Eight bizarre recording stories behind your favourite sounds in film
30.03.2021

Eight bizarre recording stories behind your favourite sounds in film

Words by Benjamin Lamb

From lightsabers to dinosaurs and beyond, we dive deep into the world of Foley.

Sound effects and music can often make or break the quality of a movie, thanks to the innovation and originality of Foley artists and sound designers.

They put together some wacky stuff to create some of the most memorable noises from our favourite movies. From Star Wars through to Jurassic Park and beyond, today we’re diving into some of the most interesting stories behind sounds we know and love! 

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Lightsabers in Star Wars

The iconic lightsaber sound effect made popular in the Star Wars franchise was designed by film industry stalwart Ben Burtt, with the distinctive hum of the series’ laser swords being considered as one of the most famous sound effects stories of all time.

Initially, the sound effect was created through the harmonisation of two motors from projectors that Burtt was using, however, he wasn’t happy with how it sounded at the time.

After hearing the sound of a microphone experiencing feedback from interference with a TV, he went on to meld the two sources together: thus, the iconic whooshing sound of the lightsaber was born. 

Godzilla’s roar

Considered as one of the scariest sounds in cinematic history, there’s a pretty interesting story behind Godzilla’s roar. Of course, there’s been many different incarnations of the monster’s ghastly growl over the past 60 years since the film franchise was spawned, but there’s one such story that sticks out more than any other.

The roaring sound from the original 1954 movie was pioneered by Japanese musician Akira Ifukube, who created the roar with a double bass and a glove coated in thick paint. The glove was then ran across the strings to create a screeching growl, resulting in a spooky noise that’s haunted filmgoers for decades.

The rolling boulder from Raiders Of The Lost Ark

A member of the sound department for Raiders of The Lost Ark, Richard Anderson, noted the story behind the sounds of the iconic scene in a recent interview.

“It was rolling a car without a motor, and also one of those big, heavy lawn rollers to make your lawn flat: rolling that down a hill,” he revealed.

Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt was also behind the desk for this movie, and gave some interesting insights to the sounds in Raiders and other movies he worked on here.

The Waterphone

The name mightn’t look familiar, but there’s no doubt you’ve come across this noise in a movie at some stage. The instrument is most commonly used in horror and thriller style movies, like The Matrix and Poltergeist, whenever something spooky popped up on screen.

It’s still a relatively new, minimalistic instrument, created by Richard Waters in 1968 that involves pouring water into the middle section of the object and metal rods around the basin are either plucked or bowed to create sound. The amount of water in the canal then allows you to control the pitch of the instrument.

THX

One of the loudest noises in moviegoing comes in the form of the THX movie certification, which was found at the start of many movies from the George Lucas-helmed production firm back in the day.

The sound was created through an audio engineer named James A. Moorer, who wrote over 20,000 lines of computer code mimicking 30 different musicians playing different notes – similar to the dissonant sounds employed by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood for OK Computer’s ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ – with each eventually coming together like a portamento effect to meet, giving the noise a relieving conclusion. 

BRAAAM 

This is probably another name you mightn’t be too familiar with, but you’ve definitely come across the BRAAAM sound – and yes, it is an onomatopoeia – at some point in your movie-watching career. It first came to light during the trailer for Inception, but has been featured in a bunch of movies since then, namely due to its undisputed epic sound.

There has been a bit of conflict behind who actually created the iconic sound, with prolific composer Hans Zimmer claiming he created it, hence having penned the sounds behind Inception. But a member of the sound design team of the movie claimed it was a team effort before Zimmer was actually signed onto the film.

In a nutshell, this sound is achieved by consecutively stacking tracks and arranging them so that a new sound enters every other bar, creating an endlessly growing loop before meeting its epic peak. Watch how it’s done below.

The dinosaurs from Jurassic Park

The sound designer behind Jurassic Park, Gary Rydstorm, managed to bring dinosaurs to life with little to no source material. He didn’t go too far to create the sounds, using a bunch of different animals to create the immense dino roars.

He edited some geese honks to get a Brachiosaurus, a bunch of cows and horses were spliced  together to create the sound of a Gallimimus, and a recording of Gary’s pet dogs bark was aurally manipulated to get the infamous T-Rex growl.

Similar sound creations have since been used to create the sounds of the prehistoric creatures, which also just goes to affirm that evolution can happen in more ways than just one.

E.T’s walk in E.T: The Extra Terrestrial

Joan Rowe, the sound designer behind the hit movie E.T: The Extra Terrestrial, was informed by director Steven Spielberg that he wanted the being to sound ‘liquidy and friendly’ – a bizarre request that she somehow managed to pull off.

There’s an interesting story behind this one: it was in the back of the mind of the sound artist who would listen out for any noise that fit this bill. While walking through some stores, she noted the sound of packaged liver in a container, which sounded ‘cheery.’

She also grabbed the sound of jelly in a wet towel and some popcorn in a bag, mixed them all together, and created the sound of ET whenever he moves around. Who would have known?

Want to plunge deeper into the world of music for screen? Discover what it’s like to work as a film and TV composer.