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Ben Burtt makes an incredible career shift!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with an interesting tidbit about the man who invented many of the sounds that I'd argue helped make STAR WARS the phenomenon it is... just as much as Williams' music and Lucas' vision. Can you imagine a world without sound man Ben Burtt? Would STAR WARS have worked without the lightsabers having their distinctive hum? Would Chewbacca have worked? What about that distinctive TIE fighter screeching? Would we have had canned blaster fire? Would Vader have been as cool without Burtt's innovation about putting a microphone inside of a scuba tank, resulting in his mechanical breathing, one of THE most recognizable pieces of sound in the history of cinema?

Well, it seems Mr. Burtt has left Lucasfilm for the light and divinity of Pixar. I can't wait to see what new sounds he can come up with that bunch... but I'm sure it'll be a radically different experience from what he's done in the past... What does this mean for INDIANA JONES 4? His work on the Indy series is important... I don't know if guns have sounded cooler than the ones wielded by Indiana Jones and his enemies... Not to mention the whip.


Twenty-nine years and 10 months.

No one else besides "Star Wars" creator George Lucas has spent so much time in a galaxy far, far away, up close and personal with Jedi knights, storm troopers, wise old Yoda and those delightful droids R2-D2 and C-3PO as Ben Burtt Jr.

The Syracuse native, who has been sound designer on all six "Star Wars" films, refers to it as his "tour of duty." Almost fresh out of film school with a couple of assignments with low-budget, high-profile filmmakers Roger Corman and Russ Meyer, he was plucked by Lucas for the original "Star Wars."

Through nearly three decades, Burtt also has been in the thick of the progress and process of cinema, from the digital revolution to what is termed "pre-visualization." Ahead of filming, Burtt and fellow technicians film a mock scene which can be shown to Lucas, the cinematographers and camera operators to orient them to the sequence.

With "Sith," Burtt says in a recent phone interview, these small films would be watched by the actors as they played out a scene. This process, he says, gave them a keener sense of the action, rather than simply acting against blue screen before computer-generated characters and scenes were added.

It is over now and Burtt, who has won four Oscars for sound effects editing and creature and robot voice creation, is moving on. He is joining Pixar Animation. It is, he says, time for a fresh wind to blow.

"George hasn't announced officially what his next projects are," he says. At Lucasfilm, almost everyone works from project to project. The "Star Wars" adventures have guaranteed three years' employment, but nothing past that. Besides, Burtt admits, "The last few years have been frustrating, so I was at a point of change. But I had no official plan."

Yet, the time had come for a new challenge and Pixar came calling. He terms it "the most attractive" of his offers. One reason, Burtt chose Pixar was its Bay Area location. The filmmaker has long been a resident of Northern California not far from Lucas' headquarters at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County and its allied operations. Burtt had no desire to pack up for Hollywood.

More significantly, the sound designer and film editor knew many of the Pixar folks. He recalls that many of the Pixar honchos had been Lucas employees when it was a small division of Lucasfilm.

"I had an office just down from them. We were the big shots," he says with a chuckle.

Soon Lucas sold the operation to Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer. Eventually that business became Pixar, which turned out the blockbusters "Finding Nemo," "Toy Story" flicks and "Monsters, Inc."

This week, after a brief break for R & R, the 56-year-old joins that firm. It will not be his first experience with animation.

When the now-Pixar cohorts were working down the hall at Lucasfilm, they persuaded Burtt to try his hand. The result was "The Adventures of Andre and Wally B.," the tale of a bulbous-nosed android named Wally and a persistent bee, the other title creature. Words of wifely wisdom Wives are often said to be the severest critics of their husbands' work. Just ask Burtt. A couple of weeks ago, the co-editor of "Revenge of the Sith" showed a finished print at his alma mater, the University of Southern California. He was worried about its reception and that it might not satisfy fans. He confided his concerns to his wife, Peg. But, after the screening, he was heartened at the cheers and applause the film received. Burtt says, "Peg (in her first look), who is not a 'Star Wars' fan, told me, 'I really can't trust you, Ben.' " Bet that it came as his greatest compliment.

- Joan E. Vadeboncoeur,

staff writer

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