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Ben Burtt      

Four-time Academy Award-winning American sound designer for many famous and noteworthy films, including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and WALL-E, as well as a film director, screenwriter, editor and voice actor

Ben Burtt is a four-time Academy Award-winning American sound designer for many famous and noteworthy films, including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and WALL-E, as well as a film director, screenwriter, editor and voice actor. He is most notable for creating many of the iconic sound effects heard in the Star Wars films, including the “voice” of R2-D2, the lightsaber hum, and the heavy-breathing sound of Darth Vader.

Burtt earned a college degree in Physics from Allegheny College. In 1970, he won the National Student Film Festival with a war movie called Yankee Squadron, reputedly after following exposure to classic aviation drama through making an amateur film at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, under guidance from its founder, Cole Palen.[1] For his work on the special effects film Genesis he won a scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Film Production.

Burtt pioneered modern sound design, especially in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Before his work in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, science fiction movies tended to use electronic-sounding effects for futuristic devices. Burtt sought a more natural sound, blending in “found sounds” to create the effects. The lightsaber hum, for instance, was derived from a film projector idling combined with feedback from a broken television set, and the blaster effect started with the sound acquired from hitting a guide wire on a radio tower with a wrench. Burtt has a reputation for including a sound effect dubbed “the Wilhelm scream” in many of the movies he’s worked on. Taken from a character named “Wilhelm” in the film The Charge at Feather River, the sound can be heard in countless films: for instance, in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope when a stormtrooper falls into a chasm and in Raiders of the Lost Ark when a Nazi soldier falls off the back of a moving car.

One of Burtt’s more subtle, but highly effective sound effects is the “audio black hole.” In Attack of the Clones, Burtt’s use of the audio black hole involved the insertion of a short interval of absolute silence in the audio track, just prior to the detonation of “seismic charges” fired at the escaping Jedi spaceship. The effect of this second or less of silence is to accentuate the resulting explosion in the mind of the listener. Burtt recalled the source of this idea as follows: “I think back to where that idea might have come to me…I remember in film school a talk I had with an old retired sound editor who said they used to leave a few frames of silence in the track just before a big explosion. In those days they would ‘paint’ out the optical sound with ink. Then I thought of the airlock entry sequence in 2001. I guess the seeds were there for me to nourish when it came to the seismic charges.”

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