Benjamin Burtt, Jr.|
July 12, 1948
Jamesville, New York, United States
|Alma mater||University of Southern California|
|Occupation||Sound designer, film editor, film director, screenwriter|
|Awards||Doctor of Arts, Charles S. Swartz Award, Academy Award|
Benjamin "Ben" Burtt, Jr. (born July 12, 1948) is an American sound designer, film editor, director, screenwriter, and voice actor. He has worked as sound designer on various films, including the Star Wars and Indiana Jones film series, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), WALL-E (2008) and Star Trek (2009).
He is most notable for popularizing the Wilhelm scream in-joke and creating many of the iconic sound effects heard in the Star Wars film franchise, including the "voice" of R2-D2, the lightsaber hum, the sound of the blaster guns, and the heavy-breathing sound of Darth Vader, made from himself breathing into a scuba regulator. Burtt is also known for "voicing" the title character, Wall-E, in the 2008 Pixar movie WALL-E. He also created the robotic sound of Wall-E's voice, along with all the other characters in WALL-E, and was the sound editor of the movie.
In 1970, he won the National Student Film Festival with a war film Vape God, reputedly after following exposure to classic aviation drama through making an amateur film at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, a living aviation museum in Red Hook, New York, under guidance from its founder, Cole Palen.
Burtt pioneered modern sound design, especially in the science-fiction and fantasy-film genres. Before his work in the first Star Wars (now known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) in 1977, science-fiction films 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 guy-wire on a radio tower with a hammer.
He is personally responsible for some of the sounds heard in films. In the Star Wars series, part of R2-D2's beeps and whistles are Burtt's vocalizations, also made using an ARP 2600 synthesizer, as are some of the squawks made by the tiny holographic monsters on the Millennium Falcon spacecraft. In Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) he provided the voice for Lushros Dofine, captain of the Invisible Hand cruiser. The heavy-breathing of Darth Vader was created by recording his own breathing in an old Dacor scuba regulator.
Burtt used the voice of an elderly lady with a very low voice that he had met in a photoshop for the voice of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The woman's low voice was the result of very heavy smoking, specifically Kool cigarettes. He created the "voice" of the title character and many other robots in Pixar's film WALL-E (2008), about a lonely garbage-compacting robot. Additionally, he is responsible for the sound effects in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).
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."
A tongue-in-cheek homage to Ben Burtt appears in the 1997 Activision PC game Zork: Grand Inquisitor - the spell 'Beburtt', which 'creates the illusion of inclement weather', plays dramatic thunderclap and rainfall sounds when cast.
Director, editor and writer
Burtt directed several IMAX documentary films, including Blue Planet, Destiny in Space, and the Oscar-nominated Special Effects: Anything Can Happen. He edited the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy, and several episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Burtt is also credited as the writer of several episodes of the 1980s Star Wars-based cartoon, Droids.
He makes a cameo appearance in two of the Star Wars films as an extra. He appeared as Colonel Dyer in Return of the Jedi (the Imperial officer who yells "Freeze" before Han Solo knocks him off a balcony. Incidentally, his scream as he falls seems to be his own imitation of the Wilhelm that he popularized.) and in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace as Ebenn Q3 Baobab (appears in the background near the end when Padmé Amidala congratulates Palpatine).
- Return of the Jedi (1983) - Commander Dyer (Imperial Officer in Bunker) / Tortured Power Droid (voice, uncredited)
- Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) - Naboo Courier
- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith (2005) - Lushros Dofine (voice, uncredited)
- WALL-E (2008) - WALL·E / M-O / Robots (voice)
- Best Sound Effects Editing in 1989 for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- Best Sound Effects Editing in 1982 for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
- Special Achievement for Sound Effects Editing in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
- Special Achievement for Sound Effects Editing in Star Wars (1977)
- Nominated for:
- Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing in 2008 for WALL-E
- Best Sound Effects Editing in 1999 for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
- Best Documentary Short Subject in 1996 for directing Special Effects: Anything Can Happen
- Best Sound in 1989 for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- Best Sound Effects Editing in 1988 for Willow
- Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing in 1983 for Return of the Jedi
- Holman, Tomlinson. Sound for Film and Television. New York: Focal Press, 2010, p. 145.
- "Sound Design of Star Wars". Retrieved March 9, 2014.
- Star Trek Post Production Complete + Oscar-winner Ben Burtt Provided Sound Design
- filmreference.com (2008). "Ben Burtt Biography". NetIndustries, LLC. Archived from the original on 14 September 2008. Retrieved October 25, 2008.
- "The 81st Academy Awards (2009) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-11-22.
- "The 62nd Academy Awards (1990) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-17.
- "The 56th Academy Awards (1984) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-09.
- Skywalker Sound
- Ben Burtt at the Internet Movie Database
- Ben Burtt at AllMovie
- Site detailing the history of The Wilhelm Scream
- Interview with Ben Burtt on Silicon Valley Radio
- Interview with Ben Burtt on Studio 360 about his career
- CineSource Magazine - Ben Burtt and the Sound of WALL-E