The Rings of Power production team used an innovative method for the sounds of Mount Doom, dropping a wet sponge into a deep fryer.

It’s the latest in a long line of fascinating ways in which sound designers and editors create sound effects for major productions, although The Rings of Power’s spongey-Mount Doom might be the best for a long time.

Mount Doom erupts, a pyroclastic flow engulfs the Southlands
The Rings of Power/New Line/Amazon Studios/Prime Video YouTube channel

How The Rings of Power reawakened the Southlands’ Mount Doom

In The Rings of Power episode 6, the forces of Sauron are able to break a dam that had been secretly built into a mountain overlooking the Southlands, forcing water through a series of Orc-built tunnels and triggering the eruption of Mount Doom.

The production team behind this epic set piece has now revealed their thought process and creative approach to creating such a visceral and violent scene, with the sounds of Mount Doom actually being created by dropping a “wet sponge” into a hot fryer.

“When the lava is shooting out of the volcano and its landing amongst our heroes almost like bombs going off, we needed to create explosion-impact sounds but it couldn’t just be your average everyday TNT or even Earth-gravel displacement explosion.”

“It needed to have a different element to it, so what I did was, I took sound recordings of a wet sponge being dropped into a deep fryer,” said supervising sound editor Robert Stambler, who also noted: “Which is an incredibly dangerous thing to do and I would never recommend anybody do that.”

VFX producer Ron Ames explained how “Very early on when we were talking about this particular episode, we knew that we were coming to Mount Doom. Throughout all of it, [VFX Supervisor] Jason Smith and I would listen and the writers and creators would tell us their idea and then we’d go in the other room and go, ‘Oh my God, how are we going to do this?’”

“There was this key that we had been teasing throughout Season 1, this broken sword. By putting it in this stone and turning, it would essentially unlock the dams that would then allow the water to flow underground into these tunnels…under the village all the way to the mountain, hitting the magma lava and causing the explosion, which is loosely based on real science and how it would cause something like that.”

Ames shared how the team tried to use real-world geology and case studies to represent the enormous explosion in as realistic a way as possible, noting “There was no part of this that we allowed to not be connected to true physics.”

“We designed roughly what that machine was going to do and be, and it was a waterworks, basically a dam that had been built in and disguised into the side of the mountain, looked like a small waterfall.”

Unique sound stages and effects aren’t new to LOTR

Unusual and fascinating sound stages and practical sound effects are commonplace in movies and especially so for The Lord of the Rings franchise, which includes Peter Jackson’s original film trilogy, The Hobbit movie trilogy, and Amazon Prime Video’s The Rings of Power.

For example, in The Fellowship of the Ring, the sound of the Cave Troll in the Mines of Moria was taken from an exhaling Tiger and an inhaling Canadian Lynx; switching to a Walrus groan when Legolas shoots it in the mouth.

The sounds of the orcs themselves in the Mines of Moria were taken from cockroaches and the Balrog’s terrifying steps were created from dragging cinder blocks across wooden floors.

In The Two Towers, the sounds of the Uruk-hai army were recorded from a cricket game played between New Zealand and England, whilst Fangorn Forest was actually a slowed-down Cow mooing.

Overall, the manner and lengths that supervisors and editors need to go in order to find that perfect sound is a fascinating behind-the-scenes snippet from the production. The Rings of Power season 2 is expected to release in 2024.

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