Movie Interviews
2:37 pm
Sun May 18, 2014

What's In A Roar? Crafting Godzilla's Iconic Sound

Originally published on Mon May 19, 2014 9:47 am

Godzilla roared to No. 1 at the box office on opening weekend. The latest reboot of the sci-fi blockbuster brings a new take on the monster's iconic roar to the silver screen.

Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl designed the sound for the new movie.

"I think that the Godzilla roar probably tops the King Kong roar in terms of iconic-ness," Van der Ryn says.

"It leaves a big footprint," Aadahl says.

Over the past 60 years, each incarnation of the film since has taken a slightly different recipe for cooking up the sound. In the 1954 original, the sound effects team tried, unsuccessfully, to use animal sounds to create the roar. It was Japanese composer Akira Ifukube who had the idea to use a musical instrument to create the shriek we all know.

"It was actually a double bass, using a leather glove coated in pine-tar resin to create friction," Aadahl says. "They'd rub it against the string of the double bass to create that sound."

Van der Ryn and Aadahl started on the roar for the latest film three years ago. It took them about six months to get to this:

When the film's director, Gareth Edwards, heard it, he had to know what it was.

"We actually decided not to tell him until a little more than a month ago, when we had finished the film," Aadahl says. "Because it's kind of like a magic trick. If you show, OK, the card is right here in the sleeve and I'm going to pull it out, and that's the trick, it kind of diffuses it. It ruins it."

Despite many requests, the sound designers would not reveal the secrets of the sauce for this latest roar.

"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. "No lie — by Thomas Tull, the head of Legendary [Entertainment]."

They did share some of the details of the process. They played a lot with anything that created friction — experimenting with the sounds of rusty car doors and rubbing the surface of a tom drum.

Using a scientific microphone, they captured sounds at frequencies outside the realm of human hearing, and then pitched them down in the studio.

What "that allowed us to do was exploit this vast universe of sounds that really people have never heard before," Van der Ryn says.

They also recorded the shriek blaring from the Rolling Stones tour speakers on the back lot of Warner Brothers studios. This allowed them to capture the echoes and reflections of the roar off the cityscape. It also caused some commotion.

"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?' "

"The sound that we were playing actually traveled over 3 miles," Van der Ryn says. "100,000 watts of pure power."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOM)

TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

Hear that?

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOM)

VIGELAND: Sixty years ago, in pitch black theaters that sound creeped out Japanese moviegoers as the opening credits rolled and people first heard the approach of Godzilla.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROAR)

ETHAN VAN DER RYAN: I think that that Godzilla roar actually probably tops the King Kong roar in terms of iconicness.

ERIK AADAHL: It leaves a big footprint.

VIGELAND: Yeah, pun intended there. That was Ethan van der Ryan and Erik Aadahl. They are the sound designers for the new Godzilla movie, which is out right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMOTION AND SCREAMING)

VIGELAND: Ethan and Erik stopped by our studios to talk about how they crafted the latest roar, but I asked first what went into that original Godzilla roar from 1954. Here's Erik.

AADAHL: In the 1954 original, the sound effects team tried unsuccessfully using animal sounds to create the roar of Godzilla. And actually it was Akira Ifukube, the music composer, who had the idea to use a musical instrument to create that classic shriek that we all know. And it was actually a double bass using a leather glove coated with pine-tar rosin to create friction. And they'd rub it against the string of the double bass to create that ehhh sound.

VIGELAND: Well, over the years there have been a lot of Godzilla movies. And it turns out that they all have very different versions of that roar. Let's listen to a couple of those. Here is "Godzilla Raids Again." This is from 1955.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROAR)

VIGELAND: And there is "Godzilla's Revenge" from 1969.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROAR)

VIGELAND: That definitely sounds like 1969 there, doesn't it?

RYAN: Yeah, love it.

VIGELAND: And here's "Godzilla" from 1998.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROAR)

VIGELAND: All right. So you get the assignment to craft the new roar. Let's hear it first.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROAR)

VIGELAND: What is that?

AADAHL: You know, it's funny. Gareth Edwards, the director, asked us that same question. You know, we spent - we started on the roar almost three years ago and it took about six months to get to that point. And Gareth asked us straight up, OK, what is that? And we actually decided not to tell him until a little over a month ago when we had finished the film because it's kind of like a magic trick.

If you show, OK, the card is right here in the sleeve and I'm going to pull it out and that's the trick, it kind of defuses it. It ruins it. And I think more so than any other sound effect we've designed, we have a certain protectiveness over that sound. You know, 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 about Godzilla.

VIGELAND: Oh, come on, Ethan. Nobody's listening. Just whisper it in my ear.

RYAN: We actually were sworn to take it to our graves with us so - no lie - by Thomas Tull, the head of Legendary. So...

AADAHL: But we can talk about it. You know, our process is very much experimentation so we played a lot with anything that created friction. So we started with things like rusty car doors and, you know, the palm of our hand rubbing against a drum tom surface.

RYAN: One of the things we did on Godzilla, which was unique for us, is that we recorded with a scientific microphone, which is able to record sounds outside the realm of human hearing. And then we brought them back into the studio and pitched them down into the realm of human hearing. And what that allowed us to do was exploit this vast universe of sounds that really people have never heard before.

VIGELAND: So this is a dog whistle, that's what you're saying.

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN: Maybe. Possibly. You know, I've tried putting my dog into almost every movie I've done somewhere. That was one of the failed experiments.

VIGELAND: Did you end up doing any of this, like, out where someone could figure out what you're doing?

RYAN: Well, actually it's an interesting story because we set up actually the Rolling Stones tour speaker array on the back lot of Warner Brothers where we were doing the work so that we could play back all these sounds that we had created and then re-record them, capturing all the reflections off the cityscape.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROAR)

VIGELAND: Did any of the neighbors call 911?

AADAHL: Yes.

VIGELAND: Yes?

AADAHL: Well, the neighbors started tweeting like, Godzilla's at my apartment door. And we were getting phone calls from Universal Studios across town, 'cause tour groups were asking, what's all that commotion going on down in the valley?

RYAN: So, yeah, the sound that we were playing actually traveled over three miles.

VIGELAND: Three miles?

RYAN: Yeah.

VIGELAND: Well, I guess that's what happens when you use Rolling Stones speakers.

RYAN: That's it, 100,000 watts of pure power.

VIGELAND: Wow. That's Erik Aadahl and Ethan van der Ryan. They designed the sound for the new Godzilla movie which is out now in theaters. Erik and Ethan, thanks so much.

AADAHL: Thank you.

RYAN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROAR)

VIGELAND: Oh, maybe he just wants a treat. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.