Star Wars sound secrets: 5 amazing facts revealed
Things we learned from this fantastic Ben Burtt interview.
George Lucas was a big fan of sound in his movies. There's a famous quote from his that states: "The sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie."
But he would say that, because he had one of the best sound designers on the planet helping him shape the Star Wars universe.
Ben Burtt worked as a Supervising Sound Effects Editor on Empire Strikes Back (he also looked after sound effects on the first movie), famously sourcing sounds for the movie from some of the unlikeliest places. It was his melding of organic sounds that breathed life into the space dynasty that changes cinema audio forever.
Since working on Empire, he's gone back and remastered the rest of the Star Wars saga and worked on everything from Blade Runner to Wall-E. It's a fantastic and varied career and to celebrate 40 years of Empire, he's been speaking about his career and the sound design of that movie.
You should read the full interview on StarWars.com, but here are 5 things we learned about the sound design of Star Wars....
- These are the best Star Wars movies, ranked
1. The sound of a tauntaun? That would be an otter
“It was an Asian Sea Otter that was recorded at a game farm to the south of [San Francisco]. The sea otter had a very high-pitched squawking and the nice thing about it was that it almost sounded like it was talking... Slowed down, it became a terrific tauntaun.”
2. Boba Fett had a secret sound we didn't hear until the special editions
"With Boba we added some telemetry and soft electronic noises as if there were scanners or sensors onboard within him. Although we made those sounds, they were never heard because he never appeared in a quiet place.” [Burtt eventually managed to get the sounds back in the mix in the 97 special editions.]
3. Spare change was used for Han's carbon freezing chamber
“A coin, at room temperature, is so hot compared to the ice, that the ice melts instantly and it vaporizes. It vents gas. And it squeals, the gas escaping from under the coin — just like the sound you make when you pinch the nozzle on a balloon as air escapes through it.”
4. The mynocks were just horses, backward horses
“The mynocks! They were horses backwards,” Burtt says. “You know, when a horse whinnies? When you do it backwards, it’s funny, something as simple as a horse, but you don’t recognize it backwards. It sounds like some kind of shrill horror-creature vocal.”
5. Slowed down WWII aircraft was the basis for a TIE fighter
"We found that if we recorded a high energy piston aircraft — a World War II type aircraft — and slowed the recording down, you get a roar that people don’t recognize. They hear a very solid Doppler Effect of something roaring by. It has a grinding energy to it, and people respond to the reality of that sound. They don’t know what it is, but they realize it is real in some way, and that illusion is a key factor for all of the sound design in Star Wars.”