Andrew Lackey Special: Foley Sessions for Games

by Miguel Isaza, December 11, 2009

Andrew Lackey has a lot of experience with foley. Let’s check this article from Wabi Sabi Sound (Andrew’s company) about the approach of foley sessions in game audio production:

A foley recording session can be a great way to get tons of unique material for your game. However many colleagues complain to me that their sessions were a bust. Their sessions didn’t go well and the material didn’t measure up to expectations.

Foley stages are geared towards the film aesthetics of realism and detail. Games by comparison are much crunchier, edgier and over the top. Even the most action packed film is orders of magnitude less dense and over-compressed. Foley artists and mixers are a very talented bunch, but their ears and sensibilities are tuned to the film aesthetic and process. Working within their paradigm is the key utilizing their talent and getting great stuff at your next session.

Be there

A foley stage is a living organism it needs to be fed to get the best results. An orchestra needs a conductor in addition to the sheet music. You’ve probably been eating and breathing your project for months…chances are you are going for something…you may not even realized it yourself…but you are. You need glass breaking? There’s a million ways to do glass…plate, safty, tempered, pane, bottles, booming or screeching? Be part of the process and your results will closer match your expectations.

Bring a movie

Whenever possible…give the foley stage a movie to work from. Asset lists are a very very worst case scenario. Foley artists and mixers really need to see the context of what you’re going for in order to feel the right mood when selecting props and creating the sense of size and space with mic placement and performance. Do vid cap of your game…if you need 25 grenade bounces….do a vid cap with 25 grenade bounces.

Make Cuesheets

A Cuesheet is a very basic concept. Put the video into your DAW. Align your video to 1:00:00:00 and note on a spreadsheet the frame where the grenade bounce first starts.

Grenade Bounce 1 1:00:01:13
Grenade Bounce 2 1:00:05:24

Bring the list to the session and insturct them to use 1 hour as the start time in their system. This will speed up your session immensely.

Embrace Layering

Foley artists and mixers are all about layering. Going off a video and creating cuesheets allows them to layer sounds together and give you the ability to tweak later. So track 1 at 1:00:01:13 you could have the metallic object bouncing. Track two is a boomy sweetner. Track 3 is a grit sweetner….and on and on. Play them all back and see if you satisfied.

Allow Experimenting

Finding the right sound may take a while. It may take absolutely no time at all.
I usually go into a session with 2 stacks of cuesheets. The stuff I HAVE to get. And, the stuff I’d LIKE to get. I almost always get both lists done, but I’m never pushing the artists to go faster. They’re doing pretty exhausting stuff. It also helps if you scope your sessions from the outset. That way they can pace themselves appropriately.

Turn down the volume

The monitoring level on Film and Foley Stages is usually 85 dB spl. Games are monitored much lower than that. Therefore sounds generally need to be mush beefier to read correctly. Ask the foley mixer if you can turn the monitoring down about 10dB.

Bring in a point of reference.

If you’ve done video capture, make sure the audio was captured as well. An artist and mixer will make adjustments based on what they hear. If your ambiences are super dense, then going drier is the way to go with your grenade bounce. If your ambiences are sparse…maybe a more diffuse mic position is a better choice.

Post is necessary.

Foley absolutely must be post processed. This is no slight on the foley stage whatsoever. In film, foley gets mixed into predubs where its panned, eq’d, reverbed and compressed. The foley you get from the foley stage will also need a fair bit of processing. Compression/Limiting and all out distortion in some cases. I often find I need to layer other sound effects with foley. This is ok too…again…that’s what happens in film when predubs are mixed into the final.

I approach foley the same way I do sound design…and ultimately its just a different approach to the same end.

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