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Ben Burtt

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Benjamin Burtt, Jr. (born 12 July 1948; age 66), known simply as Ben Burtt, is an American four-time Academy Award-winning sound designer and sound editor who designed the special sound effects and montage for 2009's Star Trek. [1] As sound designer and supervising sound editor of George Lucas' Lucasfilm Limited, Burtt has worked on many hit films since the mid-1970s, but he is perhaps best known for his sound work on the six Star Wars films.

Early life

Burtt was born in Jamesville, New York, and earned a college degree in Physics from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. In 1970, he won the National Student Film Festival for a short war film called Yankee Squadron.

Burtt ultimately won a scholarship from the University of Southern California, from which he graduated with a Master's Degree in Film Production in 1975. In July of that year, he joined Lucasfilm and began working on Star Wars. [2]

Career at Lucasfilm

Burtt created many of the memorable sound effects heard in the Star Wars films, notably the vocalizations of R2-D2 and other droids, the light saber sounds effects, the speederbike sound effects, Darth Vader's breathing, and Chewbacca's roar. For his work on the first Star Wars in 1977, Burtt received a Special Achievement Award from the Academy Awards. He also won a BAFTA Award for the film, which he shared with his sound team, including Ray West.

After Star Wars, Burtt's next film was the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which Star Trek: The Original Series star Leonard Nimoy had a supporting role. He then returned to the Star Wars franchise as sound designer and supervising sound effects editor on Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Afterward, he designed the sound for the first Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, for which he won a second Special Achievement Award, shared with Star Trek: The Motion Picture supervising sound editor, Richard L. Anderson. Raiders also marked Burtt's first of many collaborations with filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who produced many of his movies through Lucasfilm.

For Spielberg's hit 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Burtt designed the distinctive voice for E.T., which earned him that year's Academy Award for Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing. Burtt subsequently received two Academy Award nominations for Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (one of which he shared with Randy Thom), a nomination for George Lucas' Willow, and one win and one nomination for Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Other films he worked on during the 1980s include Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal and Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Always.

Burtt is known for rediscovering the sound effect called "the Wilhelm scream" and for including it in many of the films he works on. The distinctive scream was originally recorded under the title "Man Being Eaten by Alligator" for the 1951 film Distant Drums, which featured Richard Webb. Burtt named the effect after Private Wilhelm, a minor character in the 1953 film The Charge at Feather River who emitted the scream after being shot with an arrow. [3] In Return of the Jedi, the scream is emitted by Burtt himself when the Imperial officer he plays in a cameo is attacked by Han Solo and falls to his death.

Directing and return to Lucasfilm

In 1990, Burtt decided to leave Lucasfilm and go freelance, in search of opportunities as a director. He directed a number of documentaries, including the IMAX film Blue Planet.

In 1992, Burtt returned to Lucasfilm and worked on the television series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. He was the second unit director for twenty episodes of the series, in addition to occasionally editing the show and providing sound design. He returned to directing in 1995 with the feature-length TV movie The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Attack of the Hawkmen.

In 1996, Burtt again left Lucasfilm for a year to co-write and direct the IMAX documentary Special Effects: Anything Can Happen. For this project, Burtt and producer/co-writer Susanne Simpson both received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary, Short Subjects.

After returning to Lucasfilm, Burtt was the sound designer, supervising sound editor, and film editor on Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. He shared an Academy Award nomination for Sound Effects Editing on The Phantom Menace. In late May 2005, after completing his work on the Star Wars prequels, Burtt again left Lucasfilm, this time to join Pixar Animation. [4]

Later projects

Although he no longer worked at Lucasfilm, Burtt continued his collaboration with Steven Spielberg, designing and editing the sound effects for Spielberg's films Munich (which, like 2009's Star Trek, starred Eric Bana), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which featured Pasha Lychnikoff and Alan Dale).

At Pixar, Burtt was the sound designer of the studio's hit computer-animated feature WALL·E, which included designing and supplying the voice for the title character.

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