By Jennifer Walden
So the makers of Jurassic World are, quite obviously, asking you to suspend your disbelief. This disbelief might just focus on the fact they are asking you to accept that a group of super-positive thinking people (or maybe super-stupid) thought that opening up a theme park where dinosaurs once again roam the earth was a good idea. Especially since it has gone so spectacularly bad at parks featured in earlier movies.
Yes, the idea of re-opening the same park again and again and expecting that people won’t get eaten again and again is a bit crazy, right? Well, the only thing insane about Jurassic World is that it is insanely awesome! Yeah, ok, people get eaten, but that’s part of the fun, no?
Also part of the fun is the new bad-ass, ‘roided-out dino, Indominus Rex. What does he sound like? Well, it’s a mix of whale, wild pig, tiger, monkey, fox and dolphin. The fun doesn’t stop there – all the sounds you love from the Jurassic Park franchise — Gary Rydstrom’s boss T-rex and those iconic raptors — have been brought back and are updated for Jurassic World. Think raptor 4.0!
Supervising sound editor/sound designer Al Nelson from Skywalker Sound says, “One of the things that we were very intent on was honoring the original sounds and being consistent with the story. We’ve gone back to the same island so in theory, many of the creatures there have been carried on.”
What’s Old Is New Again
In 1993, Skywalker sound designer Gary Rydstrom first introduced audiences to what a raptor sounds like in Jurassic Park, and it’s been consistent ever since. In Jurassic World, the main raptor screams, screeches and growls are the original sounds Rydstrom created for Jurassic Park, using African geese hisses, dolphins and the now-famous “tortoises having sex” sound.
“We just augmented their vocal library,” explains Nelson. “The raptors in Jurassic World are more interactive and have individual personalities. We wanted additional vocals that were positive, communicative and that would evoke a different side of their personality. We took those actual mastered sounds that Gary [Rydstrom] had on the first films and diversified from there.”
Armed with a Schoeps M/S rig with cardioid mics and a Sound Devices 744T portable digital recorder, Nelson set out to get new sounds from the animals originally used for Rydstrom’s raptors. But, he soon discovered that each animal is different. “These particular geese I recorded gave me great recordings but they were just too bird-like. They weren’t fitting in with the sounds that Gary had initially designed. I expected to be able to redo what Gary had done, but that raptor sound is really a credit to Gary, who generated something that was so unique.”
With some guidance from Rydstrom, Nelson researched new animals that might fit in with the original raptors. “We wanted to honor the tradition of the first Jurassic Park, where Gary and his assistant at the time Chris Boyes — now a re-recording mixer on Jurassic World — went out and recorded lots of new, original sounds from animals,” says Nelson, who read books on how and why animals communicate, in order to make his time spent recording in the field as productive as possible.
“Many times when you go to a zoo you stand in front of an animal and it stares back at you. It’s not going to communicate unless it has a reason,” explains Nelson. Based on his research, Nelson contacted animal sanctuaries, zoos and animal specialists to find out if their animals can roar on cue or react to particular people or vocalize in certain situations like feeding time or vet visits.
“Situations where the animals are compelled to vocalize are what you’re looking for,” says Nelson. “Animals in interesting situations will make interesting sounds.” The new raptor communication sounds use leopard and kinkajou hisses, dolphins, geese, Asian otters and baby baboons. “For the more sympathetic sounds, we went back to birds, namely a toucan and a penguin. The Gentoo penguin in particular had this guttural, chittery sound that worked well with the raptors’ communications.”
The New Guys
Jurassic World features a giant, carnivorous marine reptile called the Mosasaur, and a genetically engineered hybrid dino dubbed the Indominus Rex — two very large and very toothy creatures. Helping to build the Mosasaur was sound designer Pete Horner, who is also the re-recording mixer on the dialogue and music in Jurassic World. The Mosasaur is composed of several water-based animals, like walruses, whales and dolphins.
Says Nelson, “The walrus is a great source for animal design since it’s one of the biggest sounding animals. The walrus sound has a lot of body, but it also has tonal aspects to it. It’s got a great guttural, water-animal quality. Pete also used beluga and pilot whales and some dolphins to give it a tonal throaty sound. That huge snapping chomp was also a big part of the Mosasaur — when it rears up out of the water and takes a big bite out of a great white shark.”
The Indominus Rex is genetically engineered to scare the pants of park visitors. Its genes may include material from the Tyrannosaurus Rex, but Nelson points out that it’s a vastly different creature: “The Tyrannosaurus is a pure bred, the real deal, but the Indominus Rex is kind of a mutant. The overall character of it needed to be big but it also needed to sound broken, nasty and gnarly.”
Director Colin Trevorrow compared it to a toddler that is having a tantrum, where the sound starts low and then builds to a wail. “It doesn’t know what it is, or where it is. It just knows that it hates everything and it wants to eat everything. It’s a cranky, pissy creature,” says Nelson.
Working in Avid Pro Tools 11, in combination with Native Instruments Kontakt, Nelson created an Indominus Rex sound that is irritating, squeal-y and angry. It’s a big creature, so Nelson chose whale sounds, pitched down tiger chuffs and the sounds of huge pigs that were fighting with each other. “They didn’t sound like what you would expect a pig to sound like… with a squeal. They were doing these crazy growls that had this big, guttural, deep sound.”
For the howl-y and scream-y layers of the Indominus Rex, Nelson recorded a little fennec fox. “It was just irate and scared, and it was bellowing and screaming,” describes Nelson. His online search for animals that scream and screech resulted in stories of people who live in parts of the Midwest and the Northeast, all being woken up in the middle of the night to a blood-curdling sound.
“It’s these cute little foxes that come out of the woods and just do these blood-curdling squeals. I pitched them down a little bit, but in the end some of the sounds weren’t manipulated nearly as much as I expected they would be.”
He also recorded wild pigs, spider monkeys, macaques and a howler monkey that would go bananas for his animal handler’s singing. “This young animal caretaker introduced us to the howler monkey and shyly said he’ll vocalize when she sings to him. So I eventually convinced her to sing and the howler monkey started hooting and hollering with this deep raspy growly sound. It was very scary and very out of control in a lot of ways.”
While the Indominus Rex commanded much of Nelson’s creative attention, he had a lot of fun creating the dinosaur sounds for the raptor named Blue. “Colin [Trevorrow] was very supportive in pushing the boundaries and going too far for the tweaky personality things I got to do for Blue,” explains Nelson, who also enjoyed the emotional scenes, like when the Apatosauruses were dying. “That was a special scene and a big focus; it was all eyes on this event. Colin, from the beginning, said he wanted people to be crying after that scene.”
Nelson feels the success of Jurassic World’s sound is a direct result of a Skywalker Sound team effort. “It was great to have Pete Horner help me out on the Mosasaur. All the vehicles, the crowds and the personality of the park itself were a lot of work as well. Scott Guitteau was great on sound effects. There was Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, who wrangled all this dialogue with Stuart McCowan, and Ben Burtt who wrangled the Foley with Nia Hansen.
“There are a lot of people in there who I was constantly bouncing ideas off of. At the end of each day Gary [Rydstrom] would come in and comment on sounds. When you’re in the trenches, you want to be with your friends. You want to be with people who you respect and are invested in the sound in the same way that you are. That’s the great thing about working here at Skywalker, we are all together.”
Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.