Sound effects are often the unsung heroes of action movies, drawing the viewer deeper into the moment and creating a more visceral experience. Speaking to Insider, foley artist Shaun Brennan, explained how he came up with the bone-crunching, flesh-thumping, blood-squelching sounds on projects like The Purge: Election Year and Hereditary.
“It depends on what’s going on in a scene, if it’s a quiet moment I try to make it sound as natural as possible,” he says. “But if you’re in a fight and there’s a lot of noise going on, I will go over the top… So when doing punch sounds, I’ll always do a real natural-sounding punch. He demonstrates by punching the open palm of his hand and slapping his arm. Sometimes he’ll “beef it up” by putting on a pair of heavy work gloves to add some extra thud. “With the hand-to-hand stuff, sometimes I’ll go home covered in bruises,” he says.
It turns out, making a punch sound more like a punch than a real punch takes extraordinary creativity. For instance, Brennan has been known to use a piece of flank steak as a substitute for a human cheek when devising a “fleshier” sound effect for face punches.
Other foodstuffs also contribute to a foley artist’s grisly soundscape: cutting into raw chicken and melon can create raw, “fleshy” sounds for stabbing injuries, and stomping on an apple or exploding a watermelon can give you an exploding skull. “Celery’s really good for bone cracks,” Brennan says. “Gives it a nice little crunch… gives it more impact.”
Outside of fistfights, foley artists help bring action scenes to life by simulating the sounds of various weapons. For instance, Brennan will slide a door lock against a rifle for that metallic rattling sound you so often get when a character in an action movie is packing heat. And to achieve the whooshing sound of a sword swinging through the air, foley artists use simple wooden dowels.
“Not very realistic at all, but it sounds great in the film,” says Brennan. “It’s just that human element; you’ve heard that before, say if a baseball flies past you or something.”