IFLScience has been provided with an exclusive early preview of the opening episode of TED podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz's brand new season, Tyrannosaurus FX.
One of my all-time favorite bits of trivia is the unusual combination of props used to make the original roar of Godzilla, though undeniably when you watch the films back with a loose bass and a greasy glove in mind it does somewhat shatter the illusion. Jurassic Park was one of the most groundbreaking films in cinematic history bringing extinct dinosaurs to life, and while they could stand on the shoulders of paleontologists for inspiration for the cast of dinosaurs and their design, one vital ingredient was still missing. What on Earth did dinosaurs sound like?
TED podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz explores the stories behind the world's most recognizable, interesting sounds. In the opening episode of its brand new season, titled "Tyrannosaurus FX", presenter Dallas Taylor interviewed sound designer Al Nelson, who worked on the audio effects for Jurassic World. In the episode, he reveals the challenges faced by the original sound design teams and those still working on the movies today in creating dino dialogue for some of the film’s most iconic species.
“How do you define the sound of an extinct animal that nobody has ever heard for real and how do you make it convincing?” posits Nelson in the episode. Well, without wanting to give too much away, to make dinosaur vocalizations the teams got to work combining recordings of a host of animal sounds, layering them, and altering the speed to create sounds that, while not necessarily accurate, made a dramatic impact in the movies. You’ll have to listen to the episode to find out the exact recipe for each dinosaur, but what I will say is that one of the most ferocious species features the sound of a mating tortoise.
So, were any of the noises actually accurate? Speaking to paleontologist Professor Julia Clarke, the episode covers the physiological and anatomical reasons why it's unlikely the dinosaurs behaved and sounded the way they do in Jurassic Park. From giving away their position to choking on "a bite of child", there's a host of limitations that suggest dinosaurs probably didn't roar when pursuing prey. Also, based on the extant relatives of dinosaurs it’s most likely the largest among them would’ve made short, low vocalizations that when scaled up to the size of a dinosaur might have been too low even to be audible to the human ear. But, undeniably, silent predators don’t really make for thrilling cinema, and we can all agree a film with large animals and empty roars might have been somewhat anticlimactic.
“Dinosaurs sounded absolutely nothing like what we think they sounded like, and it’s amazing how much power entertainment has in shaping our interpretation of the world,” Taylor told IFLScience. “The difference between emotional entertainment and reality [demonstrates] how hard-wired our minds are to accept what we’ve presented with as fact.”
The mismatch between reality and science is also likely represented in the appearance of the dinosaurs, but the filmmakers aren’t really to blame for this. “Science is constantly changing,” said Taylor. “For example, some dinosaurs may have had feathers. They may not have been these incredibly scary looking creatures. If you take all of the fur off of a cat, it looks a lot creepier than what most cats look like. So, there are a lot of details about dinosaurs that we may not fully understand just by looking at their skeletons. Our understanding of them shouldn’t be set in stone, it’s evolving all the time as new research comes in.”
Twenty Thousand Hertz's new season of weekly episodes starts on October 7, and includes deep dives into the neuroscience of Perfect/Absolute Pitch; Dies Irae, a Gregorian chant that's basically the Wilhelm Scream of movie trailer music; and collaboration with TED Radio Hour.