How they make animal sounds for the movies

August 11, 2023 • 11:30 am

Here’s a filler post as I’ll soon be boarding for Miami, and have little to say except to express sorrow for the wildfires on Maui, whose latest toll is at least 55 lives, as well as a ton of property destroyed.

Here’s a video showing how they make animal noises for the movies (you didn’t think the animals made them, did you?).

The YouTube notes:

Foley artists use objects to create sounds based on a character’s movements and interactions in movies and TV shows. Sometimes, they will find themselves making sounds for animals. Marko Costanzo is a veteran Foley artist for c5 Sound, Inc. He has who worked on movies like “Ice Age,” “Life of Pi,” and “True Grit.” Costanzo explained how complicated it was to make the sounds of a dragonfly flapping its wings in “Men in Black,” and how he captured the footsteps of a dog at different ages in “Marley & Me.” Then, we showed him an animal clip he has never seen before and had him come up with the proper sounds on the spot.

15 thoughts on “How they make animal sounds for the movies

  1. Interesting. There are also the sounds created for dinosaurs and fictional monsters. There, the sound effects people will need to make something up, and I think blend in sounds from different animals.

  2. I once got a cook’s tour of Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas’ recording studio outside of San Rafael, California. The Foley studio was great — a big toy room. There was an entire car (for all the sounds a car can make), a whole wall of different kinds of shoes, every household item you can imagine, and on and on. There were half a dozen floor surfaces — hardwood, stone, steel deck plate, etc.

    In my own work (recording classical music), once in a while we have to come up with a sound effect — it’s fun, but it takes way too much time to get it right! I could tell you about the baroque opera where we somehow had to evoke the gates of hell opening.

        1. Okay, by popular demand…

          I was the engineer for a recording of the Rappresentatione di anima et di corpo, composed by Emilio de’Cavalieri and premiered in Rome in 1600. This is a musical, dramatic, dialog between two allegorical characters — Soul (a soprano), and Body (a baritone), performed by the estimable Judith Nelson and Paul Hillier, respectively, joined by a group of singers portraying various characters like Counsel, Intellect, Guardian Angel, and others, along with the excellent baroque orchestra Magnificat directed by Warren Stewart. Some say this was the very first opera, others say it was the last piece of music written before the invention of opera. This is the sort of thing musicologists argue about.

          There’s a scene where “Blessèd Spirits” in Heaven, and “Damned Spirits” in Hell, are each consulted about their respective conditions. “Order, eternal order of the highest good” say the Blessèd. “Eternal death, entombment in sadness, bitterness, pain and harshness” is what it’s like in Hell.

          So for the staged performance, doors were flung open to reveal each group, with suitable lighting effects. But how to make this come across only in sound? We tried all the doors in the church where we were making the recording — the magnificent chapel of St. Vincent’s School for Boys (an orphanage in northern California founded in 1855). We tried a lot of stuff. I wanted something that sounded big and scary. What we eventually came up with:

          We pulled up a couple of big flagstones from the church garden and dragged one over the other in the reverberant church acoustics. To add resonance, we placed them on the big plywood packing case for the portable pipe organ we were using. Then I took the recording home and ran it through a digital pitch shifter, doubling it an octave down, and added a bunch of artificial reverberation. So, yeah, big and scary!

          I thought it was pretty effective. However, the notoriously churlish classical music reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle said it sounded like “defective plumbing”! Hey, I’ve heard plenty of defective plumbing and it never sounded like that!

          1. Sounds like you plumbed the gates of Hell pretty well, never mind the Chronicle reviewer. And thanks for the musicological back story on the piece, too.

    1. It’s unfortunate, but it can be hard to get good sound with good photography, given that they might require different equipment for quality recording. Sometimes I try to lessen my annoyance with what seem like unnatural sounds — or by sounds that seem unlikely to be real — by trying to imagine how the sound was made or how it was synced with the imagery. Or I try to ignore the fakery.

    2. Indeed, most annoying are the scary sound effects for insects.

      But there is much more trickery involved. Take the famous David Attenborough documentaries: Most animal biographies in these films are inventions. Footage has shot in aquariums and zoos, “animal actors” have been used (you can rent lions and other animals just for film productions) and some of the wildlife was even created with CGI!

  3. I’m a Sound Effects Editor/designer for film and TV.

    Foley artists are brilliant and creative. They blow me away.

    Though it is interesting how, to the extent the public is aware of how sound effects are created at all, it is the Foley artist everyone thinks of. Every time I ever mention to someone what I do, they immediately assume “oh, you do all those footsteps and fighting sounds looking at the screen, right?”


    Much of the sound people assume foley does, we sound editors are supplying. I may deliver up to 60 tracks or more worth of sound for a movie – background layers of sound, “specifics” like bone crunches/breaks, gore for horror films, car chases/crashes, fight hits, guns of course, monsters…all the doors, and tons of stuff people would never imagine wasn’t recorded in the image they are watching.

    Our job and foley often overlaps. I’ll do fight hits, so will foley, and often they will be combined on the mixing stage. I’ll do horse hooves too, and foley might as well, and they might be combined, or whichever seems to work best will be chosen. If it’s a monster I’ll likely be doing the big footsteps too, as will foley. Though our jobs do overlap, for many projects because time is tight we’ll usually communicate, so “Ok, are you going to cover the footsteps here? I should I? Can you cover X sound because I don’t have something good and handy to cover it.” Etc.

    Watching me edit would be fairly boring though. Just sitting at a computer (unless I’m recording sound). But watching Foley guys, and I’ve been able to watch some of the best, is always fun, and sometimes mind-blowing how good they are!

  4. I’m often amused by fashions in bird calls in movies and the odd TV program I see on the internet. Based on these experiences, I have the impression that loons exist everywhere, all African jungles are full of kookaburras and England has no birds except noisy magpies laughing at everything. Once you notice this, it becomes intrusive but funny.
    There are popular sound effects too, and I hope they earn someone money for recording and marketing them. I keep hearing a track of machinery noise that I first heard in Bungie’s original Marathon game, and when it turns up somewhere else it’s a bit disorientating.
    PS “Foley” has rather more uncomfortable connotations for me, especially when I had to use an introducer…

    1. Oh believe me, I’m constantly hearing sound effects – e.g. doors, dogs, baby crying etc – that I’m familiar with in movies and TV shows. There are certain classic library sounds that most of us are familiar with that just work damn well, but I (and other editors) try to refrain from using. Because just from a professional standpoint it feels pretty cringy if other editors hears you used that sound 🙂

  5. There was an interesting documentary about a half dozer years ago regarding Foley artists, Actors of Sound (see trailer below). Given how digital tech has taken over so much of the filmmaking process, Foley is something of a vanishing art, though there are, thank goodness, some stubborn holdouts.

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