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 70)
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 "Ben" Burtt Jr. (born July 12, 1948) is an American sound designer, film editor, director, screenwriter, and voice actor. He has worked as sound designer on various films, including 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).

Sound design is the art and practice of creating sound tracks for a variety of needs. It involves specifying, acquiring or creating auditory elements using audio production techniques and tools. It is employed in a variety of disciplines including filmmaking, television production, video game development, theatre, sound recording and reproduction, live performance, sound art, post-production, radio and musical instrument development. Sound design commonly involves performing and editing of previously composed or recorded audio, such as sound effects and dialogue for the purposes of the medium. A sound designer is one who practices sound design.

Film editing activity

Film editing is both a creative and a tech part of the post-production process of filmmaking. The term is derived from the traditional process of working with film which increasingly involves the use of digital technology.

Film director Person who controls the artistic and dramatic aspects of a film production

A film director is a person who directs the making of a film. A film director controls a film's artistic and dramatic aspects and visualizes the screenplay while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfilment of that vision. The director has a key role in choosing the cast members, production design, and the creative aspects of filmmaking. Under European Union law, the director is viewed as the author of the film.


He is most 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, and the heavy-breathing sound of Darth Vader, made from himself breathing into a scuba regulator. Burtt is also known for "voicing" the title character, WALL-E, in the 2008 Pixar movie WALL-E. He also created the robotic sound of WALL-E's voice, along with all the other characters in WALL-E, and was the sound editor of the movie.

The Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in at least 416 films and TV series, beginning in 1951 for the film Distant Drums. The scream is often used when someone is shot, falls from a great height, or is thrown from an explosion.

A media franchise, also known as multimedia franchise, is a collection of related media in which several derivative works have been produced from an original creative work of fiction, such as a film, a work of literature, a television program or a video game. The intellectual property from the work can be licensed to other parties or partners for further derivative works and commercial exploitation across a range of media and by a variety of industries for merchandising purposes.

R2-D2 fictional character from Star Wars

R2-D2, or Artoo-Detoo, is a fictional robot character in the Star Wars franchise created by George Lucas. A small astromech droid, R2-D2 is a major character and appears in nine out of the ten Star Wars films to date. Throughout the course of the films, R2 is a friend to C-3PO, Padmé Amidala, Anakin Skywalker, Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi in various points in the saga.

The winner of four Academy Awards (two of which are Special Achievement Academy Awards), he is the director of various documentary films. He is also the editor of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Academy Awards American awards given annually for excellence in cinematic achievements

The Academy Awards, also officially and popularly known as the Oscars, are a set of awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry. Given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the awards are an international recognition of excellence in cinematic achievements as assessed by the Academy's voting membership. The various category winners are awarded a copy of a golden statuette, officially called the "Academy Award of Merit", although more commonly referred to by its nickname "Oscar".

The Special Achievement Award is an Academy Award given for an achievement that makes an exceptional contribution to the motion picture for which it was created, but for which there is no annual award category. The award may only be conferred for achievements in productions that also qualify as an eligible release for distinguished achievements and meet the Academy's eligibility year and deadlines requirements.

Early life

Burtt was born in Jamesville, New York, and graduated with a major in physics from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.[ citation needed ]

Syracuse, New York City in Central New York

Syracuse is a city in and the county seat of Onondaga County, New York, United States. It is the fifth-most populous city in the state of New York following New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, and Yonkers.

New York (state) State of the United States of America

New York is a state in the Northeastern United States. New York was one of the original thirteen colonies that formed the United States. With an estimated 19.54 million residents in 2018, it is the fourth most populous state. In order to distinguish the state from the city with the same name, it is sometimes referred to as New York State.

Physics Study of the fundamental properties of matter and energy

Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its motion, and behavior through space and time, and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.


Early career

In 1970, he won the National Student Film Festival with a war film citation needed , reputedly after following exposure to classic aviation drama through making 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 ]

War film Film genre depicting wars

War film is a film genre concerned with warfare, typically about naval, air, or land battles, with combat scenes central to the drama. It has been strongly associated with the 20th century. The fateful nature of battle scenes means that war films often end with them. Themes explored include combat, survival and escape, camaraderie between soldiers, sacrifice, the futility and inhumanity of battle, the effects of war on society, and the moral and human issues raised by war. War films are often categorized by their milieu, such as the Korean War; the most popular subject is the Second World War. The stories told may be fiction, historical drama, or biographical. Critics have noted similarities between the Western and the war film.

"Citation needed" is a term used by editors of Wikipedia and refers to the name of a Wikipedia template, added to articles for requesting citations to be added to unsourced material. "Citation needed" is a characteristic of the policy of verifiability in Wikipedia; it has also become a general Internet meme.

Amateur film film genre

Amateur film is the low-budget hobbyist art of film practised for passion and enjoyment and not for business purposes.

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

Special effect illusions or tricks to change appearance

Special effects are illusions or visual tricks used in the film, television, theatre, video game and simulator industries to simulate the imagined events in a story or virtual world.

University of Southern California Private research university in Los Angeles, California, United States

The University of Southern California is a private research university in Los Angeles, California. Founded in 1880, it is the oldest private research university in California. For the 2018–19 academic year, there were 20,000 students enrolled in four-year undergraduate programs. USC also has 27,500 graduate and professional students in a number of different programs, including business, law, engineering, social work, occupational therapy, pharmacy, and medicine. It is the largest private employer in the city of Los Angeles, and generates $8 billion in economic impact on Los Angeles and California.

Los Angeles City in California

Los Angeles, officially the City of Los Angeles and often known by its initials L.A., is the most populous city in California, the second most populous city in the United States, after New York City, and the third most populous city in North America. With an estimated population of nearly four million, Los Angeles is the cultural, financial, and commercial center of Southern California. The city is known for its Mediterranean climate, ethnic diversity, Hollywood and the entertainment industry, and its sprawling metropolis. Los Angeles is the largest city on the West Coast of North America.

Sound designer

Burtt pioneered modern sound design, especially in the science-fiction and fantasy-film genres. [1] 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. [2]

He is personally responsible for some of the sounds heard in films. 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) he provided the voice for Lushros Dofine, captain of the Invisible Hand cruiser. The heavy-breathing of Darth Vader was created by recording his own breathing in an old Dacor scuba regulator.

Burtt used the voice of an elderly lady with a very low voice that he had met in a photoshop for the voice of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial . The woman's low voice was the result of very heavy smoking, specifically Kool cigarettes. He 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, he is responsible for the sound effects in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). [3]

Burtt has a reputation for including a sound effect dubbed "the Wilhelm scream" in many of the movies he's worked on. Taken from a character named "Wilhelm" in the film The Charge at Feather River , the sound can be heard in countless films: for instance, 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, but highly effective 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 second or less of silence is to accentuate the resulting explosion in the mind of the listener. Burtt 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 Ben 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 directed several IMAX documentary films, including Blue Planet , Destiny in Space , and the Oscar-nominated Special Effects: Anything Can Happen . [4] He edited the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy, and several episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles . Burtt is also credited as the writer of several episodes of the 1980s Star Wars-based cartoon, Droids .

Cameo appearances

He 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 he falls is his own imitation of the Wilhelm that he popularized. In Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace Burtt appears as Ebenn Q3 Baobab in the background near the end when Padmé Amidala congratulates Palpatine.



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


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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  2. "Sound Design of Star Wars" . Retrieved March 9, 2014.
  3. Pascale, Anthony (6 January 2009). "Star Trek Post Production Complete + Oscar-winner Ben Burtt Provided Sound Design". Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  4. (2008). "Ben Burtt Biography". NetIndustries, LLC. Archived from the original on 14 September 2008. Retrieved October 25, 2008.
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  6. "The 62nd Academy Awards (1990) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-17.
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