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Ben Burtt creating a sound effect 
Sound Design of Star Wars 

compiled by Sven E Carlsson

Sounddesigner Ben Burtt's responsibility on Star Wars was to create specifically unusual sounds - weapons, vehicles, character and key backgrounds. 

Ben Burtt was a film sound buff as a child (he recorded and replayed the sound tracks of his favorite movies) Burtt enrolled at the university of Southern California's film school with the intention of becoming a director. He received a student job cataloguing the Columbia sound library, which had been donated to the University. A call by Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz to U.S.C. led to a successful interview for Burtt. He was given carte blanche to work out of his apartment near the U.S.C. campus in order to collect at a leisure pace those sounds that might be useful.  

He spent a year recording anything that could be turned upside down and backwards to make Lucas world come alive.  

"In my first discussion with George Lucas about the film, he - and I concurred with him - that he wanted an 'organic', as opposed to the electronic and artificial soundtrack. Since we were going to design a visual world that had rust and dents and dirt, we wanted a sound which had Squeaks and motors that may not be the smooth-sounding or quite. Therefor we wanted to draw upon raw material from the real world: real motors, real squeaky door, real insects; this sort of thing. The basic thing in all films is to create something that sounds believable to everyone, because it's composed of familiar things that you can not quite recognize immediately" (Ben Burtt in Film Sound Today)

Imperial Walkers  

The sound of the Imperial Walkers were created by modifying the sound of a machinist's punch press. Added to this for complexity, were the sounds of bicycle chains being dropped on concrete. |How to make new sounds|

TIE fighter  

The screech of a TIE Fighter is a drastically altered elephant bellow.


50 % of the droid´s voice is generated electronically; the rest is a combination and blending of water pipes, whistles, and vocalizations by Burtt.  

"R2-D2´s motors covers every single move it does. They got buried most of the time, but when they do surface it helps keep a consistent texture that tells you that it really is a robot."(Ben Burtt in Film Sound Today)


Wookie sounds are constructed out of pieces of walruses and other animal sounds. 

"You have bits and fragments of animal sounds which you have collected and put into lists: here is an affectionate sound and, here is a angry sound and, just like with R2-D2, they are clipped together and blended. With a Wookie, you might end up with five or six tracks, sometimes, to get the flow of the sentence" (Ben Burtt in Film Sound Today)

Laser blasts  

The sound of a hammer on an antenna tower guy wire (Ben Burt tapping the wires of a radio tower)  [more]


Burtt blended the sounds of his TV set and an old 35 mm projector to create the hum of a light saber. [more]

Speeder Bike 

Sound of an Speeder Bike was achieved by mixing together the recorded sounds of a P-5 Mustang ariplane, a P-38 Lockheed Interceptor, and then record them

Luke Skywalker's landspeeder  

The whoosh of Luke Skywalker's landspeeder was achieved by recording the roar the Los Angeles Harbor Freeway through a vacuum-cleaner pipe.

Ewokese language  

A language created by altering and layering Tibetan, Mongolian, and Nepali languages 

. "I broke the sounds down phonetically, and red-edited them together to make composite words and sentences. I would always use a fair amount of the actual languages, combined with purely made-up words. With a new language, the most important goal is to create emotional clarity. People spend all of their lives learning to identify voices. You became an expert at that, and somewhat impossible to electronically process the human characteristic, and retain the necessary emotion. To fool the audience into believing this is a real character as the basis of the sound, although you may sprinkle other things in there. It varies from character to character." (Ben Burtt in Film Sound Today)

Reality "hook" of a language.  
The reality "hook" of a language comes not from a part of an existing language, but from a sprinkling of pidgin English here and there, as when Bibb Frotuna said "Bargon no wachonga" which of course means " There will be no bargain" How to make to make new sounds

The unique sound effects of Star Wars.  
Burt has a keen ear for the compelling sounds, but what makes his works special is how his effects vault to a film's foreground. Normally, one only perceives a sound effect on a subconscious level. See a sound; hear a sound. Every time you see some action on the screen, your mind expects there to be a complimentary sound. Sounds that, will seem appropriate to that image and to its emotional context. But Burtt´s skills go far beyond ordinary environmental stretching: his sounds often literally tell the story and they bring pleasure in them selves. 

Sources: Larry Blake: Film Sound Today, Marc Mancini: "Sound Designer" in Film Sound - theory and practice and Sky Walker Sound
Ben Burtt


Radio Interview with Ben Burtt  (28.8 Real Audio) 
interviewed by John Papageorge, Silicon Valley Radio 
Ben Burtt: "In Star Wars, I wanted to come up with a very massive rumble for a spaceship flying overhead .. I recorded the air conditioner in my motel rrom, slowed that sound down so it was even deeper and that became the rumble for the spaceships"


Episode 1 Articles

Episode 2 Articles

  • Attack of the Clones
    Richard Clews reports on the monstrous audio project for the latest Star Wars film Attack of the Clones (Audio Media nov 2002)

  • Interview with Ben Burtt, Editor and Sound Designer,'Star Wars: Episode II
    by Erin K. Lauten (Editors Net May 2002)

Film Music Article

Recommended reading:  

Recommended Film Sound Reading: 

An Introduction to Film Sound
Jane Knowles Marshall writes about Dialogue, Synchronous and Asynchronous Sound Effects, and Music
Sync Tanks: The Art and Technique of Postproduction sound by Elisabeth Weis
Designing a Movie for Sound
Sound designer Randy Thom's Film Sound Manifesto


Help me  
  • correct the text (English is not my native tongue) 
  • expand this site by sending pictures and sounds
…and of course by sending more information about sound effects.  Mail to 


Among the techniques of modifying and recording sounds to create new sounds are these: 
  • Speeding up and slowing down original sound to alter pitch and then recording at standard speed
  • Running sounds through devices such as a harmonizer to digitally expand or compress without changing the pitch
  • Using dip filters to boost or reduce certain frequency ands in sounds
  • Using digital reverberation devices to create electronic sounds
  • Using eletronic and computerized equipment to create synthetic sounds
Recombining and synthesizing - through editing and premixing several sounds - to produce the impression of a new sound 
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