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'Jurassic World': The sound design behind the Indominus Rex

Still from the film
Still from the film "Jurassic World."

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Part of the magic of the first "Jurassic Park" was just how real the dinosaurs seemed — how real their movements felt and how real their shrieks and cries sounded. That believability, however, belies a simple truth: literally no one knows what dinosaurs sounded like.

As "Jurassic World" sound designer and sound supervisor Al Nelson puts it: "We don't have a whole lot of raw recordings of dinosaurs." And if the team at Skywalker Sound had wanted to cruise a little bit, they could have just taken the work that Gary Rydstrom and his team did on the original "Jurassic Park" and modernized it a bit.

But the story of "Jurassic World" called for a little more sonic creativity, as the introduction of the Indominus Rex required something a little more outside the box: designing believable sounds for a made-up dinosaur. You can hear a pretty good Indominus squeal about a minute into the trailer below.

So how exactly did Nelson and his team go about this off-the-wall project? By using a similar approach to creating the sounds for more historically-accurate dinosaurs: "Use naturally existing sounds, find the right emotional context from the creatures we've been able to record, and manipulate them to apply to our new dinosaurs."

First, they had to identify some major themes surrounding the character of Indominus Rex. They zeroed in on the fact that she is, as Nelson says, "a mutant, a hybrid — not pure-bred, so she needs to sound broken." However, they needed a particular sort of mutant, "an animal that doesn't know what it is and isn't really in control of its voice."

In other words, just as Indominus in the story is a mishmash of various species of dinosaurs, her sounds and cries were an amalgam of real world animals. Nelson says his team "ended up using a lot of large pigs, and then leopards to give her the body and the meat of an animal." They could have called it a day there, but again, the story imposed specific conditions on the sounds they needed to find and create.

Nelson notes that "the challenging thing about Indominus is that, as a creature that we're introduced to, it evolves. It starts as more of a raspy, gnarly but bigger-bodied animal, and then as it becomes more irate and dangerous, it becomes more out of control and erratic." To capture those erratic sounds, Nelson needed to find "animals that have a scream, a squeal, or some irritable quality to their vocals."

And how did he find those grating animals? A familiar resource: "Thank God for the internet," Nelson says with a laugh. "I would literally go online and search 'animal annoying scream' or 'bloodcurdling yell.'"

One of the great discoveries from their research was the cry of the fennec fox, a small nocturnal animal that people are very invested in domesticating. (They're really, really cute.) Nelson remembers that he "came across these stories of people in the middle of a sound sleep, then all of a sudden there's this bloodcurdling howl from outside their window. That's what foxes do — they come out of the woods and they just yowl and yell and scream, and it's horrible."

Once they had assembled the rest of the Indominus's sonic palette, which grew to include howler and macaque monkeys, then it came down to isolating the proper sounds for specific scenes. Nelson breaks down his approach to this scene, with brothers Zach and Gray Mitchell observing dinosaurs from the safety of their gyrosphere.

Nelson starts with "the moment where it goes absolutely quiet, then they look up and see the Indominus. Coming from the mind of a 10-year-old boy, What would be the scariest, most terrifying thing in this moment? So you have to put on your 10-year-old-boy hat and listen to the sounds and ask yourself, Does this work? Is this giving me chills?"

"It was important that the sound work, so then you know you're a part of the creative process and not just some guy plugging lion roars into a dinosaur mouth."

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