Inside Obi-Wan Kenobi Sound Effects
Some of the greatest star wars the stories are behind the scenes. In Saga Chronicles, Lucasfilm’s Lucas Seastrom tells these stories.
In a remote village, Obi-Wan Kenobi and young Princess Leia seek refuge in a hideout used for Jedi smuggling. But Darth Vader and his fearsome Inquisitors are on their trail. Arrived at the colony, the ruthless Vader begins to murder innocent people to bring his former master out of hiding. Sending Leia to escape, an unstable Kenobi attempts to ward off the villain, confronting the vengeful Sith Lord with a lightsaber in hand. The scene is taken from the final moments of Part III of Lucasfilm’s latest series, Obi Wan Kenobi, with all episodes now streaming on Disney+.
“The contribution of [series director] Deborah Chow had to make it creepy and dark,” recalls Danielle Dupre, re-recording mixer at Skywalker Sound. “Audiences know how evil Darth Vader is and how far he’s willing to go, but the characters in the story don’t. We had to capture the experience of everyone in the village realizing what was going on. It’s also been shot brilliantly You have these disturbing close-ups of Vader with the strength of his body and sheer determination and then you cut to Obi-Wan and he’s scared and confused and feeling the darkness of the Vader’s presence.
Tasked with arranging the many layers of sound effects, dialogue and music in sync with the image, Dupre explains how she “couldn’t wait to bring the silence into the scene, because it’s an opportunity to make the public fearful and anxious. When you take it all away, you find yourself with this terrifying image in front of you, and you feel the weight of the moment. Natalie Ann Holt, the composer, is an incredible talent and our job was to balance that driving momentum of Vader and the musical score with those quiet, tense moments with Obi-Wan. Once the action kicks in with the combat, we can really take it to town with some loud, aching sounds. It was a lot of work, but it was really fun.
Above: lightsaber effects from Obi Wan Kenobi
Growing up as the daughter of a professional musician, Dupre often accompanied her father to shows where handling audio equipment became second nature. “I was a pretty quiet kid,” she explains, “so I spent a lot of time just sitting there and taking it all in. Even as a kid, the main impression I remember about the experience of things was how it sounded.” She admits that a love for star wars was not part of his childhood, but rather the pure interest in sound and storytelling.
“I grew up playing music,” Dupre continues, “and got a great job in the field after graduating from the University of Southern California. But I had some decisions to make about what I wanted and where I wanted to be situated. Cinema was not something I wanted to get involved in, but it was always something I was interested in.
Although Dupre fell into filmmaking, discovering the art form when she was hired at Skywalker Sound was something of an epiphany. “My main goal, in addition to working in sound, was to tell stories,” she explains. “I had only thought of it in the musical context, but the opportunity to do it in a film was a whole new playground. Besides having more speakers, which is always fun, you have music, dialogue, effects – all these storytelling tools at your disposal.
Dupre’s colleague, sound designer and editor Jon Borland, is one of those Skywalker Sound artists who grew up with the galaxy far, far away. As Dupre recalls, “Jon once told me that there are people who have the rhythm of Darth Vader’s breathing engraved in their soul, like me! Borland first studied graphic design and worked in multimedia. He later chose to follow his passion for film sound and attended the Vancouver Film School where Skywalker Sound’s head of sound design, Randy Thom, was a frequent visitor. He then recruited Borland into the company, along with supervising sound editors Nia Hansen and Jeremy Bowker.
Borland jokes that “in what would probably be considered my wasted youth, I watched star wars over and over again, so you probably don’t need to tell me where the different sounds go. He reveled in the opportunity to explore the franchise sound library first created by sound designer Ben Burtt on Star Wars: A New Hope. “The effects in the library were named as Ben called them at the time,” says Borland. ‘It wasn’t called’Millennium Falcon‘, but rather ‘pirate ship’. “Lightsabers” were “lightswords”. Everything had this deep lineage.
Above: The effects of the “pirate ship” of A new hope
As Master Yoda might say, “You already know what you need.” The sonic “aesthetics” of star warsas Borland puts it, “comes intuitively once you understand the cogs and bolts of what Ben has done. They’re all natural, believable, real sounds. It’s not like you just go to a synthesizer and dial in a bunch of nobs to make a TIE fighter. It’s a roaring elephant. star wars sound design is about finding the right sounds and using or combining them in unorthodox ways instead of creating something from scratch.
The legacy of star wars The sound design is not only evident in the recordings themselves, but in their original creators still working in the company, such as sound designer Gary Rydstrom, Randy Thom or Ben Burtt himself. “We have all these people walking down the hallway,” Dupre comments. “They each have many Oscars and they are all so humble. It’s a relatively small place and we’re all here for the same reason. Rydstrom even generously took a moment to listen to Dupre as she worked on the opening of Kenobithis is part III.
Dupre had his first opportunity to work on star wars as a mixer on projects like star wars resistance, Star Wars: The Clone Warsand Star Wars: Visions (“The Duel”) while Borland, who first trained in sound recording, worked on an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars before sound editing Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Mandalorian, among others. Both of them, along with their fellow crew members, have spent the past few years adjusting to the workload and pace of episodic series. “We slowly and surely found a system of, ‘How do you manage to make a six-hour movie in three months?'” as Borland puts it.
Along with their fellow Skywalker Sound team members, Dupre and Borland worked under the supervision of series director Deborah Chow, whom Borland describes as “very proactive with sound”. Chow “was not caught How? ‘Or’ What something would sound,” he continues, “but was focused on character and emotion. She knew what she wanted each character to be, and that was really helpful. This allows you to bring your own skills to the table. She clearly communicates what she wants it to feel, which is great because we don’t necessarily have a vocabulary for sound. When NED-B dies, she wanted the sounds to be sad. (Borland also adds that the sounds of NED-B’s movements came from a bread machine, similar to the seat and antenna motors used for C-3PO and R2-D2.)
Above: NED-B servo motion effects from Obi Wan Kenobi
During their early work on the series, Chow consulted Borland on the concept of Princess Leia’s companion droid, L0-LA59, known as Lola. “She didn’t even introduce me to the whole show,” he says, “but just said, ‘There’s a little girl and she’s going to have this droid that’s like a toy or companion. This would be the baby version of R2-D2. “
Lola’s final sound included fragments of Borland’s own voice as well as that of his five-year-old daughter. “I manipulated it to sound like beeps and boops,” he says proudly. “It’s my daughter who says ‘May the Force be with you’, but I changed it so you couldn’t say it. The inspiration was Ben Burtt who used his own voice for R2-D2. The Artoo’s genius is that he has a whole palette of different sounds that don’t all sound the same, but when you put them together, it’s Artoo. new droid sounds one of the biggest challenges.
Time and again, Skywalker Sound’s sense of heritage is palpable, both in the sound effects themselves and in the generations of artists who created them. “Skywalker is just a great environment to learn and grow,” notes Borland, and Dupre adds that “you learn so much about every project you work on.” For us listening in the audience, every new story in the galaxy far, far away is instantly familiar with the first few decibels of a ship’s engines, the charge of a blaster, or the roar of a creature.
Dupre and the Skywalker Sound colleagues from Borland on Obi Wan Kenobi supervised sound editors Matthew Wood and Trey Turner, re-recording mixers Scott Lewis and Bonnie Wild, sound effects editors Michael Levine, Kevin Bolen and Tim Farrell, sound editor and re-recording mixer David Collins, foley editor Thom Brennan and foley artists Ronni Brown, Margie O’Malley, Sean England and Andrea Gard. “We try to make it as collaborative as possible even if a mixer takes the lead on a specific episode,” notes Dupre. “They all play together as one cohesive story. There is no competition when it comes to work. It’s a collaboration; these are people who are dedicated to telling the best story possible and being true to the art form. It is a dream to work with these people on a daily basis.
Lucas O. Seastrom is a writer and historian at Lucasfilm. He grew up on a farm in California’s Central Valley and is a star wars and Indiana Jones fan.
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