Experimenting With Foley Footsteps for Audio Drama

I’m sound designing for a science fiction audio drama that is currently under production. I’ve found that I prefer making my own sound effects for things like footsteps and clothing rustles. I feel I have more control by performing movements rather than trying to stitch things like single footsteps together from a large library. But to do that kind of recording, I needed to have a reliable home setup to limit the amount of time I was wasting hunting for a perfect location at a perfect time. My floors all creak (not what you want for a spaceship!) so my best hope was to be able to gather the materials I’d need to record inside of my homemade audio booth. So I went to my local hardware store and spent about $25 on a bunch of materials.

Set of surfaces.
Materials:
A 10″ x 24″ wooden shelf ($4.50)

A 2′ x 2′ DRIcore panel ($6)

A 18″ x 18″ Porcelain Tile ($5)

A 12″ x 12″ red stone ($2)

Two 6″ x 12″ white stones ($4)

Two 10.5″ x 7″ grey stones ($4)

 

For recording, I used 3 different microphones and a Zoom H6 recorder.

Zoom H6 with SSH-6 Shotgun mic attachment
Blue Bluebird Large Diaphragm Condenser (placed near the ground)
A Rode NT1 at chest height, pointed downward.

I decided to keep the Foley itself simple. I grabbed an old pair of sneakers and didn’t vary my footware for this test.

I don’t throw out old shoes anymore.

Before sharing the sounds, I have a few notes. First, I’m sure I didn’t have optimal clothing. I tried to limit my rustling with limited success. I also had some concern about the substrate pressing down into the plush carpet making added noise (though this could have been my shoes I was hearing) , and as you’ll see I did each substrate in two ways: sitting on the carpet or with the long wooden shelf underneath to distribute the weight.

Adding a wood layer between.

Ok, enough setup. Here are the sound samples. Note that you might need to listen on good headphones to hear everything. I’ll start with the red stone on the carpet.

Shutgun, chest high:

Rode NT1, chest high:

Blue Bluebird, on the ground:

Then the red stone on the wood shelf:

Shotgun:

Nt1:

Bluebird:

Next up, the Gray stone:

Foot sized!

Shotgun:

NT1:

Bluebird:

Then with the wood shelf underneath:

Abstract art?

Shotgun:

NT1:

Bluebird:

Here’s the ‘white’ stone:

Also foot sized!

Shotgun:

NT1:

Bluebird:

Then with the wood layer added:

Almost done with the stone!

Shotgun:

NT1:

Bluebird:

Ok, that’s it for the stone surfaces. Next up is the porcelain tile.

A larger surface to step all over.

Shotgun:

NT1:

Bluebird:

And then the tile on the wood shelf:

I was a bit worried I might break it.

Shotgun:

NT1:

Bluebird:

I used both sides of the DRIcore panel. This thing is meant for basement flooring (to help keep out moisture), but to me it’s two perfectly sized surfaces!  I started with the wood side:

Please ignore the extra microphones. I actually used more in the test but the dynamic mic was set too quiet to be useful and the small condenser might be broken.

Shotgun:

NT1:

Bluebird:

And the plastic side:

A rough surface!

Shotgun:

NT1:

Bluebird:

And finally, the plastic side and the wood shelf between:

The wood shelf is hiding.

Shotgun:

NT1:

Bluebird:

Whew! Ok, those were not exciting SFX I know. But here are the takeaways I got from doing this:

  1. A mic on the ground isn’t a good thing. It gets way more shoe noises and sounds distinctly different! Up close might seem like a good idea to maximize signal to noise, but the sound itself changes.
  2. The shotgun and the NT1 (both chest high) sounded very similar inside the booth. I was happy with both.
  3. Roughly foot-sized stones sound a lot better with a solid piece of wood under them rather than sitting directly on carpet. So did the large square of plastic already attached to a wood base, surprisingly.

This isn’t a complete Foley set, of course. I need to make a pit out of some containers and fill them with sand, gravel, faux grass, and anything else I can think of. But since I don’t have a bunch of outdoor scenes to work on right now, I wanted to grab a few surfaces to try out. I want to find some metal surfaces as well but I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for suitable options.

Things I need to think about:

  1. How can I cut down the clothing noises?
  2. What other surfaces could I add?
  3. How many scenes could I have finished in the time it took me to write this blog post?

I hope some audio drama folks find this useful. I could have gone on a long tangent about how audio drama Foley differs from movie Foley. Or I could have ranted about original sound design vs libraries. But I think this post is long enough. If anyone has any specific questions maybe I could do a follow up post. If anyone has any answers or advice, feel free to contact me.