Sound of ‘Passchendaele’ has Ontario roots

It’s thousands of kilometres and 91 years removed from the actual battlefield, but the sounds of “Passchendaele,” the movie, came from small town Ontario.

Andy Malcolm calls himself a “foley artist.” Foley involves examining the raw film footage and using the props and equipment at his Uxbridge studio to reproduce many of the sounds of the film not recorded by the film crews.

“I do all the (sounds of) gun handling, gun loading, all the punching, all the splashing around in the water (here in my studio),” he said.

Malcolm researched the munitions and rifles used in both the film and the actual battle itself, matching his props to what appeared in the footage.

Some of the sounds that Malcom created in his studio using this foley technique can deliver the full effect of a First World War battle.

“(What we did) was to take the sound and kind of make it larger than life,” he said. “So a big part of our job was making body falls larger than life, making stabs, making hits over the head, helmets dropping, blood spatting and bullet impacts.”

Malcolm has worked on such Hollywood films such as “Cloverfield” in his 35 years as a foley artist, but he feels his work with Paul Gross on the post-production sounds of Passchendaele proved unique.

“We have an exterior room (where we made) the mud, gravel and concrete and another interior room with different wood surfaces and tile surfaces,” he said. “For all the mud we used 15 bath towels and just soaked them in water to exaggerate the sound of the mud and to make it hyper-real.”

Malcolm emphasized the use of props in his work. “We have boots for the soldiers, helmets and gear that, whenever they’re moving it rattles and (produces other sounds that we record). We kind of perform our sound in sync with the characters on the screen.”

Malcolm remembered a particularly gruesome sound effect Paul Gross called for in the film.

“When we do the sound of the young soldier getting stabbed in the forehead, we use things like roasting chickens and knife sounds,” he said. “We use (raw) rigatoni to simulate the sounds of (breaking) bones, and we would combine sounds to make one sound … it’s a layering of sounds.”

Malcolm said that a lot of iconic sounds come from the most mundane sources, citing the example of Darth Vader’s “breathing,” which amounted to “Star Wars” sound editor Ben Burtt recording himself wheezing into a scuba tank.

Malcolm goes on to illustrate the importance of his work and that of other foley artists. “(Foley sound effects are part of) a process that not a lot of people (seem) to know about,” he said.

Malcolm added that foley sound effects feature in movies, television shows, and even commercials.

“If it’s done well, it’s transparent,” he said. “If it’s not done well, it sounds like one of those cheesy Chinese kung-fu movies. (I think sound is worth) 50/50 with the pictures, so the sound is just as important as the pictures.”