Monday, June 23, 2008

Audio Puppeteering

Carefully selected 'sound for picture' articles on Wall-E to fit your taste:

To that end Mr. Stanton enlisted the man who created the grammar of the “Star Wars” robot R2D2, the veteran sound designer Ben Burtt. Mr. Stanton wrote a conventional script — “Hi, I’m Wall-E” — and Mr. Burtt essentially translated the dialogue into robot, something he calls “audio puppeteering.”

“If you take sounds from the real world, we have a subconscious association with them that gives credibility to an otherwise fantastic concept,” Mr. Burtt said in a telephone interview.

The result is a film where the sound is as significant as the visual. One hears echoes of E.T.’s throat-singing (“E.T” is another Burtt film), and when Wall-E moves, the sound comes from a hand-cranked, World War II Army generator that Mr. Burtt saw in a John Wayne movie, then found on eBay.

“We all thought about Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton,” Mr. Burtt said, “this energetic, sympathetic character who doesn’t say a whole lot. Most animation is very dialogue heavy. There’s dance, constant talking, punch lines. We used to wonder: How will we prepare the audience?”


Burtt created more than 2,500 sounds for the movie. By way of comparison, Burtt made between 800 to 1,000 sounds for "Star Wars" films and 700 for an "Indiana Jones" movie. "It had to go deeper than we did with R2 because Wall-E carries the weight of the whole movie," Burtt says. "We needed to give him a large range of reactions - he's curious, surprised, desperate - but none of the sounds he makes are words, at least, not as we understand them."


ANDREW STANTON: Yes. The one thing Ben Burtt couldn’t simulate was a female voice himself. So if it needed to be neutral or male, it was easy for him to be the source of anything that had to have a human element to it or an inflection. But because we wanted a very obvious feminine source, fortunately Elissa Knight, was one of our in-house Pixar players for lack of a better term. Because we’re in San Francisco and we’re always rewriting our stuff every day, we don’t have access to actors that quickly, so we use people in-house to do stand-in vocal stuff and she had been a stand-in for many movies and was a pretty decent actress. So I called her in to just do all the female stuff and it worked so well and when Ben started effecting it, I said, “That is so good. I’m sorry, I’m not going to look for another actress and re-do all this. She’s great.” So, that’s why. And that’s frankly the methodology Pixar has had in all their movies. If you look back at our casting, it’s all over the map, whether we use A-list, B-list, or employees. What’s consistent if you look at it is, is that the best voice for the character? And that’s why we choose who we do.


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