Foley Moley

Courtesy of the Big Giant Heads, here’s another extract from Schoolgirl Milky Crisis; an article that originally appeared in Newtype USA back in 2005.

Foley Moley
Hanging with the Sound Effects Guys

There was something distinctly odd about Goro. From the waist up, he was clad in the polo shirt-sleeves that are the unofficial uniform of Japanese animation, casual-but-not-casual. But he stood in the studio lobby wearing bizarre Hawaiian shorts, his bare feet and calves spattered with grayish mud. He also wore a manic grin, and carried, rather unsettlingly, a large mallet.

“Come on,” he said, “we’re doing the battle in the swamp.”

The studio making Schoolgirl Milky Crisis was spread out over several buildings in a Tokyo suburb. I’d rung three doorbells just to find the particular “annex” where Goro worked, a garage by a townhouse, across the road from the third-floor apartment that was the official business address. Goro was in the garage itself, the walls covered with egg boxes to deaden the sound, the door obscured behind curtains of heavy polythene. Goro’s colleague Toji was watching TV while standing in a low bath ankle-deep in mud. A washing line hung above his head, from which was suspended a solitary lime-green rubber glove, which, I would later discover, was filled with week-old custard.

We watched in silence as he went for the next take, sloshing his feet in time with the silent movements of the anime girl on screen. She waded through mud, but Toji supplied the sound, every trip and slide and scrape, until the red Recording light went off. There was total quiet for a perfectly timed two-second lead-out, and then there was a crackle from the overhead speaker.

“OK!” burbled a happy voice in Japanese. “You must be tired.” It was the default way of thanking a performer for a take well done, and Toji was off the hook.

The battle scene was next up for us, although the animators hadn’t finished it. Instead, an animated storyboard, mystifyingly referred to by the Japanese as a Leica reel, rolled across the screen in front of us, complete with swinging swords, axes clashing on shields, spears burying themselves in yielding flesh.
Goro and I were sent out to a large refrigerator in the studio kitchen, containing a half-drunk bottle of Calpis, some day-old noodles, and a dozen cabbages.

“Just crisp enough,” said Goro appreciatively, snatching the cabbages and passing them to me. When he saw me staring at him as if he’d gone mad, he grabbed a meat cleaver, placed a cabbage on the kitchen worktop, and stabbed down into it.

It made a satisfactory THAKK noise.

What? You thought they just got their sound effects from a CD? Sometimes, maybe, on the OAVs and the kiddie shows, but anime fans are too obsessive. They spot repeated sound effects. If you want quality original audio in your anime, you’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way, recording new sound effects one at a time. Goro and Toji, and people like them, pride themselves on their work — particularly when they get to play with guns. But the hand-to-hand combat can be just as much fun.

My initiation into the world of anime foley was almost complete. Next time, that could be me you hear smashing a cabbage with a mallet, or stabbing it with a kitchen knife. But they won’t be my feet you hear trudging through a swamp — I left that to the professionals.

I thought I had got clean away, but they made me do at least one demonic SQUELCH. They said that everyone had to try the custard glove at least once.

2 thoughts on “Foley Moley

  1. Heavens, first playing with pterodactyls, then wearing custard gloves! You must love your life…

    Re ‘lecia reels,’ it was a term used by Disney (and maybe other Hollywood toon studios) in the late ’30s and early ’40s to refer to film strips made up of photos of story sketches. They were named after a German camera. The closest equivalent today would be the animatic.

  2. It has reached the stage where when something desperately awful happens to me, my first thought is no longer OH NOES, but “Here comes another column.”

    I knew about the camera connection, which is why I have always spelled it “Leica” instead of the baffled transliteration of “Raika” used by some early authors on anime. Didn’t know that the term had come into Japan through Disney, though. I had assumed that like Hotchkiss, which still means “stapler” in Japanese, a brand had become associated with a product of that brand.

    Yes, the correct modern term is “animatics” — the term crops up again on page 57 of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, where I actually translate it properly.

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