In the science fiction novel Dune, written by Frank Herbert, sandworms are massive, terrifying creatures that live in the sands of the desert planet Arrakis and produce “spice” — the most valuable substance in the universe. The sandworms also serve as a means of transportation for some of the characters. Also known as “Makers” or “Shai-Hulud”, the sandworms have a monstrous array of teeth, used primarily for rasping rocks and sand.
Since the creatures are massive, the ground shakes whenever they move under the sand. They also produce a subterranean sound when they move. For the 2021 film adaptation of the novel, bringing the sandworm’s sound to life was a challenge for sound engineers Mark Mangini and Theo Green.
In a recent interview, they revealed how they produced and created the sandworm sounds in the Denis Villeneuve-directed remake. The two sound engineers had previously worked with Villeneuve on Blade Runner 2049.
In one scene, a massive sandworm swallows a whole spice harvester. To create a realistic, swallowing noise of a large beast, the sound engineers used a very unique approach. Mark Magnini placed a small microphone in his mouth and inhaled a lot of air to recreate a swallowing sound. It resulted in a sparse-sounding sound, different from the usual banging, harsher sounds that other Hollywood movies employ through more conventional sound design techniques.
Magnini and Green used a technique called Fake Documentary Realism (FDR), intending for the movie to sound like a “documentary of the planet Arrakis.” Through this technique, they wanted to make audiences “feel like they live in a universe we recognize.”
Director Denis Villeneuve specified to the sound engineers that he wanted the sandworms to seem more “god than Godzilla,” and wanted the audience to feel and sense the creatures’ movements through sound.
Magnini added that Villeneuve “was very keen on everything we heard feeling organic or acoustic.” Aside from Magnini placing a microphone in his mouth, he and Green also recorded the sound of sand moving in California’s Death Valley to signify the sandworm’s arrival, as well as using sounds of creaking tree barks and twisting vines. The pair made them sound as sonar as possible as Villeneuve wanted to defy monster movie stereotypes.
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