The mystery behind the sounds of Star Wars finally revealed in a new book
Sound designers, editors, mixers, geeks and Star Wars fans. Our day has come! Ben Burt has presented “The Sounds of Star Wars“, a new book written with J. W. Rinzler. Inside the book you’ll find all the secrets behind the making of the sound effects of Star Wars, and also includes a sound module with speaker and out connection for playback of 250 different sounds.
Guests at Celebration V in Orlando were honored with a rare appearance by legendary sound designer Ben Burtt. Burtt should be a familiar name to fans from his iconic work on all of the live-action Star Wars and Indiana Jones films. His accolades include academy awards for A New Hope, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and nominations for many more. As panel moderator Pablo Hidalgo puts it, “He’s the reason so many of us have high-end surround sound systems in our home theaters.”
Burtt came to discuss his latest book project, The Sounds of Star Wars. Written with New York Times best-selling author J. W. Rinzler, Sounds tells the intimate details behind your favorite Star Wars sound effects. From the majestic hum of a lightsaber to the lowly chitter of a Jawa, every effect has a story. This lavishly illustrated tome is more than just a book, it includes a sound module that lets you listen to over 250 original sounds from the Star Wars series in high-quality stereo as you read along.
This book has more than just sounds from the films; it also includes sounds taken from the original recordings that are only available here. It includes all of the growling and snarling recorded for the reptilian bounty hunter, Bossk, most of which was not used in The Empire Strikes Back. Burtt mixed recordings of himself growling into a microphone for most of the effects. “Paul Hirsch, editor on the film, was up to that scene where the bounty hunters are briefed by Vader. He just needed something quickly so I just went down and made that sort of snarly, vomit-producing [growl].”
It’s not just the sound designers themselves being recorded, often it’s the sound designer’s friends and family. After playing a booming, growling sound that reverberated through the auditorium, Hidalgo explained, “That is the sando aqua monster, one of the largest creatures in the Star Wars movies. Where did that sound come from?”
“That’s my lovely daughter, Emma,” Burtt beamed. “When she was about three months old, she had a growly, little cry. Of course, I recorded it because it was interesting. I thought, ‘I have to use this for a monster,’ so I slowed it way down to match the size, the mass of the creature. It’s a performance, it’s her wanting milk… or maybe a diaper change.”
Well, more than a must-have for me. What about you? Do you want to get it? If so, It’s only $60 and it’s available to buy right now at Chronicle Books.
Initially, the idea was to record babies and then somehow alter their sounds. But it was hard to persuade babies to perform properly. “Once you put a microphone on a baby, they usually cry, go silent, or fall asleep,” says Burtt. “So, out of necessity, I started making the sounds myself. I started imitating babies and babylike noises, and then combining those sounds with the electronic noises that I’d been making.”
Burtt spent many lonely days isolated in the sound design basement of Park Way huddled over a warm Movieola, endlessly chopping and splicing 35mm magnetic film into R2-D2 phrases.
“I would close my editing room door and curl up in a quiet corner with the tape recorder and mic and generate baby talk,” Burtt says. “I put myself into the mind of an infant and acted out a scene with a droid’s intentions. I’d whistle and coo, I would sigh and groan, and at the same time I’d move the oscillators of the synthesizer. But I was periodically interrupted by noisy footsteps on the kitchen floor above my room. In fact, many of the sounds in Star Wars contain low-level footsteps if you listen closely—the refrigerator door opening and closing, plates of cheese puffs being carried off…”