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  • Crystal D'Esprit

Where's WALL-E

Looking into the sound design of Ben Burtt for inspiration in designing sonic vocal characters. Where's WALL-E explores the key components behind great sound design and evaluates how this can be explored in Pure Data for a vocal characterisation tool in Games.

"Ben Burtt is an academy winning, sound designer and is considered in many ways to be the father of modern sound design". (Morris, J. 2008) in an interview he discusses the way in which Ben approaches the sound design in the bonus feature of the dvd 2008 release of WALL-E.

The sound designer Ben Burtt was also the sound designer on the early Star Wars films and passionately explores real world sounds for incorporating and portraying sounds in making other worlds with animation.

During the interview Ben demonstrates his love for a discovery he made in finding a sound that can be applied as a laser/shooter sound by using a stretched out slinky spring and striking the slinky spring over a pick up microphone.

He talks about why this works technically from a sonic perspective, describing the spectral content and physics of the foley and capture.

Comparing a ping sound to the "Jhoom" sound that occurs when striking the slinky.

Ben explains how the high frequencies travel faster than the lower frequencies. That when listening to the sound further away from the striking point the high frequencies reach the microphone first followed by the mid frequencies then the low frequencies.

Also by physically being able to move and oscillate the slinky to this moves those frequencies modulate in a warble creating a sound that can be used in many scenarios either as a starting layer or as a main body character sound. This technique Ben used when making the sound of EVE's laser sound in WALL-E.

His passion for physical modelling sounds from foley is a key component to his work in exploring sound design. Exploring how sound foley capture machines and instruments were made to simulate other worldly sounds in the past, he draws our attention to capturing real world sounds in unusual ways and how to creatively think about sound sources and their multiple uses.

Jim Morris the producer, eloquently summarises the approach Ben took to the sound design as a question about how the overall language of the world space in the movie fits in with the different characters.

Physics is really important when thinking about the characters and objects in an environment such as a movie or a game with many simulated moving parts. Ben Burtt talks about this when thinking about how the characters and objects will act inside the overall soundscape of the world.

The other consideration is the emotional semantic content of how the sound feels and the emotional relationship between the audience and the character on screen.

Distinctively the array of sounds used for WALL-E were lots of physical motorised sounds and with EVE by contrast because of her high tech modernised feel a softer higher frequency melodic array of sounds were compiled.

The array of sounds can then be orchestrated/arranged to make more believable the diegetic storytelling of the characters in the world. Every movement is considered when developing the sonic relationship between the character and the audience so the characters personality fits into their world space.


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