Creating the Sonic Worlds of 'Terra Nova'

Sep 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Matt Hurwitz



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Terra Nova re-recording mixers Dean Okrand (left) and Brian Harman

Terra Nova re-recording mixers Dean Okrand (left) and Brian Harman

Steele and fellow designer Dickeson use similar rigs—Pro Tools|HD Accel with 24-fader ICON control surfaces, which, in Steele’s case, is strictly used for monitoring. “I’m pretty much a keyboard cutter,” he says. “To me, that is really the editing process—cutting, pasting, dragging, trimming.”

Working in the box, the two make use of some favorite plug-ins from Avid—including Vari-Fi for ramping up sounds, such as engine revving—and a collection from Sound Toys, including Crystallizer, FilterFreak, Tremolator, PhaseMistress and, Steele’s main workhorse, PurePitch. “Pitch is really almost everything, and PurePitch is especially useful in the formant of the sound— changing the pitch of the intonation without changing the pitch of the vocalization itself. And when you apply it to non-vocal effects, it has some very interesting characteristics.”

While creating the sounds of a rundown future provided the base, Graham says creating dinosaurs that don’t sound like, well, dinosaurs (i.e., Jurassic Park) was the show’s biggest challenge. “We all identify certain sounds coming out of certain dinosaur faces,” says Steele. “So the real task is to come up with groups of sounds and put them together with what we’re seeing, and, in a sense, try and create a personality.”

So what makes a good dinosaur? “Anything that roars,” replies Graham with a laugh. “You can use a bear, a lion, a cougar—you can use all of those, but they all have to be treated, manipulated in such a way that it’ll fit the size of the creature. And they need to be married with a large-body-cavity animal, such as an elephant, rhino or walrus, to give it size and weight, especially for low growls and breaths. And the key is combining all of those sounds so that they have one vocalization and sound like they’re a single animal.”

Creating a personality for the beasts is what sets them apart from the real thing, says Steele. “Every roar can’t be the same; you have to create that deviation. If you listen to animals in the wild, they kind of sound the same from vocalization to vocalization. They don’t have human-like personalities, but you still have to create that emotional attachment. These are characters, not just animals.”

For the beastly Carnotauruss, Steele worked up a new, intimidating sound. “The producers told us they wanted it to have a bird-like quality,” Graham explains. At the core of Steele’s Carno is a condor with lots of other ferocious animals added. “But it’s that condor that gives it that distinct, bird-like feel,” says Steele, noting that it can be heard as the last sound out of its mouth before it attacks.

Sometimes the dinosaurs interact with each other, not “speaking” per se, but communicating nonetheless. In the second hour of the pilot, some “Slasher” creatures—prehistoric animals that hunt in packs, with large tails with a saw on the end—are heard offscreen “talking” to each other as they form their attack. “It makes the scene more terrifying, the fact that you’re not seeing them, but you hear them going back and forth,” Harvengt explains. “Each one of those vocalizations has to be as if we’re hearing an actor offstage playing a role. That’s the difference between design effects and hard effects; design effects have an emotional effect on the audience.”

Another dinosaur is the giant, green-eating Brachiosaurus that, in one scene, is found bending down from the tree branches to eat out of a little girl’s hand. The direction from co-producer Livia Hanich and executive producer Brannon Braga during the episode’s spotting session was simply that the animal needed to sound “friendly.”

“The producers give us clues, in a way, as to what they’re looking for,” says Harvengt. “So we have to take those simple clues and create sounds that we know will forward the story. A lot of times, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. You’re looking for that piece to put in there that will complete the full picture.”

The friendly Brach, says Steele, is a combination of a bear, a dog “and certain parts of a walrus.” And when it bends down, “That’s from a cow.”

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