Final Update – How Did Dinosaurs Sound?

At long last, my research is concluded! It’s been fantastic to learn all about dinosaur acoustics – from both the paleontology side and the sound design perspective.

In total, I interviewed three paleontologists and two sound designers in order to find out (1) what dinosaurs sounded like, (2) what shaped public perceptions of dinosaur vocalizations, and (3) if any interaction has occurred between sound artists and scientists in the realm of archosaur acoustics.

Below are the five interviews. In addition to a brief description of each interviewee, I have included some highlights from the interview. Links to the full interviews are also provided, which I highly recommend you look at.

 

Interview with Gina Zdanowicz:

Gina Zdanowicz is an Emmy-nominated composer and sound designer. A graduate of Berklee College of music, her work includes video games, original music, film, television, and advertising.

She told me that the key to being a good sound designer is the ability to tell a story through sound. With ingenuity, a good ear, and clever computer tricks, we can create compelling dinosaur sounds, and Zdanowicz is fully supportive of using scientific inspiration in her work. In fact, she told me she plans to use NASA recordings of outer space to create textured, realistic silences for an upcoming radio drama.

When I asked how she would design audio for a museum exhibit about dinosaurs, she said that she would certainly incorporate the latest research into dinosaur acoustics. Knowing that birds and crocodiles are the closest living relatives of dinosaurs, her audio effects would likely combine sounds from both animal groups.

Listen to the full interview below:

 

Interview with Dr. David Weishampel:

Dr. David Weishampel is an American paleontologist specializing in paleobiology. Previously a professor at Johns Hopkins, he has researched a great many topics, including the acoustic potential of hadrosauran crests.

He told me that Lambeosaurs had hollow crests that could be used for acoustic resonating. With a long nasal cavity and a small diameter, we can calculate the crests’ fundamental resonance frequencies. These would be low sounds, similar to a fog horn. He actually created a model of the skull and was able to test the acoustic display hypothesis by blowing air through it. The recreation can be found on Youtube. Dr. Weishampel doesn’t dismiss the possibility that some dinosaurs may have had a functioning voice box – theropods or ornithicians being the most likely candidates. In fact, the hollow crests may have served as resonating chambers for sound waves produced by vocal organs.

He stressed that open-mindedness and imagination are important traits to be a good paleontologist. His research was partially inspired by a comparison between the hollow crest and a musical instrument, and he believes that paleontologists and sound designers can work together to create more accurate recreations of dinosaur vocals.

Listen to the full interview below:

 

 

Interview with David Yingling:

David Yingling is a sound engineer for games and video. Currently a Senior Audio Designer at Insomniac Games, his past credits include sound design for Primal Carnage, a multiplayer class-based game of humans versus dinosaurs.

In my correspondence, he told me that sound design requires creativity, curiosity, and perceptive hearing. When he went about designing the audio effects for Primal Carnage, Yingling used the video game graphics to guide his decisions but was also influenced in large part by the sound design of Jurassic Park. Regarding dinosaur vocalizations in popular culture, he stressed that it’s hard for people to change their perceptions, especially when certain sounds are “so iconic and ingrained since we were children.” Rather than attempting scientific accuracy, he wanted to create a thrilling game for dino-lovers.

“I used a variety of different animal sounds for the game. A few that I remember were geese, vultures, crows, ravens, alligators/crocodiles, elephants, snakes. There are a lot of animal sound libraries out there and we use them often in sound design. I remember back then I made a make-shift dinosaur foot out of wood, duct tape, and nails to record footsteps for the smaller playable dinosaurs… I remember having tons of fun with it. Sometimes it was difficult because everyone on the team had their own ideas on how each dinosaur should sound.”

See the full interview below:

Interview with David Yingling

 

Interview with Dr. Phil Senter:

Dr. Phil Senter  currently teaches biology courses at Fayetteville State University. Among his many research papers is a fascinating synthesis of pre-Cenozoic animal acoustic behavior and its evolution.

In response to my queries, Dr. Senter stated that dinosaurs didn’t have a functioning voice box with vocal cords. Dinosaurs are archosaurs, and the members of this lineage have vocal cords found in the syrinx (birds), not a larynx (crocodilians). The two evolutionary families “acquired vocal cords independently, as is indicated by the fact that each lineage has the cords in a different organ, not the same organ.”

He believes that instead of vocalization, dinosaurs probably had “occasional hissing between long silences, like most modern reptiles (including social reptiles) and ratite birds… Stamping and wing-flapping were also probably used by dinosaurs with the requisite anatomy for such noises.”

When asked about the movie roars of dinosaurs, Dr. Senter told me that it’s sparkle rather than substance. “Dinosaurs in movies would be much scarier if they were more realistic: sneaking silently toward their prey instead of announcing their presence with trumpeting and crazy chirping.”

See the full interview below:

Interview with Dr. Phil Senter

 

Interview with Dr. Zhiheng Li:

Dr. Zhiheng Li is currently an associate professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology within the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He has done extensive research in the evolution and anatomical mechanics of avian vocalization.

He told me that there’s no evidence for a vocalizing larynx or syrinx in any dinosaur. These organs were used for breathing rather than roaring or squawking. Along those lines, most of the bones and muscles within the nose, mouth, and throat were geared toward food consumption and respiration. He emphasized that we still have a long road ahead in figuring out the specifics. The scientific community is trying very carefully to make predictions about the vocalizations of dinosaurs, their origins, and their evolutionary development.

Regarding public perceptions of dinosaur vocalizations, Dr. Zhiheng Li said that the iconic roar of the T-rex does not have much solid evidence to support it. In his estimation, a dinosaur would likely produce relatively quiet, low-frequency sounds. “I would like to make a guess, dinosaur may sound like alligator or ostrich, making low frequency booming or growling calls, for instance.”

See the full interview below:

Interview with Dr. Zhiheng Li

Comments

  1. zsconnell says:

    Hi Gabrielle! Your research looks awesome, and I am happy to see that it went so well. I am sad to hear that most of my previous notions as to what dinosaurs sounded like were incorrect, though. Jurrasic Park failed me! In the future, do you think that there should be more collaboration between sound artists and scientists? Trying to picture a movie like Jurrasic Park without the iconic roars is very hard, but should we prioritize reality over excitement?

  2. Hey Gabrielle! I had so much fun reading through your research and the various interviews you conducted. I never would have suspected that the dinosaur roars we grew up hearing were lies (although I suppose I’ve never heard a crocodile roar, so it makes sense, haha). I was just wondering, using both the biological and sound design perspectives, would it be possible to map out the sounds of other extinct species or even (pre recording) humans (like what did George Washington actually sound like)?

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