Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers - some of the most famous movies in modern film history. Ben Burtt is the Oscar-winning sound designer behind many of the voices and effects in those films. He's also created the sounds in Disney's latest Pixar animated film, WALL·E.
For people who don't know your name, can you run through some of the films you've had a hand in?
I had the wonderful opportunity to be part of the Star Wars franchise from the very beginning. So, my job was to create voices for aliens and robots and Wookiees and Jawas and all of that as well as many sound effects, TIE Fighters and lightsabers. And also I worked on all the Indiana Jones films which put me in contact with gun shots and whips and jungle birds and earthquakes and crystal skulls and all of that. So, I've had a great career in terms of being associated with a lot of popular action/adventure and fantasy movies.
And is it right you did the voice for E.T. as well?
I created the voice for E.T. out of many different things, about 18 different people and animals and sound effects. There are racoons in there, there are sea otters, there are some horses, there's a burp from my old cinema professor from USC (University of Southern California). There's my wife's laboured breathing asleep at night with a cold. I'll take sound from anywhere and use it if it'll get me the effect I want.
How did WALL·E come together?
With WALL·E my inspiration point really started first with Andrew Stanton (the film's director). He created the story, he brought me over to the Pixar studio and outlined the story.
He gets up and acts it out and shows some artwork and some slides and some tiny, little movies of storyboards cut together. The assignment for me there was to invent voices for the main characters because as they were developing the movie three years ago, they probably had some doubts about the concept.
WALL·E stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth-Class
It wasn't following in the pattern that most animated films followed when it comes to dialogue. They wanted it to be pretty sparse and unconventional in terms of how the story was told with sound. So, I was brought on to experiment.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Well, I usually get inspired by the artwork in the film, I'll look at drawings, I'll try to even start sometimes by thinking scientifically. Well if these fantasy objects really worked, if there really was a robot like WALL·E, what would they sound like? Does he have a built-in speaker? What would his hands sound like? What would the motors in his arms sound like? If he's supposed to be a cute character, then well maybe those motors should sound cute. And you try to come up with sounds that are expressive, expressive of the character.
If you go to Eve, she's supposed to be magical and high-tech and she's held together with some sort of forcefield. So therefore the sounds you associate with her are almost musical, electronic tones, soothing and chanting, mysterious sounds that make her seductive and attractive to WALL·E. So, you do invent sounds somewhat the way a composer might think about music. You think, 'What sound would give me a certain feeling at a given moment and how can I achieve that?'
How much do you use your own voice and how much do you use other gear?
I collect sounds from everywhere from the outside world in terms of sound effects. When I started experimenting with WALL·E and we needed some of his words to be probably derived from a human source I started experimenting with my own voice because I was alone in the studio and readily available. Like a scientist in the lab you inject yourself with the serum to test it out because there's no-one else around.
And so I started using my voice and running it through some special computer circuitry which masks the voice in a way and gave it an electronic aspect but still kept whatever performance element was there. It sounds easy now when you look back on it.
Ben Burtt has won four Oscars for his use of sound in films
What is one of the weirdest sounds you've picked up on?
Perhaps, I remember when my wife was pregnant with our first child, I went to the doctor's office and we listened to a sonogram of the heartbeat of the unborn child and I recorded it. I wasn't thinking about the child, I was thinking, 'This is a great sound.' And I was working on a film called Invasion Of The Body Snatchers at that time and it ended up being the main sound for all the pods and pod people and all that. That was a pretty weird application but it did seem to work because it was all about birthing strange alien creatures. So it was rooted in the womb, so to speak.
Is there any one sound of yours that's like a trademark that goes through most of the things you've done?
There are probably many little trademarks of sound. I don't think I consciously put things in. I used to put a scream in called the Wilhelm Scream which was in every movie I did but that was just a joke to impress another friend of mine named Richard Anderson. We were both students together and we both put that scream in all our movies to out do each other.
But then the public began to recognise that and there are cults now around the Wilhelm Scream. There's not a Wilhelm in WALL·E but there are other sounds. In every movie I think I've got bit of my grandfather's hand radio set. I recorded some electronic sounds, tuning stations, back 40 or 50 years ago. And I have used a bit of that Morse code, that side banding, short wave sound in some form in every film I've ever done.
Ben Burtt was talking to Newsbeat entertainment reporter Natalie Jamieson.