Ben Burtt

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Ben Burtt
Ben Burtt Celebration Europe II (Cropped).jpg
Burtt in 2013
Benjamin Burtt Jr.

(1948-07-12) July 12, 1948 (age 71)
Nationality American
Education Allegheny College
Alma mater University of Southern California
Years active1975–present
Children Benjamin A. Burtt
  • Doctor of Arts
  • Charles S. Swartz Award
  • Academy Award

Benjamin Burtt Jr. (born July 12, 1948) is an American sound designer, film editor, director, screenwriter, and voice actor. As a sound designer, his credits include the Star Wars and Indiana Jones film series, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), WALL-E (2008) and Star Trek (2009).


Burtt is notable for popularizing the Wilhelm scream in-joke and creating many of the iconic sound effects heard in the Star Wars film franchise, including the 'voice' of R2-D2, the lightsaber hum, the sound of the blaster guns, the heavy-breathing sound of Darth Vader and creating the Ewoks’ language, ewokese. Burtt was also the sound editor for WALL-E and performed the vocalizations of the titular character as well as other robots in the film.

Burtt has won four Academy Awards, two of which are Special Achievement Academy Awards. He has also directed numerous documentary films and was the editor of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Early life

Burtt was born in Jamesville, New York, on July 12, 1948. [1] The son of a chemistry professor and a child psychologist, Burtt made films as a child, and later studied physics at Allegheny College, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1970. [2]


Early career

Burtt made films during his time in college, and in 1970 won a National Student Film Festival for his war film entitled Yankee Squadron, [2] reputedly after following exposure to classic aviation drama.[ citation needed ] He had previously made an amateur film at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, a living aviation museum in Red Hook, New York, under guidance from its founder, Cole Palen.[ citation needed ]

For his work on the special-effects film Genesis, Burtt won a scholarship to the University of Southern California, [2] where he earned a master's degree in film production.

Sound designer

Burtt pioneered many aspects of modern sound design, especially in the science-fiction and fantasy-film genres. [3] Before his work in the first Star Wars (now known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) in 1977, science-fiction films tended to use electronic-sounding effects for futuristic devices. Burtt sought a more natural sound, blending in "found sounds" to create the effects. The lightsaber hum, for instance, was derived from a film projector idling combined with feedback from a broken television set, and the blaster effect started with the sound acquired from hitting a guy-wire on a radio tower with a hammer. [4]

In the Star Wars series, part of R2-D2's beeps and whistles are Burtt's vocalizations, also made using an ARP 2600 synthesizer, as are some of the squawks made by the tiny holographic monsters on the Millennium Falcon spacecraft. In Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), Burtt's provided the voice for Lushros Dofine, captain of the Invisible Hand cruiser. The heavy breathing of Darth Vader was created by recording Burtt's own breathing in an old Dacor scuba regulator.

Burtt used the voice of an elderly lady that he had met in a photography shop for the voice of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial . The woman's low pitch was the result of very heavy smoking, specifically Kool cigarettes. Burtt created the "voice" of the title character and many other robots in Pixar's film WALL-E (2008), about a lonely garbage-compacting robot. Additionally, Burtt is responsible for the sound effects in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). [5]

Burtt has a reputation for including a sound effect dubbed "the Wilhelm scream" in many of the movies he has worked on. Taken from a character named "Wilhelm" in the film The Charge at Feather River , the sound can be heard in a large number of films, including in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope when a stormtrooper falls into a chasm and in Raiders of the Lost Ark when a Nazi soldier falls off the back of a moving car.

One of Burtt's more subtle sound effects is the "audio black hole." In Attack of the Clones , Burtt's use of the audio black hole involved the insertion of a short interval of absolute silence in the audio track, just prior to the detonation of "seismic charges" fired at the escaping Jedi spaceship. The effect of this short (less than one second) of silence is to accentuate the resulting explosion in the mind of the listener. Burtt has recalled the source of this idea as follows: "I think back to where that idea might have come to me...I remember in film school a talk I had with an old retired sound editor who said they used to leave a few frames of silence in the track just before a big explosion. In those days they would 'paint' out the optical sound with ink. Then I thought of the airlock entry sequence in 2001 . I guess the seeds were there for me to nourish when it came to the seismic charges."

Burtt was among the golden ears that critically reviewed the various audio compression systems that were proposed for the ATSC 1.0 digital television system.

A tongue-in-cheek homage to Burtt appears in the 1997 Activision PC game Zork: Grand Inquisitor - the spell 'Beburtt', which 'creates the illusion of inclement weather', plays dramatic thunderclap and rainfall sounds when cast.

Director, editor, and writer

Burtt has directed several IMAX documentary films, including Blue Planet , Destiny in Space , and the Oscar-nominated Special Effects: Anything Can Happen . [6] He edited the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy, and several episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles . Burtt also wrote several episodes of the 1980s Star Wars cartoon Droids . [7]

Cameo appearances

Burtt makes a cameo appearance in two of the Star Wars films as an extra. In Return of the Jedi , he appeared as Colonel Dyer, the Imperial officer who yells "Freeze!" before Han Solo knocks him off a balcony. The scream as Burtt falls is his own imitation of the Wilhelm that he popularized. In Episode I – The Phantom Menace , Burtt appears in the background of the end celebration scene; [8] his character is named Ebenn Q3 Baobab, a reference to a Droids character.



TitleYearCredited asNotes
DirectorEditorSound designerOther
Death Race 2000 1975YesUncredited
The Milpitas Monster 1976YesSpecial effects artist
Star Wars 1977YesYes1997 & 2004 versions
Special dialogue and sound effects
Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978YesSpecial sound effects creator
More American Graffiti 1979YesYesSupervising sound editor
The Empire Strikes Back 1980YesYes1997 & 2004 versions
Supervising sound editor
Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981Yes
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 1982YesE.T. voice designer
The Dark Crystal 1982YesSpecial sound effects creator
Return of the Jedi 1983YesAppeared as Commander Dyer and voice of Tortured Power Droid
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 1984YesYes
The Adventures of André and Wally B. 1984YesShort film
The Dream Is Alive 1985YesShort film
Supervising sound designer
Howard the Duck 1986YesSound effects editor
Nutcracker: The Motion Picture 1986Yes
Niagara: Miracles, Myths and Magic 1986YesYesYesShort film
Willow 1988Yes
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 1989Yes
Always 1989Yes
Blue Planet 1990YesYes
The True Story of Glory Continues1990YesYesYes
The American Gangster 1992Yes
Destiny in Space 1994YesCo-director
Special Effects: Anything Can Happen 1996YesYesYesCo-writer
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 1999YesYesYesSupervising sound editor
Appeared as Naboo Courier
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones 2002YesYesYesSupervising sound editor
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith 2005YesYesYesSupervising sound editor
Provided voice for Lushros Dofine
Munich 2005YesYesSupervising sound editor
WALL-E 2008YesYesProvided voice for WALL·E / M-O / Robots
Supervising sound editor
BURN-E 2008YesYesShort film
Provided voice for WALL·E
Up 2009YesUncredited
Special sound effects recordist
Star Trek 2009YesYesSound editor
Super 8 2011YesYesSupervising sound editor
Red Tails 2012YesYesYesSupervising sound editor
Lincoln 2012Yes
Star Trek Into Darkness 2013YesYesSupervising sound editor
Escape from Planet Earth 2013YesAdditional sound design
The Signal 2014Yes
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015Yes
Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound 2019YesAs himself


TitleYearCredited asNotes
DirectorEditorSound designerOther
Star Wars Holiday Special 1978YesTelevision film
Star Wars: Droids 1986YesYesEpisode: "The Great Heep"
Associate producer
Story editor
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles 1992–1993YesYesYesSecond unit director (2 episodes)
Star Wars: Forces of Destiny 2017–2018Yes

Video games


Academy Awards

Annie Awards

Honorary Awards

Burtt was awarded the Doctor of Arts, honoris causa, by Allegheny College on May 9, 2004.

The Hollywood Post Alliance awarded him with The Charles S. Swartz Award for outstanding contributions to the field of post production.

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