Skip to main content

Gary Rydstrom and Storytelling with Film Sound

One of the pleasures of being a student in the Sound Arts and Industries program is the opportunity to hear from sound designer and extraordinaire Gary Rydstrom himself how he created the roar for the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, the bullets in Saving Private Ryan, and the talking sharks in Finding Nemo.

His secret is simple: make sounds that make you feel something.

According to Rydstrom, the best sounds are not synthesized, but real, inspired from a memory or from an experience, even something you are experiencing now. It can be as mundane as playing fetch with your lovable dog or flipping through pages of that boring book your professor made you read. Remember those pteranodons flying about in The Lost World: Jurassic Park? Rydstrom created their shrieks from Tom’s of Maine anti-plaque floss.

See? Magnifying your objection to dental hygiene translates to 5-year olds screaming at the sight of flying objects.

Furthermore, knowing that sound effects can arise unexpectedly literally from everywhere opens up possibilities for sounds that an object or person will make in the film. In fact, Rydstrom tells us you don’t have to use the real thing. For example, why use the actual footsteps of a person walking, when you can use trees falling or shoes from the Victorian era?

Sound designers not only find interesting sounds, but also create them. And according to Rydstrom, the best creations come from collaborations. From working with bird scientists at Cornell to firing canons with a World War 2 buff, he not only discovered unique ways to place mics, but also novel technologies to bring forth sounds that could not be heard by the human ear before. Like a tiny spider jumping 50 times its own body length in the air.

Rydstrom says that sounds like “Hiyahhhhh” (with grand gestures to make his point).

Moreover, sound can enable you to tell the story you can’t see on screen; it is the partner-in-crime for image when wanting to tell a good story.

Rydstrom urges us to have fun while we’re at it. He is indeed a funny and adventurous guy. He blows up liquid nitrogen and oversized whoopee cushions for films like The Minority Report and The BFG. He repurposed the Wilhelm scream for the TIE fighters in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And he has been nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning 7. It can be safe to say that the other secret to creating fantastic sound is having even a more fantastic back story.

So NU students, pay very close attention to your tired classmates as we approach mid-term. And press record. It might be the winning sound effect for the next Oscars.