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HomeAwardsAward Contender-Ben Burtt, Sound, Revenge of the Sith

Award Contender-Ben Burtt, Sound, Revenge of the Sith

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Though he is best known for his incredibly layered sound design on all six Star Wars films, Ben Burtt’s expertise in filmmaking goes far beyond the sound studio. As director George Lucas puts it, “Ben is also a director, writer and editor as well as a sound person. He gets the bigger picture, and that’s especially important for editors and sound designers. The whole point of a sound designer is to establish the overall aesthetic view of how the sound relates to the editing, and that’s what Ben does so well.”Burtt first worked with Lucas as sound designer on the original Star Wars. Given a Nagra and a microphone, he started creating the Star Wars sound effects library. As he recalls, “This was unusual because most sound editors or sound mixers are brought on to a project at the final stages; that was the tradition. There was no time usually to create a whole new soundtrack for a science fiction film; they would just go to the studio library and grab what was around.”Burtt also created such sounds as ET’s voice and the rumbling of the boulder that rolls after Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But it is the sheer breadth of his contributions to Star Wars that make them so significant. “For 29 years and 10 months, until the completion of Revenge of the Sith, I’ve been recording new sounds and fashioning new materials,” says Burtt. “The library for those movies contains a little over 7,000 sound effects.” These include everything from ambiences to weapon fire to alien voices—right down to the sound of C3PO’s knees and elbows.One of the main changes on Sith was the re-organization of how the sound was edited and mixed. “The final mixers, Chris Scarabosio and Tom Myers, were also editors on the film, and this is something very radical in terms of the traditions of Hollywood filmmaking. By the time they got to that final mixing stage, they knew every detail of the sound because they’d worked with me, and I’d been premixing all along. You get some real advantages this way, in terms of development of the soundtrack.”With Roger Barton, Burtt also edited picture on the last three films. “I got the parts that involved the densest sound effects. I had a little laptop computer and the effects library on a drive, and that sat next to the Avid. I could turn away from cutting picture and piece together some sound very quickly. That would affect the cutting of the picture because you could give weight to something that didn’t work visually, or add an ambience that made a spaceship interior seem alive and real.” He compares the layering of the effects to composing music, and to Star Wars fans his effects are as memorable as John Williams’ famous themes—to which they are also perfectly complimentary.Though the first two films of the new trilogy required massive additions to Burtt’s sound effects library, in Sith he found himself returning to familiar territory. Some of the new ships in Sith, “resemble the earlier versions of the X-wing fighters and the Tie fighters in the first film, so there was a definite intention on my part to have the sounds begin to sound like those ships. I went back to quarter-inch recordings I’d made for the older films because I wanted it to work out so that if you played the films side by side there would be a sense that all the films were from the same world.”

Written by Henry Turner

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