2023 Excellence in Audio Digital Storytelling, Use of Audio Storytelling finalist

What did dinosaurs sound like?

About the Project

What did dinosaurs sound like? If you’ve ever watched a Jurassic Park movie, you can probably imagine a sound in your head: a set of roars and groans and growls designed to strike terror into the hearts of moviegoing audiences.

But the iconic dinosaur sounds from the first Jurassic Park movie are not a reflection of some kind of scientific analysis of dinosaurs. Instead, they are based less on science, and more on feelings. The classic T-rex roar, for example, was actually just a mashup of sounds collected from tigers, elephants, lions, donkeys, dolphins, and koalas, pitch shifted, warped, and combined into one bone-chilling noise.

On this episode, we ask what a more scientific approach to sound designing dinosaurs might look like.

Paleontologist Michael Habib walked our host, Noam Hassenfeld, through his attempts to reconstruct a fossilized roar from the clues dinosaurs left behind. He explained how researchers can examine the shape of a dinosaur’s head, or the bones of their ears, or trace evidence in their throats, to piece together a possible soundscape.

Noam then took that knowledge and, with the help of a sound designer for a dinosaur TV show and our sound designer Cristian Ayala, he worked to create a more scientifically accurate dinosaur sound– sourcing sounds from dinosaur descendants like crocodiles and birds, and reshaping them based on what researchers know about the size of the animal, how wide they opened their mouth, and what we know about their anatomy.

The end result is a series of dinosaur sounds, but also, along the way, a lot of communication about what we do, and don’t, know about how dinosaurs made and used sound… and how science and imagination can play together to make something as thrilling as any Jurassic Park movie.