Imagine watching a horror movie on mute. Would you feel the tension? Would it scare you? Probably not. The squeaking of a door, or footsteps in an empty corridor of an abandoned building, or a gust of wind, or any other situational sounds cumulatively make that horror film an entertainingly scary experience. That’s exactly the foley artist’s job. Education Post’s Tanay Kumar spoke to Indian cinema’s renowned foley artist Karan Arjun Singh, who has worked on blockbuster movies like Krrish 3, Jab We Met and Baahubali, to understand the study of sound technicality and sound engineering.
From a commerce student to an accomplished foley artist in the movies… how did that happen?
When I was 16, I was already working as a sound recording artist, which is why I didn’t continue my formal education. I had got admission and I was doing my graduation, but unfortunately those days, students hardly attended classes and attendance was not compulsory. Eventually, I dropped out and put all my focus on the art of sound.
In 1967, my father got a job in the security department of B.R. Films, the famous production house of B.R. Chopra. My father has literally seen the transformation of Mumbai and its film industry. I remember that we used to see the beaches directly from the office of B.R. Films. In 1971, B.R. Chopra sahib had made new sound studios, and staff quarters for the employees and workers of the production house and we used to live in one of them.
Getting skilled workforce in those days was very rare, and it was even rarer in the film industry. So, Chopra sahib gave all the necessary facilities to their employees. So, Chopra sahib had started a sound and foley studio. One day, I accidently entered the foley studio and saw Prahlad Salvi making all the sounds recording for the Sunny Deol starrer movie Arjun in 1985. And trust me, I was astonished to see him all alone creating all these sounds for the movie, whether it was footsteps, or the sound of opening a bottle or door lock.
That’s when I decided that I would one day become a foley artist.
How did your parents react when you told them about your intention of joining the Indian film industry?
I write my full name, with my father’s name, Arjun Singh. You would be surprised to know that I flunked the seventh standard and my father got a bit worried that what I would do with my life. So, my father took me to then chief engineer at the studio, B.N. Tiwari, who is currently the president of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) and Western India Motion Picture TV Sound Engineers Association (WIMPTSEA). My father asked him to teach me some technical work. He taught me the work of sound and recording. In fact, not only recording, but he also taught me work of projections, recorders, and almost every possible art of sound and foley.
I got myself trained enough in the area of sound and foley at the age of 12. I kept on thinking about studio sound and creating the different sounds that are being portrayed on screen. I used to spend a whole day at studio. So, I would in fact thank my father for guiding me to a teacher like B.N. Tiwari.
Which was the most challenging film for you as a foley recordist and how do you see sound and foley of Indian film industry as compared to other film industries around the world?
Krrish 3 was the most challenging film for me and my entire team. I don’t think that I have ever done as much foley as we have for Krrish 3 as it was a science fiction film. All the visuals, and all other technical bits were made right here in India. For the action sequences of Krrish 3, we recorded the sound at Yash Raj Studio as we needed a bigger studio.
We made our studio in the multiple of 10*16 feet. A studio for sound and foley can’t work if it is built in the area that has multiple of 10*20, as it would sabotage the recording and sound effects. So, it involves a particular science. We recorded the sound and foley of Dangal at my studio. In fact, we had called wrestlers and got them engaged in a kind of dummy fight. The thump sound of a wrestler falling on the wrestling mat, as it was shown in the movie also.
In the context of sound and foley designing in the Indian film industry, I can say it with full conviction that the Indian film industry is at par with Hollywood. In fact, in some films, I am totally sure that sound engineering and foley in particular, have gone even beyond Hollywood.
People learn sound designing, sound art, foley and other similar skills, majorly by working at studios, and we can count on fingers the names of the institutes that provide proper education for it. What do you think of the current situation? Also, does it take a big investment to make foley or sound designing a proper course?
Not at all. It doesn’t require any enormous investment. It just needs a legendary foley and sound artist who is really willing to transfer this phenomenal art to the next generation so that it keeps on evolving and thriving. Further, it surely needs a studio, as you can’t entertain the noise of the traffic or surroundings to enter in your film or whatever project you are working on.
Second, if all the necessary equipment, instruments, sound console, microphones that can catch smallest sound like rubbing of clothes, they all only add good things to its study. For your readers, a sound console is that big recording machine, with lots of buttons and volume control. So, if a lab is equipped with even a moderate level of technological equipment, it will let the students practice sound technicality.
If one wants to become a sound and foley artist, what are the knack and skills one must possess?
Learning foley art is quite different from a sound artist. If one does graduation in sound engineering, it surely ticks all the necessary and complete forms and different variety of sounds. This course will also train a student from the beginning of sound creation till post production.
I personally suggest students and entrants of foley should study sound, observe sounds in every possible thing, even in your day-to-day activities. I wish more students were enthusiastic about foley as
they are for sound designing and mixing. In fact, I am in the process of designing a proper academic study of foley, along with a proper syllabus and its practice.
Further, you must think from an actor’s viewpoint, their mood of walking or action sequence and all the work, then only one can create the sounds in context of the scenes. Footsteps are one of the indispensable foley sounds in the film industry. So, a foley artist also must have a fit body, because then one can put on some weight to create the footstep sound of any heavy person, like any villain.
It took me almost 500 hours to create foley sounds for Dangal and the same duration for Krrish 3 also, while usually it takes around 100 hours. Thanks to the advent of OTT that now, good and creative films are really getting appreciated. So, if a student is really passionate about foley and sound, they will surely get a number of wonderful opportunities in the future.
Including every sector, digitization has given lots of advantages to sound and sound designing. In the future, would digitization and artificial intelligence pose some challenges for the sound designing profession?
When it comes to foley, in my own views, it doesn’t seem to me that digitization can ever create any foley sound. Surely, for ad films, it is possible that digitization can create some sounds by some software or other digital ways, and even those ad films that are maximum of one-minute duration. Further, it only poses challenges in those films that have good location tracks.
For foley and sound artists and when it comes to the film, a proper foley and sound designing by humans is necessary, that’s what my belief is.
If a film is made on your life, which actor do you envision playing your character?
A Bengali film was made, based on a foley artist, named Shabdo. On a funny note, if a film is being made on me, wouldn’t I be willing to play the character of myself! Though any actor could portray the life of a foley artist, but it doesn’t seem to me that there would be any film on any sound artist or foley artist, unless I myself make it.