Since 1954 Godzilla has been stomping his way through cinema, with the first of the ‘Kauji’ creature films Gojira (1954) being directed by Ishirō Honda. The classic monster flick was re-released two years later as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) with Canadian actor Raymond Burr spliced into the edit to make the film palatable to western audiences. The creature feature has been filmed 28 more times since then, with the latest reboot ‘demolishing’ this year box office records taking close to US$100 million in it’s opening weekend.
Story by Nicole Boyd
Director Gareth Edwards had his work cut out for him revamping the franchise; particularly that roar, along with creating a truly ‘smashing’ (last of the puns) sound design in Dolby Atmos .
The sound department consisted of Academy Award® nominated sound specialist Erik Aadahl as lead the designer, along with two-time Academy Award® winner Ethan Van der Ryn (supervising), Academy Award® winner Gregg Landaker (sound effects), Academy Award nominated Rick Kline (music mix), and Tim LeBlanc (dialogue). The team mixed the Dolby Atmos version of Godzilla at Warner Bros. Stage 10 in Burbank, California.
“I think that the Godzilla roar probably tops the King Kong roar in terms of iconic-ness,” Van der Ryn says.
The monster’s original roar was created by Akira Ifukube who used a leather glove (coated in pine-tar resin) wiping it slowly across the strings of a double bass guitar to create the iconic sound effect . Van der Ryn and Aadahl tried experimenting with Ifukube’s technique but only found their Godzilla’s voice after six months and many layers of experimentation.
The duo are fiercely secretive about the final sound’s creation, telling news radio NPR:
“I think more so than any other sound effect we’ve designed, we have a certain protectiveness over that sound. It’s when you’re giving voice to something, you’re giving it its soul. And if we tell everybody exactly how we did it, people will think of that when they hear the roar, and we want them to think of Godzilla,” Aadahl says.
“We actually were sworn to take it to our graves with us,” Van der Ryn adds.
Director Gareth Edwards when discussing the roar (in other interviews) has said:
“One of the breakthroughs for them [Van der Ryn and Aadahl] was this new microphone recording device. You know when you shoot in the camera in high speed and play it back you get slow motion? There are these ultra fast recording devices that, when you record and play it back, it’s a hundred times slower and it’s got all the fidelity in it. Something as simple as unscrewing a Coke bottle, when you play it back it’s like thunder or a roar or something. So this whole new world of audio was opened up. A lot of the sounds in there are very strange things from using these scientific microphones.” (source).
The duo used specialised microphones to utilise the frequencies that lay outside of the normal spectrum of human hearing, experimenting with friction sounds (recording rusty car doors, rubbing the surface of a tom drum).
Once finished capturing the samples, they manipulated the files in the studio, processing the audio with pitch-shifting techniques and phasing, thus creating some truly unique audio. Van der Ryn stating : “that allowed us to do was exploit this vast universe of sounds that really people have never heard before.”
They also captured impulse responses created from blasting the Rolling Stones out of the Warner Bros. backlot. This allowed them to catch all of the echos and reflections from the city landscape which were then be applied in the studio to Godzilla’s roar – giving the sound effect a realistic reverb.
“The sound that we were playing actually traveled over 3 miles,” Van der Ryn says. “100,000 watts of pure power.”
“The neighbors started tweeting, like, ‘Godzilla’s at my apartment door!’ Aadahl says. “And we were getting phone calls from Universal Studios across town, because tour groups were asking, ‘What’s all that commotion going on down in the valley?’ “
All of these sounds are then re-created in Dolby Atmos to allow the audience a truly immersive sound experience when watching the film in theaters.
“By using Dolby Atmos to place and move sounds anywhere in a movie theater, Gareth Edwards and his team can recreate the world of Godzilla right in the auditorium, making audiences feel as if they, too, are in the middle of the onscreen action,” said Doug Darrow, Senior Vice President, Cinema, Dolby Laboratories.
“Dolby Atmos is a real paradigm shift from traditional channel-based approaches like 5.1, 7.1, and 11.1. With this new object-based approach, you are no longer just watching a movie, but experiencing it.”
Godzilla is currently playing in theaters world-wide.
Below is a behind-the-scenes video with Erik Aadahl, producer Thomas Tull and director Gareth Edwards, discussing the film’s sound design: