe, via e-mail to:

  • Watch an infamous scene from the Monty Python film – The Holy Grail. The title of the scene is called: The Black Knight
  • Complete a sound assets list that had been provided to us,
  • Read the transcript of the scene that had also been provided to us.

Listening, identifying & naming sounds

The plan was to use the sound asset document to determine:

  • what time mark needed a sound asset
  • Identify the sound type
  • Locate a reference sound / URL that could be used to create a sound asset
  • Determine what materials that could be used to create the sound
  • Name the sound asset

I completed as much as I could of the activity before entering the C24 post production studio the following day with our lecturer Nick and the rest of class.

Observation #1

The process of adding sound to film is very detailed and very time consuming.

I would have spent 2 hours completing the activity but only covered about 1:30 of actual film time. The entire segment provided to us was 4:17

 

Observation #2

The amount of sounds necessary to complete even 1 minute scene can be considerable.

This included a soundtrack that was audible whenever the main character, King Arthur and his squire Patsy, were seen on screen before their encounter with the Black Knight who was, simultaneously fighting with another knight who probably wanted to cross the small bridge he was guarding.

I researched soundtrack music that might be an appropriate replacement for the ‘native’ soundtrack and decided on: imperial Roman trumpet music taken from the movie: Ben Hur. As rewarding as this felt to locate something on-line, it proved to be an unnecessary, time consuming exercise which, brings me to observation #3.

Monty Python Asset List (1)
Click to enlarge in separate tab

Observation #3

There are a lot of free resources available for sound replacement projects.

I spent a lot of time locating sound assets on-line and was rewarded with discovering that tThe reality for our project was that we didn’t need to use anything that I had found on-line because we created all the necessary foley, in the SAE C24 post production studio.

My on-line research will no doubt come in handy when completing my own group project which is a sound replacement for an animated horror, short film. Click here to be taken to the project plan and links to the animated film on-line. 

Once we were in the C24 post production studio and after we were given our induction training in studio operation, it was time to create some noise. We did actually create various noises using the foley room which has removable floor tiles that contain things such as: dirt / rocks / rocks & dirt together / old celluloid film scraps / concrete. Numerous other materials were also available to use to re-create sounds that matched the on-screen action.

Observaton #4

Creating foley sound is not a straightforward process.

The first foley to be created on the day was the sound of King Arthur pretending to ride a horse through the forest while his squire Patsy, walks along behind him hitting coconut shells together in a rhythmic manner to emulate the sound of horses hooves trotting along.

The interesting thing about her first attempt was that while our volunteer was making the correct sounds which were roughly in time with the movements of King Arthur, the rhythm wasn’t correct. King Arthur is seen pretending to ride a horse; remember this is a Monty Python film, so the re-created sounds needed to match the skipping movements of the character on-screen.

The other thing that needed to be done was to match the heavy plodding sounds of King Arthur’s squire Patsy, who was trudging along behind him, carrying a large mediaeval ‘back pack’. Two separate tracks needed to be recorded in order to emulate both people and the different sounds in the scene. Both sounds were then mixed together to complete that segment.

Observation #5

Different sounds tell different stories.

There were various examples regarding this observation.

Footsteps

In the scene where the Black Knight is fighting another knight. The fight ends after the other knight charges at the Black Knight who hurls his sword expertly into the visor of his opponents helmet.

When it came to re-create this scene, simply footsteps weren’t enough. The footsteps had to be created by a heavy person and created in a manner that suggested a surging movement forward, not someone in a foley room stamping their feet.

The sound of battle

One memorable example was where the a battle sound needed to be re-created with the butt of a sword hitting the top of a knight’s helmet. The people chosen to create this sound were hitting an old cymbal, which was being firmly held on both sides to stop a long decay, with a plastic bottle to create the noise. The sound produced wasn’t really appropriate until the plastic bottle was exchanged for a metal rod and then the sound produced was far more appropriate.

The sound of swords being swung at each was given dramatic emphasis by using a coat hanger, also swung through the air but in a whipping motion. The effect was dramatic and created a sense of urgency in the battle scene

Observation #6

It’s important to be very familiar with the video footage for both foley artist and DAW operator.

that needs sound to be synced to it. Additionally, it’s important for the DAW operator to preview the section where foley needs to be created, create appropriate markers within pro tools and then coach the foley artist on what is required, when the sound is required and how it might best be achieved.

One memorable example was when a group were given the task of creating metallic impact sounds, to emulate the sounds of sword on sword. In the scene where the Black Knight and his opponent are fighting, there are numerous spots where the sound of one metal sword meeting another needed to be re-created.

The people chosen to create these sounds didn’t appear to be very familiar with the on-screen action and were constantly missing their cues. While it is possible to edit virtually anything in modern recording software, the sound created by a person that is hesitant in creating it, probably won’t match the scene being played out on screen.

Observation #7

The use of markers in pro tools is important in foley creation

In the example above, the people creating the foley could have been assisted by previewing the scenes with the aid of markers.

I noticed that when it was my turn to be the DAW operator, I started to use markers to cue the various points where foley creation was needed. The interesting thing that I learned is that by moving the marker to the correct point, also ‘scrubs’ the video playback. This means that in the example where a sword butt was used to strike someone’s helmet, I was able to show the people creating the foley, exactly where the impact point was by moving the marker by very small increments which placed the marker exactly where it needed to be but also gave the foley artist a chance to see the action in slow motion and get an accurate ‘take’ in less time.

Observation #8

Dialogue should not only be consistent with the expression on the actors face. 

An example for this is when a student was asked to read dialogue from the scene where King Arthur seeking to enlist the services of The Black Knight, at Camelot Castle. The scene in question is taken from a comedy and the actor Graham Chapman was deliberately exaggerating both his voice and facial expressions.

It’s necessary for the dialogue actor to speak in sync’ with the on-screen actor, but in this instance, the quality of the speaking voice wasn’t consistent with the exaggerated facial expression of the actor. To a certain extent, the foley artist / actor needs to bring the script to life, not just read in time with the actor on-screen.

Observation # 9

Microphone placement mixing level need to correctly re-enact certain sounds

The battle scene between the two knights required a lot of grunting, groaning and exertion sounds that would be consistent with two people trying to kill each other in pitched battle.

What was required was for two people to be in close proximity, re-enacting the battle and creating the battle sounds while watching the TV monitor in the foley room in order to correctly cue our delivery.

The solution was to select a figure 8 pattern on the AKG 414 condenser microphone, then both ‘actors’ stood either side of the microphone, turned sideways to watch the action unfold and create the right ambience.

Observation #10

No sound asset list was used in creating sounds which, can lead to confusion and an inefficient workflow in the studio. In retrospect, it would have been prudent for class members, not actively involved in the creation of foley, to fully itemise all the sounds necessary for the 4 min segment and then categorise them for whichever production team was currently operating the DAW or creating foley sounds. Sometimes, too much time was spent trying to locate sections in the scene which needed foley sounds to be created and preparing foley artists / actors to be ready for their moment.

 

 

 

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