Guest Post by Beau A. Jimenez
While on a calming walk, a car drives by me. As it zips by, some jerk in the passenger decides to scream at me as loud as they could. Being caught unaware, I jump. A feeling comes over me. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. I feel scared, concerned, and worried within a fraction of a second.
My roommate’s dog whines and cries as his master leaves the apartment. I can hear the sadness translate to my understanding. It’s a universal sound that says ‘Hey wait, don’t go!’ Through this sound, I can sense how much the dog cares for this person.
There are countless examples of vocalizations that make us feel something. There are emotive sounds that capture happiness, curiosity, sadness, pain, anger, fear and more… These sounds break the barriers of language and don’t need to have comprehensive words to understand their intent. As humans, we perceive emotive vocalizations in a deep-rooted, relatable way. These sounds are more felt than understood. They are visceral sounds that light up our brains in a profound way.
Within this article, I’d like to talk about what happens to us when we hear these vocalizations, talk about examples of emotive creatures in film that demonstrate expertly-done creature sound design, and give my own outlook on the significance and fun of creature sound design.
How We React to Vocalizations
We all have a reflex system built into us from birth. It’s a startle-response system that triggers upon an unexpected, loud, or jarring sound. This response can take us from an idle state to a state of high alertness within a fraction of a second. Centuries of predator & prey interactions have designed us to react in a fight-or-flight manner for our survival. That jerk-in-the-car’s scream caused my body to release certain chemicals inside my system, putting me into a temporary alert mode. It doesn’t feel great when you don’t expect it! But in film, it progresses the story and strategically steers the audience towards the sound designer and/or director’s intent.
A great example of a startle-response sound moment is the jarring picture cut into the ‘raptor feeding’ scene in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Dr. Alan Brand holds a supposedly vicious baby raptor is his hands as it coos sweetly & innocently. On the picture cut to the adult raptor cages, an absolutely terrifying blend of shrieks and squeals blare across the front and surround speakers. This puts the audience into a state of high alertness. As a result, the audience becomes cautious of the terrors living within the cages. (Which I believe is the exact goal of this scene!)