Anthropology professor helps Hollywood get 'Apes' right


Apes teaser.jpgA rare story combining social science scholarship and the entertainment industry brings anthropology professor Roberta Salmi to the movies:

Recordings of gorilla sounds are extremely rare, so sounds used in the entertainment industry are generally not obtained from actual gorillas. In films, they are usually portrayed as screaming, aggressive beasts, when they are actually the opposite.

For this summer's blockbuster "War for the Planet of the Apes," the filmmakers contacted the University of Georgia's Roberta Salmi, assistant professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Science department of anthropology. For Salmi, who has published extensive research on vocal communication of western gorillas, it wasn't the first time that Hollywood had come calling.

In April 2014, Salmi was contacted by the supervising sound director for "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," Douglas Murray, who had learned about her from a Wired Magazine article describing her research on vocal communication of wild western gorillas.

"The article was based on my Ph.D. dissertation, for which I spent 18 months in the forest of the Northern Republic of Congo collecting over 2,000 recordings of gorillas' vocalizations," Salmi said. "Since the gorillas I followed every day in the Republic of Congo were fully habituated to humans, I was able to record all kinds of calls, which allowed me to describe their entire vocal repertoire and contextual use."

Extraordinary on several levels - not the least of which being the film producers' interest in the accuracy of gorilla sounds and mannerisms. Congratulations to the filmmakers and to Dr. Salmi. This unusual sort of recognition and use of expertise highights the many directions that social scences and humanities scholarship overlaps with contemporary life and culture.

Image:  Courtesy of Roberta Salmi from 2010 at Mondika Research Center (Wildlife Conservation Society), Nouabale-Ndoki National Park. Photo of Mama, the highest ranking female of the group.