Burbank — Imagine the challenge of having to re-create the sound of the iconic Godzilla from the movies of the ‘50s? Along with the work involved, there is also the responsibility of staying true to the original and allowing all of those who already have an idea in their mind of what Godzilla sounds like to stay in the moment.
e2’s Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn, the sound design team for the upcoming Godzilla reboot, didn’t take the Godzilla legacy for granted and instead paid homage to the original.
The pair, whose company is based on the Warner Bros.’ lot, have sound design and sound editing credits on the Transformers and Kung Fu Panda films, the Lord of the Rings series and The Tree of Life. Together they have seven Oscar nominations and two wins.
The Gareth Edwards-directed Godzilla brings the angry beast into contemporary times while still remaining faithful to the Toho series of Godzilla films. The film stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn and Sally Hawkins.
“Godzilla’s original roar from the 1954 Toho film was created using a double bass and a leather glove with pine tar rosin to create friction,” explains Aadahl. “Using a Sanken 100K mic we recorded the friction of a glove going across the strings to reproduce that iconic Godzilla roar, probably the most famous sound effect in cinema history. We also recorded hundreds of different sounds, searching for those illusive gut feelings. It’s not just a game of zeros and ones. It’s a true art and we often think of the sound effects that we create and use in the films as being very much like a performance; the same as an actor would use his voice, we’re using our sounds. There are tons of experimental recordings that we made in order to create these creature sounds.”
“We’re looking for fresh ideas and we get a lot of ideas from sounds that we hear in the real world,” adds Van der Ryn. “With this 100kHz mic we suddenly have all these sounds that no one has ever really heard before. It opens up a new sonic world to us, so the possibilities are incredibly exciting.”
Aadahl describes their way of working: “We brought in a whole bunch of different props that we knew had high frequencies that would go beyond 20 kilohertz, which is where human hearing drops off. So, there’s all that information we record with the Sanken that’s between 20 kilohertz and 100 kilohertz. We picked props that we knew would emit the kind of sounds that are in what you might consider the ‘dolphin’ or the ‘bat’ hearing range. One of those sounds we recorded was from a squeaky coat hanger, which had quite a lot of character and sounded like a dolphin speaking or a bat chittering away. But slowed down, and with all of those high frequencies coming into the human hearing range, there’s a wonderful trove of unique sounds that we were able to work with.”
“I think of us as explorers,” says Aadahl. “We’re trying to find uncharted territory, because we draw our inspiration from doing things that haven’t been done before. Our philosophy is that by exciting ourselves and inspiring ourselves, only then can we truly inspire audiences.”
A part of the work for them is paying homage to the source material, which in this case goes back to the original sounds created in the ’50’s. “Using that as a starting place to recreate the experiment that became Godzilla’s roar is not only a good thought experiment, it’s a real life practical experiment,” explains Van derRyn. “It grounds us in the history of this whole film world that we’re engaged in.”
Numerous everyday sounds were transformed during the process. “Dry ice was a big player for us,” explains Aadahl. We used a big block of dry ice, resonating against a six-foot cylinder of metal ventilation tubing. Once it starts cooling down, the metal starts vibrating and resonating, and air pushes though that and it becomes a strangely musical instrument. Equally as sonically interesting were squeaky ironing boards, and one of my most favorite sounds was from drum toms. Friction against the stretched drum surface created really interesting stutters and vocal-sounding effects.”
The team also recorded sounds on the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier. “That was an incredible experience,” recalls Aadahl. “The recording really is the starting point of working on a film. Audiences often assume that we have computers, that everything can be created synthetically, and that’s how we do it. But the truly evocative sounds come from the real world, and that’s our starting point. Just living a few days on an aircraft carrier informs you so much about what life is like on a ship, what the real world sounds are. We can fake it in the studio, but there’s nothing like the real deal. For us, recording is almost a meditation. You go out into the real world and you close your eyes and you listen, and you wait for serendipity to present itself.”
Van der Ryn adds, “Key to our philosophy is recording new sounds to design with. Using this palate of fresh ingredients, we strive to make a wholly unique and expressive sonic story-telling experience. The only way you can accomplish that is to truly keep your ears open.”
Godzilla is a co-production of Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures and will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures worldwide, except for Japan where it will be distributed by Toho. The film is scheduled to be released on May 16, 2014 in 2D and 3D.