Sound Effects

Ben Burtt Wall-E interview.

 

 

Ben Burtt Interview, Wall-E

interview by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down with Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt at the Los Angeles press day for his new film, “WALL-E.”

“WALL-E’s” expressive range of robotic voices was created by Burtt, whose memorable work includes creating the “voices” of other legendary robots, such as R2-D2 from the “Star Wars” films. Drawing on 30 years of experience as one of the industry’s top sound experts, Burtt was involved from the film’s earliest stages in creating an entire world of sound for all of the robotic characters and the spacecraft, as well as all environments.

Burtt is an accomplished filmmaker who has served as film editor on a vast array of projects. He began his work with director George Lucas in 1977 as sound designer of the original “Star Wars,” earning his first Academy Award.

Ben Burtt is a fabulous guy and we really appreciated his time. Here’s what he had to tell us about his latest movie:

Q: Clearly one of the challenges in voicing a character like Wall-E is not to do R2-D2, but there was a little R2-D2 in there, wasn’t there?

BEN BURTT: Well, the challenge of doing robot voices – Andrew (Stanton), if he’d wanted to, I suppose could have hired actors and had them stand in front of a mike and recorded their voices and dubbed that in over character action, but that would have of course not taken the whole idea of the illusion very far. What he wanted was the illusion that these robot characters, the speech and sounds they made were really coming from their functions as machines, that there was either a chip on board that synthesized the voice or the squeak of their motor would sound cute, and that would give an indication how they feel. The problem does go back, for me, to the sort of primal R2-D2 idea, which is how do you have a character not speak words or, in the case of Wall-E, just a very few words, but you understand what is going on in their head and they also seem to have a depth of character.

The trick has always been to somehow balance the human input to the electronic input so you have the human side of it. In this case, for Wall-E, it ended up being my voice because I was always experimenting on myself sort of like the mad scientist in his lab, you inject yourself with the serum. After weeks and months of experimenting it was easier to try it on myself as we worked it out. You start with the human voice input and record words or sounds and then it is taken into a computer and I worked out a unique program which allowed me to deconstruct the sound into its component parts. We all know how pictures are pixels now and you can rearrange pixels to change the picture. You kind of do the same thing with sound.

I could reassemble the Wall-E vocals and perform it with a light pen on a tablet. You could change pitch by moving the pen or the pressure of the pen would sustain or stretch syllables or consonants and you could get an additional level of performance that way, kind of like playing a musical instrument. But that process had artifacts in it, things that made it unlike human speech, glitches you might say, things you might throw away if you were trying to convince someone it was a human voice. That’s what we liked, that electronic alias thing that went along with it, because that helped make the illusion that the sound was coming from a voice box or some kind of circuit depending on the character.

So it is a matter of that relationship, how much electronic, how much human, and you sway back and forth to create the different sounds. A great deal of the sounds, for him as well as the other characters, are also sound effects which are chosen to go with the robot’s character. Wall-E has lots of little motors and squeaks and little clicks of his hands and those are all mechanical sounds that come from many, many different sources. The idea is to orchestrate all those little bits of sound to also be a part of his character so he can cock his head and look at something and you can hear a little funny squeak and in a way it’s an expressive sound effect. So that is important too. It was really that array of sounds that were used to define each character.

 

 

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What is audio post production and how does it work? part 1

Audio post-production is the process of creating the soundtrack for a visual program of some kind. Now this has been relevant ever since silent movies began to talk, and filmmakers have been looking to control and improve the sound of their creation to better engulf their viewers. As soon as film-makers realized there was a way to control and enhance the sound of their pictures, audio post was born, and has been a vital part ever since. In Television, audio was originally “live”, but as TV evolved, and the art form grew to include “videotaped” and “filmed” programming, the need for audio post increased. Nowadays, it would be difficult to find any feature film or television show that hasn’t been through audio post.

     According to filmsound.com audio post usually consists of several processes: Production Dialogue Editing, ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement), Sound Effects, Foley Recording, Music Composition and music editing, and Mixing. In order for the production audio recorded on the set or on location to be mixed the proper way, a Dialogue Editor needs to prepare it. This means that he has to locate the proper take from the recorded production audio, check the sync on screen (so it actually works with the picture properly and when the actor speaks the words are matched to his lips), and eliminate excess noise so the Mixer has clear and clean dialogue to use during the Mix.

     In cases where the production audio is too noisy, or otherwise unusable (bad line reading, or some uncontrollable noise interferes with on site recording,etc.) the Dialogue Editor will “cue” the line for ADR. This means replacing that line or lines of dialogue using the Automated process of Dialogue Replacement. This process takes place using a recording studio where the actor can record lines in sync with the picture. Once a replacement line of dialogue has been recorded, the editor will check the sync carefully, editing the take if need be, to precisely match it to the picture, and prepare it for the mixing stage. This process is also known as “looping”. So now that dialogue editing and ADR are out of the way, ever wonder how they made the sound of Darth Vader’s helmet breath, or the Empire’s Tie Fighters, or that famous light saber sound? Sound Effects Editors and Sound Designers are how. The process of adding sound effects (backgrounds like: air,lighting, rivers, birds, dog, cats, traffic, and hard effects like: gunshots, door slams, body falls, grunts, explosions, etc.) has been the go to of sound effects editors for years. Although originally edited using 35mm magnetic film, recent years have seen the development of many different Digital Sound Editing systems. More and more projects are using digital technology ( Pro-tools, Logic, abelton) because of the efficiency and quality it can bring to sound effects. Sound Designers use digital and analogue technology to create sound effects that have never been heard before, or to artistically create specific “mood” sounds to complement the director’s vision of the visuals.