That calls for a Wilhelm Scream
January 27, 2009 6:46 AM   Subscribe

Ben Burtt... heard the name? Well if you've ever watched a Star Wars film you've heard what he does.

He's already won four Oscars for sound and he's up for another two for WALL·E (he was also the voice of the eponymous robot). A Space Journey In Sound. Interview. Another interview. Yet another interview. WALL·E Sound Masterclass. Lecture on sound design.

His favourite sound? The arrows in The Adventures of Robin Hood...

Oh and he popularised the Wilhelm Scream (previous) - song.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (26 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
aaaAAUGH!
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:51 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can tell you from my experiences with Pixar people that they consider him to be the primary actor behind Wall-E. He's seen as being something like a god there.

At the Pixar studio, they have a rather large movie theater/performance space they use ofr screenings and lectures, and they invited Burtt to discuss how he makes sounds for movies. He was going to walk them through sounds for Raiders of the Lost Ark, but, for whatever reason, when the scene from the movie started, it was sans sounds. Somebody in the audience spontaneously began reciting the dialogue and making sound effects in time with the movie, and they were perfect. Perfect impersonations of the actors, the sound effects and foley work perfectly timed. Obviously, someone had seen the movie a million times. So they just proceeded with the demonstration, with the audience member providing the sounds.

When the lights came on, everybody realized that it was Brad Bird, the writer/director of The Incredibles, who had been providing all the sounds.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:53 AM on January 27, 2009 [30 favorites]


Seeing the sock puppet out-take was fun, but Astro Zombie topped it.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:00 AM on January 27, 2009


The guy is of course a genius, but man if you've ever seen him interviewed, it's hard to get over how much in love with himself he is.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:04 AM on January 27, 2009


OK now let's interview a veteran wardrobe manager about inside joke stains.
posted by longsleeves at 7:06 AM on January 27, 2009


I don't get the Astro Zombie story:

Topic sentence: Ben Burtt is awesome.
Supporting story: One time, when Ben Burtt was talking, Brad Bird did something awesome.

?
posted by DU at 7:19 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yay!

His blaster sound alone would make him worthy of worship.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:35 AM on January 27, 2009


It's wonderfully appropriate that his surname pronounces like a sound effect.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:57 AM on January 27, 2009


Topic sentence: Ben Burtt is awesome.
Supporting story: One time, when Ben Burtt was talking, Brad Bird did something awesome.


You're forgetting that the awesome thing that Brad Bird did was impersonate Ben Burtt sound effects.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:59 AM on January 27, 2009


DU: I think he means the other Astro Zombie story. You know the one.
posted by odinsdream at 8:00 AM on January 27, 2009


Ben Burtt is one of like 5 people whose job I would love to have.
posted by grubi at 8:14 AM on January 27, 2009


Wilhelm spotting has become something of a hobby in my household. Whenever one is used, the wife and I both rush to be the first to identify it.

We've expanded it to include the "Kitty Wilhelm" which is the sound studios seem to use whenever they have a cat appear on the screen, and the "Scared Kitty Wilhelm" which is the one where a cat is startled.

As for off topic Brad Bird stories, I love the fact that he had to do the voice of Edna Mode in the Incredibles because no one knew how to do a German-Japanese accent in the way he was envisioning it but him.
posted by quin at 8:21 AM on January 27, 2009


Wilhelm spotting has become something of a hobby in my household.

Don't forget the inexplicably ubiquitous crowd gasp.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:29 AM on January 27, 2009


I usually roll my eyes when someone is lauded as "The John Williams of ________", but Ben Burtt deserves the title because he attracts just as much animosity from envious, less-famous working sound designers who think he's overrated and outmoded. They obviously haven't seen Wall-E.

How many sound designers does it take to screw in a light bulb? 100 -- one to screw it in, and 99 to bitch about how the screwing-in squeaks came from the Sound Ideas 6000-series Disc 6037 Track 9 #1, "Metal Thread: Turning".
posted by jake at 8:40 AM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Wall-E dvd had a little feature on this guy's work on the film, which included a tour of some of the classic sound design props/machines that have been used in the past.

My, uh...niece told me about it.
posted by orme at 8:54 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wall-E was a very good movie; don't be ashamed that you were interested in it.
posted by flatluigi at 9:12 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wilhelm spotting has become something of a hobby in my household.

My least favorite over-used sound is the fricking "WHAAAAAAA! WHAAAAAaaaaaaaa" air horn heard every time a scene opens with large truck passing by the camera, even when there isn't any reason whatsoever for the damn thing to be honking its horn. Drives me batty!
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:13 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wall-E was a very good movie; don't be ashamed that you were interested in it.
posted by flatluigi


I TOLD you it was my NIECE!

*sound effect of fist striking desk*
posted by orme at 9:19 AM on January 27, 2009


This is wonderful!
posted by OverlappingElvis at 9:30 AM on January 27, 2009


When I was in film school, Ben Burtt came down and broke down the first reel of Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen, and showed exactly what he did, as far as the sound design went. It was the single best lesson in how to do movie sound I've ever been exposed to.

He played the ambiance track, and the foley tracks, and Harrison Ford's ADR breathing track - you could hear the complexities of the things he was doing that the viewer of the movie can't be aware of because of the aural complexity of what's going on.

He, along with Walter Murch, are the two sound guys who changed everything when it comes to how movies sound.

Great stuff.
posted by MythMaker at 10:31 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


So here's the big question: where is the wilhelm in WALL-E? I figure it must be distorted and electronicized, but it's gotta be in there.
posted by mgrichmond at 11:35 AM on January 27, 2009


So here's the big question: where is the wilhelm in WALL-E? I figure it must be distorted and electronicized, but it's gotta be in there.

From here:

But there was one thing he didn’t use in WALL•E; the so called ‘Wilhelm scream’. Taken from a character named Wilhelm in Charge at Feather River, the sound can be heard in Star Wars when a stormtrooper falls into a chasm in the Death Star, and in Raiders of the Lost Ark when a Nazi soldier falls from a moving car and a lot of other movies. With his acute attention to sound in movies, Burtt first heard it in a movie as a kid. “I’d hear it repeated in other movies, and when I was at film school, with Richard Anderson [another highly respected and successful sound engineer], we used it in our student films – and then as the years went by and we were both making films, we’d try and top each other with the Wilhelm scream. But nobody noticed – until the internet, and people started talking about it, and then started charting it … other people would start to use it as a sort of badge of being a professional sound engineer.”

He inserted it in the final mix in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull - but no Wilhelm scream in WALL•E; “I felt it was time to move on, so I put in something else, to best Richard,” he boasts with a laugh. “Let’s see who will find it…”

posted by neustile at 11:52 AM on January 27, 2009


I guess I should work at Pixar 'cause Ben Burtt _is_ my god.

As a synth player, when samplers came along, Ben Burtt's genius was re-affirmed.

(off to listen to Wall-E)
posted by djrock3k at 12:22 PM on January 27, 2009


My least favorite over-used sound is the fricking "WHAAAAAAA! WHAAAAAaaaaaaaa" air horn heard every time a scene opens with large truck passing by the camera, even when there isn't any reason whatsoever for the damn thing to be honking its horn. Drives me batty!

Here's something that will drive you even more batty: They also use the same sound at higher pitch for a car horn. BEE-BEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeep! Listen for it.
posted by Fleebnork at 12:31 PM on January 27, 2009


Andrew Stanton and Ben Burtt came out for the Australian WALL-E premiere and had a Q&A session afterwards. Stanton started off by talking about how he got the idea for the movie, and the whole process of getting the ball rolling on it. And he said that he kept telling people that he didn't want the robots to speak English; he wanted them to be like R2-D2 and to be able to emote via just beeps and whistles. So the Pixar people went, "Well, why don't you just get the Star Wars guy then?" And Stanton was like, "WE CAN DO THAT?!" He really did seem to be a big geek (in the best way).
posted by web-goddess at 5:20 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Each of the Star Wars Trilogy DVDs has multiple full commentary tracks. The only ones that are even remotely interesting are by this guy.
posted by AndrewStephens at 10:54 PM on January 27, 2009


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