Sound Designer Ben Burtt Shares How Skywalker Ranch Shaped 'Star Wars'
The new Disney+ series "Light & Magic" pulls back the curtain on visual effects artists — and legendary sound designers.
Ben Burtt has lived in a galaxy far, far away from the very start.
"I first came out here with a gang led by George Lucas in 1978," Burtt said.
He was hired by Lucas to record sounds for a movie called "Star Wars." His job was to find the sounds for ships, creatures and lightsabers.
"I was very fortunate to arrive on the scene in sound at a time when a revolution took place," Burtt said. "From a creative standpoint, there was more of a demand for — especially with special effects movies — demand for new material, not just a recycling of sound libraries from the past."
Burtt became a legendary sound designer who makes an appearance the new Disney+ documentary series "Light & Magic." The six episodes highlight the groundbreaking visual effects in "Star Wars" and many other films.
"Light & Magic" director Larry Kasdan, who also co-wrote "The Empire Strikes Back" and a Han Solo spinoff, says a film just isn't the same without good sound.
"That's always been the easiest experiment you can do in movies is turn off the sound," Kasdan said. "Suddenly it's just, 'Oh that's an interesting image, but I don't see what got me so excited.' Then you start adding back the sound, and you say, 'Oh, that's it.'"
Skywalker Ranch is the secluded filmmakers retreat Lucas built near San Francisco after the success of "Star Wars." There, Burtt and his team found the perfect place to record a huge library of iconic movie sounds.
"When George Lucas first bought the ranch, this was an empty valley here," Burtt said while walking the grounds. "We had a shooting range right in this area where we are where we did all the guns for 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.'" There's a nice redwood forest on that ridge there, and we used to go up in there because the acoustics were really nice. We even did Luke running through the swamps of Dagobah, jumping, running along with Yoda on his back."
Burtt says that's the magic of sound: You can record it anywhere as long as you get the right kind.
He is now the winner of multiple Academy Awards.
"In a way, whatever [Industrial Light & Magic] does, however spectacular, the illusion is not complete until sound is added," Burtt said. "You always feel like you're part of the ILM team, in a sense. You're part of the filmmaking team, giving a final touch to the illusions."
Burtt has upheld a legendary career, creating old-school sounds that are still helping shape the future of visual effects.
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