Last month we hosted an SAE Extra masterclass with Foley extraordinaire, Pete Burgis. The Q&A event gave the attendees lots of insight into the sound design process for popular blockbusters, AAA videogames and award-winning television series, such as Band of Brothers.
After providing an overview of the artform established by Jack Foley in the 20th century, Pete talked about his own path into the industry, working as a sound recordist to begin with. He started practising Foley in his own time. He said: “It takes so much practice to change your muscle memory. You need to learn how to create a forward-moving sound when you’re in a limited space, so I went to stunt and dance courses.”
Pete added: “It takes a long time to pick up objects, learn what they sound like and what they could substitute for. You need a big sound library in your head.”
Audio graduate Michael Harrison said: “Foley is something I have wanted to do for a very long time so to get an insight from a professional was amazing. I enjoyed hearing him explain how he used to study people's footsteps when he first started learning about Foley.”
Pete then explained how he met Campbell Askew and was offered a role on the Emmy award-winning series, Band of Brothers, which was shot at Shepperton Studios. Pete said: “To get big dynamic sounds you need to physically perform them.”
Then a chance to work on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets turned Pete’s job from being a foley artist to being a film foley artist. He was offered a role as Lead Foley artist at Pinewood Studios, and would go on to work on a film called The Secret World of Foley.
He shared tips and tricks for creating certain sounds, for instance pulling fabric taut to create a heartbeat, or using a sock full of cornflour to sound like snow being crunched underfoot. To differentiate between characters, Pete explained that police uniforms might consist of a sturdy bag made to sound like a bullet-proof vest, whereas an army costume is a more canvas-based material, and you would add a little jingle to make it sound like they are carrying their kitbag. He said: “Most sound effects can be used for different things - for instance, that same rucksack can be used for a school kid. The same props work for lots of different scenarios.”
Other good-to-haves for your Foley bag are costumes - natural fabrics are best but man-made fabrics like Nylon would be used in a more modern film. It’s handy to have watches; smoking paraphernalia; keys and sunglasses; phones and stationery. Don't worry so much about plates/knives/forks as can usually get these things in the studio you are working in. Pete’s top tips are: “Have two sets of everything for variety, think about period and modern, and keep your props to the things that are going to be attached to the actor or that they will pick up.”
Asked about the hardest sounds he has had to create, Pete explained that no sound is hard per se but that there are some that need to be broken down into lots of constituent parts. He said: “A train coming off a train track sounds like a hard sound to record but it’s broken down into small parts.”
For aspiring Foley artists looking to break into the industry, Pete said: “Persistence is the key, practice and study and be nice to everyone you meet. It’s an industry full of egos so when you work with nice people it’s a breath of fresh air.”
What does an aspiring Foley artist need in their Foley bag? Shoes. Lots and lots of shoes. Pete explained how you want to make sure you have at least three sets of period drama shoes, three pairs of modern drama shoes, 3 pairs of hard leather men’s shoes, a couple of pairs of character shoes, a few pairs of trainers, flip flops, slippers. He said stay away from vintage shoes because they create transience. Someone just starting out needs about 10-15 pairs in total, but Pete has 150-200 pairs of shoes, and he selects from them to go with the project he is working on. Sharing an insider secret, he said: “Harry Potter was a great advert for Clarks!”
SAE Athens lecturer George Milioris said: “It was a great moment for me hearing from a top-professional that mimicking the sound of pedestrians is one the best practices to become a foley artist!”
Because he’s so involved with film and TV sound he tends not to use media as his relaxation device. But two shows he would have loved to work on are Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the German Netflix show, Dark. Asked whether there are any sounds where he thought “How did they come up with that?”, Pete said that Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, in which there is a huge battle with lots of characters in outrageous costumes was one. He admitted he did look at that scene and think to himself, “Wow, how did they even begin to approach that?”
While Pete shared lots of tricks of the trade with the attendees in the masterclass, there’s still more to learn about the magical world of Foley. If you’re an aspiring Foley artist then you can learn from the Emmy award-winning Pete Burgis himself with SAE’s four-week intensive short course ‘Foundations of Foley’.
Attendee Blake Collins said: “Pete Burgis has got to be one of the best Foley Artists out there. His passion is contagious. He is an expert in his craft and it's evident in his vast list of credits. Anyone interested in learning about foley should take his course, novice to expert. His breadth of knowledge is unmatched. His teaching style is very well spoken and he genuinely wants you to learn from his experiences. Being a foley mixer myself it is a breath of fresh air to know that they are still Foley Artists like Pete making films. 11/10 for sure!”
Craig Hyland said: “The SAE extra event with Pete Burgis on the art of foley was an extremely well put together event. The web talk from Pete Burgis was extremely insightful and a great starting point for young creative professionals looking to get involved in the art of Foley.”