Sound in Hollywood movies could soon be virtual

Last Updated: Jul 30, 2010, 17:50 PM IST

London: Hollywood`s sound effect artists, who bring films to life with an unlikely range of props, including celery, polystyrene and soap, could be made redundant by a new generation of synthesised sound.

Software engineers are working on a system that would replace the traditional effects of the so-called Foley artists - who have been plying their trade ever since the `talkies` hit the screens - with the omnipresent computer.

The name is derived from Jack Foley, who pioneered the technique for Universal`s first talkie, "Showboat".

A team at the University of North Carolina in the US has succeeded in replicating the sound of water flowing and splashing, said a Telegraph report from the US.

William Moss and Hengchin Yeh of North Carolina University modelled the splashing and gurgling of water by building a `3D grid` of sound, the same technique used in computer generated film graphics.

Moss said: "The physics is pretty easy."

They believe it is just the first step on the road to a whole array of virtual sounds.

But Foley artists believe these will lack the emotion created by people messing around with different physical materials.

While largely ignored by filmgoers - because they are so good - sound effects for a range of activities from fights to love scenes are essential to how convincing the movie is.

Techniques include snapping a stick of celery to simulate breaking bones, a Foley artist sucking his own wrist to add some passion to a kissing scene, and breaking polystyrene for the sound of cracking ice.

Sandy Buchanan, who works for Pinewood Studios in UK, told The Times: "These newer ways of operating can remove a lot of the donkey work from what we do but sound engineering in films is not simply about creating a sound, it is about creating an emotion using sound."

A Foley artist cannot be replaced, he argued, "but he will have to adapt".

What you actually hear in movies:

Breaking bones = snapping celery

Crackling fire = rustling cellophane

Car crash = washing machine filled with cutlery, empty cans, etc

Alien squishing or trudging through swamp = hand soap

Bird wings flapping = pair of gloves flapping

Snow crunching = corn starch squashed in a leather pouch

Hooves clattering = half-coconuts filled with padding

Body being punched = heavy phone book being punched

Gun being shot = heavy staple gun

IANS