Do you know what a light saber sounds like? What about the growl of a Tyrannosaurus Rex? If you’ve seen the Star Wars or Jurassic Park films, then you probably answered those questions with a loud “Yes!”
Now think about it for a moment. Are light sabers real? Do T. Rexes still roam Earth? Nope! They only exist and live on in movies. So how do we know what they sound like?
Thanks to sound designers and sound effects engineers, our favorite movies, television shows, and radio programs come to life with the sounds of things that aren’t even real! It just makes sense. If you’re going to make a movie about things that aren’t real or no longer exist, you’re going to have to create the sounds you think they made.
Of course, sound effects are also used in movies and television shows featuring real people and things that do exist. Sometimes it can be hard to record the sounds that things make in the real world.
For example, a door closing might make only a small sound. If the plot requires that you notice a door closing, though, a sound effect may be recorded that magnifies the sound of a door closing or makes it sound a particular way.
Sound effects have been around for a long, long time. In fact, they’ve been around since the earliest days of radio. Early radio programs often featured dramatic productions. People relied on their ears instead of their eyes to receive the story from the radio. Good sound effects were necessary to tell a story in a lively, engaging way.
Today, big-budget movies have taken sound effects to a whole new level. With digital surround sound systems in many theaters, movies have become a feast for the ears, as well as the eyes.
But how do they make those sounds? Let’s take a look at some sounds you may be familiar with and the sometimes-surprising way they are created!
The laser blasts in Star Wars aren’t from the future, and they didn’t get their start as computer-generated synthesizer sounds either. A sound designer created them by hitting tightly-strung metal wires with a hammer!
And those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park? They’re not real dinosaurs obviously. No one really knows what dinosaurs sounded like, so sound designers had to come up with sounds that people might believe would come out of such ferocious creatures.
The result? The T. Rex’s “voice” was a combination of sounds from various real animals tweaked by computer technology. Its breathing? That’s a whale! Its roar? That came from lions, alligators, tigers, and elephants. Its grunt? That’s a koala bear!
As you can see, sound effects can come from a wide variety of sources. They often have nothing to do with the real — or fake or imaginary — animal or object being portrayed. With a little imagination and some computer trickery, our ears can be treated to sounds we never imagined we’d hear!