How Prometheus Got Its Sound: Soda and Pop Rocks

Slate's Culture Blog
June 13 2012 2:33 PM

How Prometheus Got Its Sound

Still from Prometheus
The sound effects for this scene were recorded from Pop Rocks candy.

Publicity still from Prometheus © 20th Century Fox 2012. All rights reserved.

If film editing is the invisible art, you could say that sound editing is the inaudible art. It’s rare that you notice it at all—at least not consciously—though you may feel it in the goosebumps on the back of your neck.

But learning the real-world origins of fantastical movie sound effects can be surprising and delightful. You may know that the blaster sound effect from Star Wars was made by banging on the wires of a radio tower, but did you know that Eve’s laser in WALL·E comes from tapping on an extended Slinky?

From the look of this SoundWorks video—which sometimes plays like a commercial, but is worth watching for its revelations—that same level of creativity went into constructing the sounds of Prometheus:

That an unusual level of craft went into Prometheus’s sound is not surprising. While no one can agree on what to think of Prometheus as a whole (and the questions it leaves unanswered), nearly everyone has acknowledged how the movie’s rich design creates an unforgettable atmosphere—and the sound is, as it’s often said with movies, 50 percent of that experience.

What is surprising is that the sounds of the aliens were made by a 35-year-old blue-fronted Amazon parrot named Skipper. And that, to create the sound of the spaceship’s doors, sound designer Ann Scibelli recorded things like popping open a can of soda, pouring the soda into a cup, and making copies on a Xerox machine. (The sliding doors of the future have long sounded like stationery: Those on the Starship Enterprise supposedly got their whoosh from pulling a piece of paper out of an envelope.)

The best part of the video comes around 6 minutes in, when we learn about the noise of “sweating” alien capsules. To make the wet crackling noise, the sound editors worked with Foley artist John Cucci to record Pop Rocks candy both in Cucci’s mouth and on stone. You can hear the Pop Rocks sound effects starting around 6:50, but be warned: Sometimes, once you hear where a sound effect came from, you can’t unhear it.
 
(You can find more of these videos—including one about the hyperreal head-squishing sound of Drive—at the SoundWorks Collection website.)

Previously
I, Actor: Cinema’s Finest Robot Performances
What Not to Name Your Spaceship
Fact-Checking Prometheus: Does God Build in Straight Lines?
Did You See This? The Sounds of Aronofsky

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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