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Burtt Talks WALL-E

Oscar-winning Sound Designer Ben Burtt (STAR WARS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), who came to Pixar to do both sound and character voice work on WALL-E three years ago, discussed the challenges of animation with AWN.

"From a sound design standpoint, it was clear to me that Andrew [Stanton] was looking for a feature film-style soundtrack, including a science fiction environment full of tonalities and machinery and power, and populated with robots all having exotic functions of some kind. Now, stylistically, feature film animation is generally fast paced and very dense with the amount of sound that is happening all the time with this rapid fire cutting style and multiple characters all overlapping in action."

"And with WALL-E, you've got a sound associated with every character -- a voice or a tone and a sound effect -- so it becomes very busy. And so it becomes not only a matter of inventing the 2,500 sound effects but also orchestrating those sound effects so you can make something comprehensible to the audience. And at the same time, have a movie that's pretty much filled with music, which obviously has this great power to affect the emotions. It was like STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES put together."

And what did Burtt find most surprising about animation after working for nearly 30 years in live action at Skywalker Sound?

"I think the thing that surprised me about animation was Pixar: the amount of detail they want."

His favorite WALL-E sequence is actually one of the quieter ones: "Of course, I love it when we do everything that's supported by sound effects like when the probe ship lands and EVE comes out and WALL-E first sees her. But my favorite section is when he continues to follow her searching for life forms because there is virtually no dialogue except for a few sounds from WALL-E. It not only has a lot of suspense but also a little romance, and very much the ambience is there with the music and sound effects for support. It's just a wonderful array of tones."

Burtt will continue working at Pixar but has no idea what his next project will be. "Obviously they won't be doing a robot film right away, but I guess JOHN CARTER OF MARS might [be discussed]. There are a lot of great ones to talk about."

By VFXWorld Editor Bill Desowitz