Chewbacca, R2-D2, E.T., and WALL·E are all characters who never speak a word; yet they remain central to the stories in which they appear—and evoke empathy in audiences worldwide. The masterminds behind the sounds of these characters and stories that move us recently discussed their art with young filmmakers at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, courtesy of the Dolby® Institute.
Ben Burtt, who won his first Academy Award® for sound in Star Wars, explained: “It kind of started for me with R2-D2 because the script described R2 as a character that whistled and made electronic sounds.” But mechanical and synthesizer sounds did not convey “that sense of being alive.”
Ben eventually found that he and George Lucas were making the sounds themselves in conversations about the character. Taking a cue from these made-up noises and further inspiration from babies’ preverbal expression, Ben began combining vocalization and electronic sounds. He told the audience, “The whole trick was to make it expressive, and almost kind of a universal language.”
Also joining Ben and panel moderator Glenn Kiser (Director of the Dolby Institute and former Vice President and General Manager, Skywalker Sound) were Academy Award winner Randy Thom (The Incredibles), 2013 Academy Award nominee Erik Aadahl (Argo), Will Files (Cloverfield), Phil Benson (Executive in Charge, Skywalker Sound), and Stuart Bowling (Senior Technical Marketing Manager, Dolby). Marking the debut of the Dolby Institute, the event reflected the institute’s aim to inspire and educate artists in the effective use of technology as a creative tool.
Photo caption: Glenn Kiser (far left) leads legendary sound professionals in a discussion of sound and story, including (second from left) Ben Burtt, Randy Thom, Erik Aadahl, Will Files, Phil Benson.