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Justice League’s Mother Boxes actually speak ‘boxology,’ says sound designer

Zack Snyder wanted the magical MacGuffins to have voices

The creation of the Mother Boxes in Zack Snyder’s Justice League Image: HBO Max
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

In the 2017 theatrical cut of Justice League, the Mother Boxes never got to be much more than the space objects that Steppenwolf collected for ultimate power or whatever. However, much like everything in Zack Snyder’s version of the film, the boxes get an expanded role. With the added screen time, Snyder and the rest of the filmmakers wanted to make the boxes into something like characters themselves, and that’s where sound design came into play.

In an interview for HBO Max’s director’s cut release, Justice League’s co-sound designers Scott Hecker and Chuck Michael — who worked on both versions of the film — tell Polygon that the team’s goal was to give the boxes their own personality. They don’t speak words, but they do speak.

The Amazonian Mother Box in Zack Snyder’s Justice League Image: HBO Max

“It’s an organic computer is one way it was described at some point in the film,” Michael says. “So we have to work from both of those sides. There’s a fair amount of synth and those kinds of things [...] But then there’s also some vocal elements that we’ve processed as well in there to try to give it that more organic feel [...] And it changes based on what it’s doing and what it’s feeling.”

Part of giving the Mother Boxes personality, was about creating a consistent set of noises that meant specific things. Everything from the boxes waking up, to them being moved, to them getting “wound up” when Steppenwolf gets close, had to have a distinct noise that meant specific things. Eventually the team turned this set of noises into a functional sort of language Hecker calls “boxology.”

Steppenwolf with a Mother Box in Zack Snyder’s Justice Leagu Image: HBO Max

“We had to sort of create a language for this thing and what it would sound like in different situations,” Hecker explains. “And after talking about it and working together, Chuck really took it another 100 yards into coolness. He was our major boxologist in this endeavor.”

According to Michael, he approached the boxes themselves almost like he would a more traditional performance.

“I think of everything in sound as a performance, whether it’s a car, or a door, or a person, or animal, or creature. So depending on the performance and what it’s doing, we change our sound to go along with that, and [for the Mother Boxes] we used organic and synthetic materials to get that,” Michael says.

The human Mother Box just before it revives Superman in Zack Snyder’s Justice League Image: HBO Max

Both Hecker and Michael explain that the hardest things to get right with the Mother Boxes was their consistency. From scene to scene, throughout all four-hours of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, they needed to make sure that every single small noise the Mother Boxes made was cohesive.

“You can’t throw something in there that’s totally different,” Michael says. “It all has to fit the same sort of sonic palette. It has to all be the same language.”

In fact, Hecker says he hopes that after just a few scenes, audiences will pick up on the boxes’ moods in different situations, and be able to anticipate how they’ll act.

“We really wanted [them] to have [their] own personality and to be as predictable as a person’s personality.”