Kylo Ren, BB-8, and more with The Sound Designers of The Force Awakens

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Nerdist’s Amy Ratcliffe has a great interview up with the sound designers of Star Wars: The Force Awakens this week. David Acord and Matthew Wood go in depth on the approach and specifics of many of the unique and now iconic sounds from the film.

 

There is a great deal of interesting content, but of particular interest are the comments on the sound design of Kylo Ren. David Acord discussed the approach they took to Kylo Ren’s saber and force powers and how they were intended to reflect the nature of the character.

 

I think the most obvious new sound effect in the movie is Kylo’s lightsaber. We were attempting, along with his Force power effect, to create sound effects that would mimic his persona, which is this raw power he has that’s not quite formed. He’s not well trained, but he’s extremely powerful. It’s a little wild and dangerous. The sword itself, the look of the sword has the extra darts coming out the side, and it’s really sparky and wavery and it looks a little homemade. The idea of the sound was to match that–something that sounds like raw energy, just pure power, very brutal and kind of wild and dangerous sounding.

 

The Force sound to go along with Kylo had that deep, raw, animalistic sound. It’s a chunky, raw growl that’s supposed to imitate the Force power he wields, which is a little more raw versus Rey’s Force power , which tends to be—in the few moments when she’s using the Force, hers is a little more smooth and rhythmic and like a heartbeat. That’s the contrast between the two.

 

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Matthew Wood also discussed Abrams’ vision for Kylo Ren’s voice as it came through the mask.

 

The Kylo Ren mask process was one of the signature things J.J. wanted to have be special to The Force Awakens. There are sounds like BB-8 or Kylo Ren’s mask that are very signature to this movie. He gave us a lot of almost hyperbole at the beginning about he how he wanted it to sound like a chainsaw mixed with a Harley Davidson with a flamethrower. The thing about Kylo’s mask that was interesting is its function is purely intimidation because it’s not keeping him alive like Vader’s mask is. We wanted to find a way to capture that feeling.

 

Kylo Ren

But sound effects weren’t the only key to unlocking the voice of the new villain of the Star Wars saga. After attempting to post process the voice after capturing driver’s performance to less than stellar results, they opted instead to allow Driver to perform his lines while hearing how the finished product would sound.

 

One of the first sessions I did with him in New York, we set up the scene where the officer gives him the bad news that they’ve lost the droid. We actually put this metal bar with a counterweight on it in front of him so he could hold on to the bar and shake his body as much as possible and not make any noise into the microphone that wouldn’t be correct. And he was… I think we had to cut out many, many swear words between the lines to get the intention there. That’s how he works. He’s very method, he really gets into it.

 

It was a fun process. The main thing is we wanted it to sound interesting and intelligible, which I think those two things we got from him. When he takes off his mask in that scene with Rey, it’s all the more powerful when you hear his real, unprocessed voice.

 

BB-8

On the lighter side of the sound design, Wood and Acord also discussed at length the cration of BB-8s “voice”.

 

MW: J.J. was very eager for us to start work on BB-8. We all gave it our all on that. I got to sit there and play with the BB-8 on set and meet the puppeteers and see how they were going to move it around. The one thing that was interesting about Ben Schwartz’s performance that really helped is it was a placeholder to tell us what BB-8 was feeling and saying in more of an English dialogue so that we’d actually hear what his emotional states were in all the scenes. Because there’d be long periods of time where he’d be speaking with Rey, much longer than R2-D2 ever did in the previous films, so we really had to convey that she had an understanding of him and his language. And that’s what the Ben Schwartz dialogue was for, was to give the editors a space to place those lines.

 

Coming up with how it sounded, we were able to present an idea to J.J. to use this interface, a tactile interface for him to change timbre and pitch with his hand. It was a five point way he could manipulate the sound that would create the tone. Then, we fed that through Bill Hader–this is when he came into the scene. There was a way Acord found out to feed those tones through a tube called a talk box–right, Dave?

 

DA: Yep. It’s a guitar pedal, basically.

 

MW: It feeds that tone into Bill Hader’s mouth so Bill can perform with his mouth, not actually using any breath behind it but just the movements of his mouth. The tones would go in there, and then we’d rerecord out to a microphone again. We came up with all these little riffs that BB-8 would have and then those were cut together. It was a real big group effort on BB-8. It took a long time to get that sorted. The main thing was to have, when he goes in to talk to R2-D2 at the end of the film, a very distinct quality language for them both.

 

There’s a lot more interesting content in there as well. From using parrots and cats to capture sound effects, to the personal harm the designers need to inflict on themselves to capture the sound of the Rathtars, it’s a great read. Head to Nerdist to check out the full interview.

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24 thoughts on “Kylo Ren, BB-8, and more with The Sound Designers of The Force Awakens

  • February 5, 2016 at 8:32 pm
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    Got to say that the sound design was superb in this movie. Was very impressed by it!

  • February 5, 2016 at 9:03 pm
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    Nice of them to give Ben Burtt a couple shoutouts. I wonder how much he helped out?

    • February 6, 2016 at 5:37 am
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      He designed every last one of the memorable alien, vehicle, and weapon sounds in this movie? Too bad he did it back in 1982.

      • February 6, 2016 at 6:13 am
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        Kylo Ren’s lightsaber.

        I rest my case.

  • February 5, 2016 at 10:52 pm
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    Sad to say I don’t think that they achieved JJ’s vision for Kylo’s voice (the description sounds way more fierce than the dark and ominous voice they went with). I liked what they did with his voice, but JJ’s concept sounds pretty cool.

  • February 5, 2016 at 11:07 pm
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    From the first time I saw the movie, I thought the sound of the Rathtars–not the rolling but the actually screeches–sounded a bit like Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi’s scream from A New Hope

  • February 6, 2016 at 12:08 am
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    I liked that Kylo’s voice sounded just barely in check. Like he could snap, or break down at any moment. It was an odd cross between a child, a news anchor and a serial killer.

    That also sounds like the setup to a terrible joke..

    • February 6, 2016 at 5:22 am
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      It was an odd cross between a child, a news anchor and a serial killer. was it a Catholic priest

    • February 6, 2016 at 6:20 am
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      You mean… a news anchor?

  • February 6, 2016 at 1:07 am
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    Wood’s a nice guy but he’s no Burtt.

    • February 6, 2016 at 5:35 am
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      AS TFA clearly shows. The worst sound design of all 7 films so far. Bland, character-less weapons and ships, recycled far too much, and instead of feeling like a offscreen environment, things like Maz’s place SOUNDED like a designed set of sounds rather than an organic environment.

      • February 6, 2016 at 6:13 am
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        I’m no sound expert, but I seriously think you might be reaching here. “character-less weapons”? Really? If anything Kylo Ren’s lightsaber had more “character” than half the sound effects of the entire PT, maybe even the OT. But again, that’s just my opinion, and you are welcome to have your own.

        • February 6, 2016 at 8:06 pm
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          Nonsense. Maul’s saber is a standout example of how you beef up a saber sound – that thing positively growls. In any event, I perhaps should have been clearer – I was more thinking about blasters – the new blaster sounds are really weak (thinking Poe’s blaster here for an example), bottomless, and feel like digital creations. By contrast, there’s an explosive quality to the OT blaster sounds that SOUNDS like a burst of dangerous energy. The only weapons that have any sonic weight are the ones that were already in the library. Similarly, the only ships that sound appealing are the Falcon, TIEs, and XWs – all of which have been in the library since ’77. As you say though, YMMV – and I’m not slamming anyone who disagrees with me over it, I just found the design to be hands down the weakest of the saga.

          • February 6, 2016 at 8:44 pm
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            Okay, that’s fine. Like I said, I’m no sound expert. But to be perfectly honest, I can’t remember Maul’s saber even sounding different from the other sabers.

      • February 6, 2016 at 6:47 am
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        I honestly didn’t get that impression at all. We’re so far apart on this I’m having trouble even understanding your examples. Maybe the sound wasn’t being reproduced properly in you’re theater? oh well, I can’t convince my wife that raisins are delicious, I’m not going to change your mind on this. It’s weird though…

      • February 6, 2016 at 9:00 am
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        I hope Burtt does the next and if not then the sound design isn’t more fan service. Wood CAN do great work under Burtt’s guidence as he did during the PT so he does have some talent.

    • March 5, 2016 at 5:18 pm
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      What happens to Burtt? Why wasn’t he involved in this new movie?

      • March 6, 2016 at 2:11 pm
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        Busy or retired is my guess. He’s very in demand and like the rest of the OT crew isn’t getting any younger.

        • March 6, 2016 at 2:56 pm
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          It’s weird ’cause there’s been like no one mentioning him even though he had a HUGE part in the other movies. I was also very impressed with all that he did in WALL•E. But maybe you’re right.

  • February 6, 2016 at 6:29 am
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    I think the sound DESIGN was more generic than the other SW films. It sounded more similar to any other action movie made lately.
    That said, BB8 and Kylo Ren were very well done, seeing as both of them are basically 2.0 versions of R2-D2 and Darth Vader, respectively, I think in terms of exuding the right ball-park of character but still being separated from the predecessors, they hit the nail on the head. BB8 and Kylo are very much their own thing and that distinction is in a large part made by their voices and sounds.
    Explosions, ships, guns… yeah, it was pretty generic, but this brings me to my next point:

    The sound MIXING was awesome. While the sounds were generic, they were mixed by guys straight out of the top drawer. The blasters sounded dangerous, like something that could actually kill you. The ships sounded real, the effects and explosions were all good. Original? No, but the execution quality more than made up for it IMO. This is definitely the cleanest, most tightly executed SW film of the bunch, and compared to other films with their plot-holes and gaffes and director issues, it was really, really refreshing to see a film that was good and properly made and fun to watch.

    • February 7, 2016 at 12:08 am
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      ” a film that was good and properly made and fun to watch.”
      .
      Not to be a dick, but I guess if that’s the way you feel about the rest of them, I’m confused as to why you are on a SW fan site in the first place.

      • February 7, 2016 at 6:52 am
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        The “good and properly made” statement was more in comparison to other films made nowadays, what with widespread disappointment over Jurassic, Terminator, and Fant4stic, it was nice to see them NOT f### up SW.
        However, I will say the execution on the new one was much tighter than on some parts of PT and OT — though when I say tighter I mean more consistent and without gaffe. A New Hope and Empire Strikes will always be the most beloved, they are insanely likable and charming films, but they had their flaws.
        TFA had way LESS flaws, but the high-points weren’t as high as the OT, so it’s a double-edged sword, the OT had better highs and lower lows, TFA had a more consistent “good but not groundbreaking” quality throughout. I guess it could be said that TFA was safer.
        I still like the OT and TFA, they compliment each other nicely, but their strengths lie in different areas.
        Same goes for the PT, the PT had a lot of strengths over both OT and TFA, unfortunately few of those strengths made me enjoy WATCHING the movies.
        The background design and production design in general was really superb and very original, but unfortunately none of those things matter if you hate the main characters, and Obiwan/Anakin’s duo really missed the mark, story-wise. Also the over-use of the green screen showed on screen, green-screen is incredibly useful, but if it’s super-noticeable in watching the movie, you got a problem, which AOTC and ROTS did, big-time. I could go on but I won’t, my point is, TFA had its flaws, like lack of originality, but it was very entertaining and complimented the OT without over-shadowing it. Too safe, but very likable.
        Really, TFA represents the opposite end of the spectrum, PT is too original but has jumbled character-arcs, TFA is too safe but has awesome character-arcs. OT is the perfect balance between originality, character-likability, and dodgy script-writing.
        That’s my opinion, take it or leave it.

  • February 6, 2016 at 11:32 am
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    I actually asked him through my artist twitter if the sound you hear when phasma has to open the gates if it was the first note of house of pain’s jump around (origannly james brown song) being pitched up . He actually liked the tweet………

  • February 7, 2016 at 7:02 am
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    My 2 cents. The sounds in these films are never going to be as groundbreaking and original as the OT sound FX that they’re based on. That ship sailed in the 80’s. That said, the sound FX team has created a textured & layered soundscape that is evocative of the past but feels contemporary. IMO, It was perfectly suited to this movie.

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