A YouTube channel named Indepth Sound Design has done a service to fans of movies everywhere by uploading what appears to be sound designer Ben Burtt’s DVD commentary on Star Wars: Episode IV. If you’re interested in how big-budget movies were built before the modern era, it’s a long but fascinating watch.
Burtt gets into his own personal history, which is fascinating, but here are a few choices that might be of special interest to PopMech readers.
“I was carrying a microphone across the room between recording something over here and I walked over here when the microphone passed a television set which was on the floor which was on at the time without the sound turned up, but the microphone passed right behind the picture tube and as it did, this particular produced an unusual hum. It picked up a transmission from the television set and a signal was induced into it’s sound reproducing mechanism, and that was a great buzz, actually. So I took that buzz and recorded it and combined it with the projector motor sound and that fifty-fifty kind of combination of those two sounds became the basic lightsaber tone, which was then, once we had established this tone of the lightsaber of course you had to get the sense of the lightsaber moving because characters would carry it around, they would whip it through the air , they would thrust and slash at each other in fights, and to achieve this additional sense of movement I played the sound over a speaker in a room.
Just the humming sound, the humming and the buzzing combined as an endless sound, and then took another microphone and waved in the air next to that speaker so that it would come close to the speaker and go away and you could whip it by, and what happens when you do that by recording with a moving microphone is you get a Doppler’s shift, you get a pitch shift in the sound and therefore you can produce a very authentic facsimile of a moving sound. And therefore give the lightsaber a sense of movement and it worked well on the screen at that point.”
I went all over the place to record things, one of the places I went tested jet engines inside before they’re put on a full-size aircraft and I went into their test chambers and put some microphones up. Of course, then you don’t stay in the test chamber because they run the engines up to full speed in a tiny room. It’d probably kill you if you stayed in there. I had a microphone in there wrapped in towels to kind of muffle the sound just a little. Out of that recording came the sound of reverse thrusters, the sound of when a commercial jet hits the runway and reverses the airflow in the engines to slow the plane down.
That reverse sound was used for the the passbys of Luke’s landspeeder.
A lot of the electronic sounds used in the film, the telemetry, the kind of radio sounds low-level which make this place feel alive come from an old short-wave radio that belonged to my grandfather, built in the 1930s. It seemed to receive sounds that nobody else could get and I used to dial around and be fascinated by all the electronic signals that seemed to be coming from space or somewhere in the atmosphere.
I recorded the sounds as a teenager and saved the tapes, and when it came to developing a lot of the ambience of Star Wars, I went back through those old short wave radio recordings and pulled out little snippets of sound here and there. Ran it through different speeds, put it through echo chambers, had a lot of fun building the telemetry backgrounds which are part of the fabric of Star Wars.
One of the joys of being a sound designer is creating an off-screen world, and the trash monster is a great example. When it starts up, everything happens off-screen. The sound of the mechanism falling into place, the sound of the motor starting and accelerating as it begins to close in on our heroes. Of course, none of that really exists. There’s no mechanics there, the set was probably manually driven—I really don’t know. But it can be very satisfying to take motor sounds, dumpster door creaks, and the sound of a piledriver which was used for the acceleration, the pounding of the trash masher as it got closer.
In most film production, you don’t have all the time you’d want, so sometimes the easiest thing to do and your only choice is—do it yourself. So a lot of the incidental voices, like the mouse robot going down the hallway, it was really just myself doing funny little vocalizations and speeding the tape up and running backwards and so on to produce little tiny robot voices.
TIE Fighter and Y-Wings
Star Wars being a Fox film allowed us to, if we wanted to, use sound effects from their old classic film library. Being a real fan of the old sound effects, I used a few here and there [primarily for TIE fighters, which use the sounds of roaring elephants], but most of the effort was focused on original sounds for the movie.
Of course, there were many new ships that needed sounds. The Y-Wing fighters have kind of a howling sound as you fly in the cockpit with them. And that howling is actually wind recorded on top a mountain when I was trying to record guy wires for lasers. The wind was blowing so hard through one set of guy wires that it actually was producing a musical note, it was almost a musical chord. It was used principally for the background sounds of the pilots in the Y-Wing fighters.
Source: The Awesomer
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics