How to Record Footsteps with your DIY Foley Pit
Ever wondered how to record footsteps at your home studio? Then you’ve come to the right place. Many film enthusiasts often struggle to get quality audio and quality sound for their projects because of the budget. Foley, in particular, is one of those stages of audio post-production that traditionally demands a lot of financial resources.
But what if there was a way to build your own Foley pit for recording footsteps sound effects? Thankfully, there is. This is something that requires no big appliances or tools or extensive sound post-production experience, as all the parts can be either found around the house or purchased online, and the whole environment can be assembled between 30 to 60 minutes.
How to set a DIY Foley Pit
If your next short film needs footsteps sounds and you’re on a budget, you can create your own sounds at your own home studio. Many filmmakers choose to record footsteps on location, and once the shooting is wrapped the sound team goes back to the location on another day with a copy of the edit and sets up the microphones, watches the scenes, and mimics the movement of the actors.
However, this doesn’t always work, as many outdoor locations are really noisy for recording footsteps. If your location is noisy, loud, or even inaccessible, then this is where a Foley recording studio comes in.
If you’re a filmmaking enthusiast, chances are you don’t have access to a big-budget, however, with the help of several easy-to-find objects, you can build your own, and most importantly cheap, Foley pit. You will want it to be easy to assemble and easy to clean, which is why we’ve chosen the following approach to build your own, putting aside the sometimes required building experience and heavy tools.
The first thing you need is a quiet room: a clothing closet, a bedroom, or a small room with a carpeted floor will definitely work best. Carpets are really important because they absorb sound and we want the footsteps sound recordings to sound as dry and clean as possible. You can find what room will work best by standing right in it and clapping. You’ll notice that a room with a carpet and furniture will absorb more sound than, for example, a big staircase exit.
There are several mobile apps that also will help you determine how much echo a room produces. RT by AppAcoustiC helps you get a solid idea of how ideal a room is for Foley and other types of at-home recordings. You simply place the phone on the ground, hit start, give a strong clap, wait a moment, and then hit stop. The readings are not 100% accurate but are good enough to be your starting point. Try different rooms at your home studio or your house and see which one works best for your DIY Foley pit.
The next thing you need to do is acoustically treat your room, and although it sounds fancy and even complicated, in reality, it doesn’t have to be. Start by switching off all electronic devices: TVs, computers, speakers, basically anything that might hum or create a buzz during your recording.
Then go grab your curtains, cushions, towels, blankets, and find a way to hang them up in the room, covering your walls, doors, and windows. Essentially, everything with a flat surface will reflect sound and that’s what you certainly want to avoid. Make sure you cover all flat surfaces with the aforementioned materials (even a pile of clothes will do).
To build the pit itself you can start off by grabbing a gardening tray, hopefully, a squared one (70 cm x 70 cm is more than enough) large enough for footsteps, and deep enough so that it won’t cause any unwanted reverb and so that it can contain messy materials. Aim for one made of plastic so that it is waterproof and easy to clean. Try adding dirt, leaves, small tree branches, gravel until the sound matches the moving images.
The first thing you want to do is identify the sound source and its properties by looking at the edit or the initial recording of the moving images. By studying the scene you can determine the type of materials you will require for your DIY Foley pit: the foundation of the soil, the additional elements, and the type of footwear.
Once you’ve determined this, make sure to also wear light clothing so that the additional sounds created by the rubbing are not recorded by your microphone. Sweatpants or really tight jeans usually do the trick. Aim for something not too loose as it might flap around and create some unwanted noises. Get rid of your watch and jewelry too.
As for the microphone, if you place it far away from your Foley pit, you might lose plenty of detail and pick up a lot of the acoustics of the room instead. And if it’s too close you risk kicking the mic during what could be a good recording or end up capturing more toe than the heel, so play a bit with the distance and try different setups until you’re satisfied with the end result.