by Michael Brown, staff writer
Academy-award winning sound designer Ben Burtt celebrates his 66th birthday today!
Burtt was born July 12, 1948 in Jamesville, New York, and graduated from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, where he majored in physics, and later received a master’s in film production from the University of Southern California. Burtt is probably best known for his work in sound design in the Star Wars film franchise, where he “voiced” R2-D2, created the hum the lightsaber makes, the sound of the blasters firing, and Darth Vader’s heavy, labored breathing.
Burtt pioneered sound design for the science-fiction and fantasy genre. Wanting to stray away from the more electronically derived sound effects, Burtt used natural sounds, calling them “found sounds.” Some of his more notable contributions include using a film projector idling combined with feedback from a broken television set to create the lightsaber hum; the twang of a guy-wire at a radio tower for the sound of blaster fire; and the sound of his own breathing in a SCUBA regulator to create the sound of Darth Vader’s breathing in Star Wars. He recorded his wife, who had a cold and was sleeping in bed, to use in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. He created the sound effect known as “the Wilhelm scream,” taken from the character of Wilhelm in The Charge at Feather River, that can be heard in now-countless films, such as in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when a Nazi soldier falls off the back of a moving car.
One of Burtt’s more interesting sound effects is what he calls the “audio black hole.” You can hear an example of this in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, when the seismic charges fired at Obi-Wan Kenobi in the asteroid field detonate.
Burtt also directed the documentaries Blue Planet, Destiny in Space, and Special Effects: Anything Can Happen. He edited the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy, several episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and is credited as writer of several episodes of the 1980s Saturday morning cartoon Droids.
Burtt also won Academy awards for his sound design work in the films Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
We at SCIFI.radio wish Ben Burtt a very happy birthday, and wish him many more.
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