by Julia Skubisz
Discover how award-winning sound artists Mark Mangini & Richard L. Anderson captured the most comprehensive animal sound library available.
In this new in-depth video interview from SoundWorks Collection, Academy Award®-winning sound artist Mark Mangini (Blade Runner 2049, Mad Max: Fury Road) discusses his experiences recording animal sound effects for film.
The conversion covers stories and sounds from The Odyssey Collection: Creatures – our latest sound effects library developed exclusively from the private library of Mangini and fellow Academy Award®-winner Richard L. Anderson (Raiders of the Lost Ark). Learn how they approached recording a "zoo's worth" of animals and designing creatures, as well as how these recordings have enhancing their sound work throughout their careers.
See below to read some more of Mark's musings about capturing these incredible creature sounds to help bring dozens of beloved feature films to life.
Written by Mark Mangini
There’s a treasure trove of sound in Odyssey Creatures. Whether actual animals we love or fear or mythical creatures created in the imagination (and from these very sound effects) by Richard and I, you are sure to find a rich selection of sounds we recorded or created to bring movie animals and creatures to life. Richard and I always knew that anytime we recorded a real living creature, even something as mundane as a cow, it would eventually turn into terrifying beast for our next horror or fantasy film. So we recorded anything that spoke or whinnied or cackled or groaned. The bigger beasts were always the most fun and yielded the most useful fodder for designed creatures while building up a useful library when we needed wild animals.
"Richard and I always knew that anytime we recorded a real living creature, even something as mundane as a cow, it would eventually turn into terrifying beast for our next horror or fantasy film."
Capturing animal sounds, especially wild animal sound is an exercise in patience and perseverance. In their natural state, most wild animals, especially the big game kind like Lions and Tigers, don’t make sound unless they or their young are threatened (SPCA NOTE: no animals were ever harmed in the making of these sound effects!). And even then, it’s a waiting game until the goods are delivered. This library represents thousands of hours standing in corrals, pens, cages and habitats waiting for something... anything to happen. Where an acceptable shooting ration for movies is 5 to 1 or so, the ratio in wild animal recordings is many multiples of that. By way of example, we needed Penguin sounds for a film and after recording constantly for three 8 hour shifts, the net result was 5 minutes of usable... albeit very usable... authentic sound.
The big game are the most memorable recordings. Elephants, Tigers, Lions and many others are awe inspiring in sight and sound. When a Lion lets loose a terrifying roar, something primal and instinctual bubbles up inside of the listener that can only be described as terror embedded from deep in our ancestral past.
Capturing quality sound when recording animals requires getting close. Sometimes closer than is comfortable. While recording exotic primates I stepped a little too close to a Macaque who mistook my nose for food and took a swipe. This caused a pretty significant gash that required a quick trip to the hospital for shots.
Camels are rather ornery creatures and they have multiples stomachs, like cows, that process food for regurgitation. Standing in close proximity risks having them spit on you. If your skin is exposed, as mine was, the spit contains bleach and burns like an acid, leaching the pigments from your skin leaving white spots for days. Camels always made the most interesting creature sound because of the burbling bubbling gurgles they made. Quite disgusting. We got really lucky on one trip to the trainers ranch when a female had just given birth and we captured not only the mama braying for her young one but the baby camels early utterances. Very few have ever heard these sounds, let alone captured them for sound.
"We always took microphones on holiday with us never knowing what those adventures would bring sonically…from Deserts in California to Jungles in Africa, from forests in South Korea to the suburbs of China, we were constantly capturing the sounds of nature and wildlife wherever we found it."
We had heard that pitbulls (Staffordshire bull terriers) had a really great “vibra-growl” great for creature sounds. After much research, and finding the homes of these pets unsuitable for recording, we rented two for a weekend and brought them to the studio. Contrary, perhaps, to public opinion, Staffs are crazy friendly dogs and we had a heck of time with them, never once being bitten or even threatened. Over two days on a weekend we captured these incredible growls and gurgles and other wild expressions of hunger and playfulness and even danger.
Wanting to capture the really big sound, we went after elephants a lot. Their roars and growls can be thunderous. However, hanging around a zoo, waiting for them to make noise is a fools errand. Some of the best sounds in this library are from Gita, a massive Asian elephant that once resided at the L.A. Zoo. We made a generous contribution to the Zoo and in return got permission to get inside the cage with her (and a trainer). I was within inches of that giant maw and recorded incredible grumbles and wails and roars, not to mention Trumpets galore. This recording session had myself on the boom mic and, at one point Gita charged us. Being tethered together with my recordist made escaping quickly behind concrete barriers a frightening and death defying proposition.
We managed to record these noble beasts again at the San Diego Zoo. To eliminate all the crowd sounds from daytime patrons shouting at us in the pen, we agreed to meet at midnight, when the Zoo was empty, to capture the cleanest sounds. Unfortunately, the elephants had already eaten and it was too late for even them to be out. We waded, literally, in pools of Elephant urine desperate for anything they might be willing to give us. Until one of the trainers had an idea to motivate them. He scampered off to the Tiger cage (Elephant's mortal enemy) and released one into the open pen not far away. Well, we got sound. Boy did we get sound, until daybreak and then it was a long drive back to LA in the car smelling of Elephant piss.
There are so many great environmental sounds in this library, most a function of Richard's and my dedication to recording whenever and wherever we could. We always took microphones on holiday with us never knowing what those adventures would bring sonically... from Deserts in California to Jungles in Africa, from forests in South Korea to the suburbs of China, we were constantly capturing the sounds of nature and wildlife wherever we found it.
One of the many benefits of having Richard Anderson as my partner for so many years was his love for raising pigs and chickens. Not only was I the grateful beneficiary over the years of the freshest eggs, pork and poultry but, his constant contributions to the library of every utterance one of these animals could make... because they were in his back yard.
Being a field recordist means always keeping ones ears open for new opportunities. While focused on one thing, your ears should always be scanning for something else, while you’re doing it. This would happen repeatedly when capturing wild animals sounds at a game preserve, animal shelter or professional animal rental service. Out to capture a Cougar at one of LA’s most reputable animal training and rental facilities, I heard in the background the insidious cackle of what I knew was the most hideous of beasts, the spotted Hyena. I wasn’t there to record it but it didn’t take much to convince the trainer we had hired to just let us “record for just a minute” to see what that sounded like.
"Being a field recordist means always keeping ones ears open for new opportunities. While focused on one thing, your ears should always be scanning for something else, while you’re doing it."
For a film that featured Gentoo Penguins, I spent months searching libraries for good, clean recordings but with no success. Hoping to do the recording myself, I quickly discovered that no Zoo would allow me close enough and their habitats were polluted with ambient sound and refrigeration hums (Penguins must live in an environment below 38 degrees F). I was running out of options. We found one trainer in the world who had a handful but he was on tour and had no idea how to use a sound recorder. He was, however, to be in NYC for a short stay but he said that he could only release them for recording in an environment cold enough for their comfort. No ADR stage could do this... so we built a Penguin ADR recording room in side a tractor trailer truck down at the docks where they came in. We sound proofed the interior and built penguin “runs” that led to the quiet booth. And then we waited... and waited. Turns out you can’t actually train penguins. You can only get them move from where there isn’t fish, to where there is. And even more futile trying to train them to make sound. With an abundance of patience and time, we captured 5 minutes of really good sounds after recording solidly for three days, 8 hours a day.
Sometimes we just got lucky. Hoping to create the sound of a small creature “purring,” one of our sound assistants brought home a microphone to capture their house cat. What made these purrs so distinct and useful for these create sounds was his cats emphysema, or so we were told. This made for weird wheezy chortles that didn’t read as a cat but still had somewhat of that warm, fuzzy purring quality hiding in it somewhere.
Creature sounds are the hardest things to design. It is, in part, because we as humans have an evolutionarily keen sense for “sentience," the quality of vocal utterances that implies intelligence. Creature sound design then gets particularly difficult because the designer must create something that fights itself. The creature is not human... but must sound more intelligent than an animal but not quite as intelligent as a human. These are the hardest tasks, creating creatures with human-like features but not exactly human.
Animal that undergirds the and informs that design. Synthesizers can’t do this.
Odyssey Creatures is available now: