Behind the Roar: Finding Godzilla’s Iconic Voice

Sound designer Erik Aadahl has worked with some pretty intimidating on-screen characters in his film career, from transforming robots to muscle-bound superheroes like Superman and Daredevil to big, green animated ogres.

This time, Aadahl had to handle a real monster: Godzilla. He was hired to update the creature’s run-for-your-life bellow three years ago, before the latest update of the 1954 monster movie had been green-lit for production. It opens in theaters nationwide Friday.

“It’s one of the most famous sound effects in cinema history,” said Aadahl. “We really wanted to embrace that and use the original as our template, and pay homage to that.”

The original film’s composer, Akira Ifukube, used a double bass, a leather glove and some pine tar to produce Godzilla’s trademark call.

They started recording animals: Elephants, dolphins and anything with a shriek — “nothing quite felt right,” Aadahl said. He and Van der Ryn moved on to inanimate objects that made shrill sounds: Ironing boards, rusty car doors.

Finally, they elected to use a scientific microscope that recorded in high frequencies to capture sounds that are inaudible to humans.

“There’s this whole invisible universe of sound that we do not perceive, we cannot perceive,” Aadahl said. “But we can record those high frequencies, then slow them down so they come into our human range of perception.”

Aadahl won’t say what sound, exactly, he recorded to capture Godzilla’s iconic roar, which he broke into two parts: The cathartic shriek and the rumbling, almost melancholic, finish. Whatever it was, it required a thousand different takes before Aadahl arrived at what he called “the winner.”

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