Ben Burtt Special: Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The last part of the Ben Burtt – Star Wars Special. This time with Episode II: Attack of The Clones. I have two interesting articles to share to you. First article is from Film Sound, a really interesting interview with Ben Burtt talking about the sound of Episode II:
It sounds like an enormous undertaking.
The thing about any ‘Star Wars’ film, especially the ones that we’re doing now, is that post-production is almost like making two feature films at the same time. You’re doing a live-action feature film, with all the necessary logging and storytelling-through-editing, and all the data that needs to be managed for a regular feature film. You’re also really doing a full-length cartoon because almost every shot in the movie involves animation, which has a different approach to how you design a shot and where the images come from. In the end, every shot becomes a special effects shot — and there are thousands of them. So anyone coming on in post-production on this picture side is faced with managing these three huge areas: normal feature, fully animated feature, and then the two of them being interlaced with one another in complicated ways.
When did this whole process begin for you?
We’ve been on the film for two years. In March of 2000, I started previsualizing sequences. I would get a verbal description from George of a sequence, like the “Speeder Chase,” and then begin creating images for it and cutting things together prior to going to Australia so that he could react to it. We did a lot of editing up front that helped George to design the sequence, to pick out camera angles and to develop the action in the sequences. By the time we got to filming in Sydney, there were three or four pieces already edited as what’s called a “videomatic version” of a sequence, which was a good reference for George while he was shooting. A lot of decisions had to be made ahead of time about what angles, what coverage, and what kind of motion would make the sequence work the best. George traditionally likes to work out as much of that as possible before he gets on the set. [...]
About how many layers of video were you dealing with for each shot?
On the average, we probably had five or six layers of video for every shot of the movie, and sometimes many more. You very rarely had everything in front of the camera. The whole movie was shot in pieces. So the editing room activity for me became a great deal of constructing images, as well as cutting together the story with those images. Also, you could cut a scene together and see what worked and didn’t work. Then, to make corrections, you could start altering the image and changing the timing, changing the location of a character or actor on the screen, cutting them out and moving them over a little bit, shrinking the whole frame so they could paint a bigger set around it, or adding and subtracting characters. It became a very complicated editorial process.
When you do see something differently, how do you communicate that?
I’m diplomatic. I’m tactful. I’m honest. Generally, I will say something to the effect of, ‘What do you think if…?’ or ‘How about trying…?’ He’s willing to listen to a lot of that and go with it. I never pound my fists and leave in anger. That never happens. As I say, he has a certain viewpoint. There are obviously ideas he’ll have that I’ll initially think aren’t going to work. He’ll be persistent, and quite often it’ll eventually work! There are also things in the film I would do differently if I were the director.
I learned years ago, when I was doing sound design for George, not to take the rejections of things too deeply. There isn’t an artist or a person in this company — an animator or a composer, or anybody — that doesn’t have to submit to his judgment, because this is his movie. He created it, he’s responsible for it, and he’s very opinionated about it. For me, his management style is mild. He never insists on something; he just gets his way because he’s the boss.
What was one of the most difficult aspects of working on “Attack of the Clones”?
I think the hard part about ‘Star Wars’ is that, as an editor, you basically sit in judgment every day. You have to look at and critique what’s put on the screen in front of you. Is it good? Does this tell the story? Is this clear? Can you see it? I don’t like that eye-twitch. Why was the movement not good enough? You’re always critiquing it. You’re paid to be a judge, to sit there and pick it apart and make it better. After a long, long time with this film and these scenes, you’ve picked it apart so much that sometimes, all you can do is look at it and see what you thought it might have been, but it isn’t. It’s a long time to be on a project, I have to say. It’s the amount of work of doing at least two feature films. It’s like having two jobs.
What scene in the film was the most fun to edit?
Until it’s done, I can’t tell you that. But I’ve learned that it’s not the end result for the filmmaker; it’s the journey along the way. There were a lot of things in this film that were really fun to shoot and to edit. Many of them were changed as we went along. In ‘Phantom Menace,’ we had a 25-minute pod race, but we could only put a seven- or eight-minute pod race in the movie or it would be out of proportion. We had to lose 15 minutes of fantastic action. There are things like that in this film that would have been nice to include, but they’ll be on the DVD. (laughs) You have this other venue now where you can have the outtakes and other things that you couldn’t tolerate in a regular movie. There are things I liked as the sound designer because they allowed me to really express myself with the sound effects — things like the asteroid chase.
Read the Full Interview here.
Second is from Mix Magazine. An article talking about the Sound of Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Burtt started work in early 2000, and when he finished in mid-April 2002, he had been on the film for 26 months. In addition to picture editing and sound design, he also had his hands full directing second-unit photography. As early as the previsualization in early 2000, shooting and putting sequences together on videotape, Burtt was “always thinking of sound. There was a period of about a few weeks prior to going to Sydney when I put together a library that I wanted to use. I went there with a few CDs of sounds, and even back then there were a few scenes that I cut back in Sydney to which I added music and sound effects. Being a Star Wars film, it was best to evaluate it as a movie. Sound was never out of the picture.”
Eventually, Burtt turned his attention full-time to creating the sound, though he admits that he did less sound editing personally than on previous movies, giving more latitude to his editors on the spotting of scenes. “In the past, I might have really specified to the editors each laser hit and each explosion; here, I tended to work more on giving them menus to choose what they liked from this set of materials. They would then go through the library and make choices that they would audition for me.”
Throughout his 27-year involvement with the Star Wars films, Burtt has been depicted to the public recording sound effects, from striking high-tension wires in the mid-‘70s to moving an electric razor in a bowl for Episode I on the TV show 60 Minutes. He says that “those examples are harder to come by on this film because I didn’t record or create as many things that were relatively simple examples of what you can do at home in your kitchen! Much of what I made was complicated composites on the [Symbolic Sound] Kyma and on the [SampleCell] keyboard–techno-based rather than the old tabletop of sound effects devices.” (See “Ben Burtt on Sound Design,” below.)
Having said this, Burtt does note that much of the Zam speeders, in the reel 1 chase in nighttime Coruscant, were made from musical instruments, including electric guitars, cellos and violas. The infamous electric razor was also brought into play to vibrate viola, harp and bass strings. “I was thinking that it was traveling magnetically, it was being pulled along the streets with changing magnetic fields rather than by self-propulsion.”
Because Burtt was in the “danger zone” of making tonal sound effects for the speeders, he had to be careful of the interplay with John Williams’ music. “I originally did a temp version of that mix, using nothing but musical sounds for the speeders. My thought was that the music score would be percussion-based, along with tones for the ships. I temped it that way, but John Williams didn’t quite do that, and his heavy orchestral piece necessitated rethinking the tonal aspects of the vehicles. In some cases, the musical tones that I made conflicted with the orchestra. Which was a disappointment for me, because I wasn’t able to push it into a new area. My reasoning was that we’ve done an awful lot of high-energy chase scenes, and I wanted this to be offbeat and strange. But it didn’t really happen.”
During this project, Burtt went back to original Star Wars library and redigitized some of it yet again, this time at 24-bit resolution. Although Skywalker Sound has upgraded the facility to a shared FibreChannel system in which sounds are pulled from a centralized server both in edit rooms and on mix stages, Wood and Burtt organized Episode II editorial around “sneakernet” local drives, primarily for security purposes.
Continue reading the full article at Mix Online.