Explaining Hollywood's Most Famous Noises


By John Scott Lewinski

If you've seen Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Wall-E, then you know the work of Hollywood's most legendary sound designer, Ben Burtt. After taking his first (uncredited) job on the original Death Race 2000 in 1975, Burtt would go on to turn movie sound into an art. By capturing and manipulating ambient and mechanical noises, he created entirely new aural worlds. Here are a few of his trademark sounds.

R2D2's Voice: "¨Most movie fans think the robot's voice is an elaborate creation of computer synthesizers, but it's actually a combination of Burtt "¨whistling and making fart noises into an old tape recorder.

Chewbacca's Voice: "¨Although the fictional wookiee looks all ape, his voice is based on the barks and grunts of dogs, mixed with the growls of lions and bears.

The Clicks of Wall-E's Cockroach Pet: "¨

After experimenting with various synthesized animal noises, Burtt settled on accelerating the chatter of an irritated raccoon.

The Star Wars Lightsaber: "¨The hum and the clash of the lightsaber came from two malfunctioning devices—a broken television set tuned between two VHF channels and an idling film projector.

Star Wars' T.I.E. Fighter: "¨The roar of the evil Empire's fighters (the name stands for Twin Ion Engine) is actually the roar of an elephant. To add some length to the sound, Burtt layered "¨in the buzz of his car driving on a wet road.

Indiana Jones' Whip: "¨The crack of Dr. Jones' whip is just that—the sound of Indiana Jones cracking his whip. During the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Burtt recorded Harrison Ford snapping the whip along a rural road in Marin County, California. To add a little more whoosh, Burtt dropped in the sound of a Harrier Jump Jet that flew by.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. If you didn't get what you wanted this holiday season, and what you wanted was a subscription to mental_floss magazine, here's where you can order one yourself.

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