By Ian Williams
From the outside it looks like any other large farm shed you might stumble across in remote South Australia. But this is no ordinary shed.
Inside huge dragons are flapping mighty wings, giant apes are climbing skyscrapers and people are walking through dazzling palaces. At least that’s what it sounds like.
The shed, just outside of Quorn on the edge of the Flinders Ranges, sits over a high-tech, sound-proofed studio – the workplace of John Simpson, one of Australia’s most successful foley artists.
From this unlikely location John is working with major Hollywood studios and television producers, helping making sure their productions sound real. Skywalker Sound, started by George Lucas of Star Wars fame, is among his major clients.
Using a fascinating array of common household items as tools, John’s company FeetnFrames has overlaid sounds for blockbusters such as Happy Feet, King Kong, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, The Hobbit and Stephen Spielberg’s Tin Tin.
Current projects include Disney’s remake of Pete’s Dragon and two UK television series, The Barbarian and Tutankhamun staring Sam Neill.
“Every day is a new set of challenges,” John says. “With Pete’s Dragon they wanted the sound of dragon movements sailing through the air.
“But there’s nothing you can look back on to see what they actually sound like, so you try different ways and layer sounds to give them lots of options.”
In this case a big piece of leather came in handy.
John’s fascination with film started at school and initially he wanted to be a cinematographer.
He landed a job at the South Australian Film Corporation as a projection assistant and was introduced to the world of foley artistry. His big break came in 1985 when someone was sick and he took over.
Providing there is an internet connection, John can work anywhere and Quorn has proved an idyllic location.
His home and studio are on a 120-hectare property with the nearest house about one kilometre away, meaning noisy neighbours are never a problem.
John is the creative genius in charge of making the sounds and works in partnership with his wife Lisa who is the recordist.
Their studio is equipped with just about every floor surface to reproduce all types of footsteps, there are three kilometres of tracks for vehicle sounds and he has a special licence to record gunshots from almost any type of weapon.
“We receive the entire film which we download along with a few notes on what they want,” John says. “There are standard sounds we produce such as footsteps and we specialise in animated characters such as animal noises.
“We’re always trying to stay ahead and dreaming up new ways of making different sounds. Any noise they want to create, we can create it.”
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