This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
You wouldn’t immediately notice Ronnie van der Veer’s artistry in the movies he’s worked on. He’s a foley artist, someone who creates the sounds you hear in movies. From the rustling of a coat to footsteps and squeaky doors, Van der Veer has worked on projects like the Netflix shows Rise of Empires: Ottoman and Ares, as well as feature films like The Lobster. Most of his sounds are intended not to be noticed, but his speciality is creating noises that give you instant goosebumps.
When I called Van der Veer on Skype, I saw that he has everything at his fingertips to make your favourite horror movie scenes come alive.
VICE: Hey, Ronnie. What’s the first sound you’ve ever tried to recreate?
Ronnie van der Veer: When I was studying Music Technology, I had to record sounds for a horror movie for an assignment. In that scene, someone’s finger was ripped off. I tried to recreate the sound by breaking a leek in half and combining layers of different sounds. I realised I really liked this kind of work and I was good at it.
Do you look for gruesome videos on the internet to figure out what something sounds like?
No. Reality is often less spectacular than movie sounds. I recently witnessed a street fight in Amsterdam, and I honestly only heard yelling, not punches. The sounds we make are over the top – you want the viewer to feel how hard a punch was and how much it hurt.
Okay. But then how do you know what a limb being ripped off sounds like?
Many filmmakers created sounds for gory scenes before me, so I know what it’s supposed to sound like. You take a close look at what you see when a finger is being ripped off. A finger is smaller than an arm, so the sound should be more high-pitched and sharp. You have bones, tendons and skin, so you record the sounds of each of them tearing apart individually and combine them. Celery is great for bones, for instance. Leeks are a bit more crunchy, so perfect for a finger. And you can get that fleshy, juicy sound by crushing tomatoes in your hand.
Which sounds are the hardest to imitate?
Subtle sounds are difficult, because you can easily tell when they’re off. If someone is scratching their stubble, you need to record the same type of facial hair. Same goes for writing – you need the same pen and paper. We recently worked on a film where the protagonist is shy and insecure at first and becomes more confident towards the end. In that case, we changed the sound of his footsteps so you hear the character development.
So you also create part of the story.
Yes. In The Lobster, there’s a scene where a guy bangs his head on the table to make his nose bleed. That was fun to record. I hit the table with my hand and snapped an entire bunch of celery in half. When that comes together, it makes the scene much more impactful.
You’re known for your gory sounds, like gushing blood and cracking bones. What’s the grossest sound you’ve ever made?
For Ares, we had to create the sound of a fingernail being pulled off. It looked really awful, but the sound made it much worse. I used pistachio nuts. When you take off their hard shell, you get a snapping sound like a nail being torn off the skin. We combined that with a tangerine being peeled. The resulting sound had four layers, and it was exactly what I imagine that would sound like.
Doesn’t it get a bit intense sometimes?
Yes, but when you’re working you have to flip that switch. Once, we had to recreate the sound of a bloody piece of gauze being pulled out of a nose. We had to record several takes, and at some point my coworker said: “Can we hurry up? I can’t take it anymore.”
Has there ever been a sound you didn’t want to recreate?
No. But in the Irish movie Mammal, the director suggested I buy a dead pig and beat it with a stick to recreate a beat-down, which I didn’t want to do. Instead, I bought a punching bag and wrapped a leather jacket around it. It worked just fine. We also bought a chicken from the butcher’s and beat it, but it didn’t sound better than the punching bag.
You don’t have to use real meat. I worked with a vegan foley mixer for a documentary where a deer gets skinned. We decided to imitate the sound using fruits and vegetables. When the knife cut into the deerskin, I cut into an aubergine.
How well do you sleep at night?
Well, I’ve become more sensitive to sound, including annoying sounds, and I can’t turn that off when I’m in bed. But that sensitivity also has an upside, because I learn from the real world.