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Ben Burtt, the Voice of R2-D2, E.T., and Wall-E, Honored at Locarno

Ben Burtt, the Voice of R2-D2, E.T., and Wall-E, Honored at Locarno

Ben Burtt, the Voice of R2-D2, E.T., and Wall-E, Honored at Locarno

Legendary sound designer Ben Burtt, the man behind R2-D2’s beeps, the lightsaber swoosh and Wall-E’s electronic warble, will be honored at this year’s Locarno Film Festival with the Vision Award Ticinomoda, a prize dedicated to creatives whose work has extended the horizons of cinema.

A 12-time Oscar winner, and four-time winner — he received special achievement Oscars for his sound work on the original Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Arc and won trophies for sound effects and sound editing work on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade — Burtt has created a staggering number of sounds that, in the words of the Locarno festival “have since imprinted themselves on the minds of several generations of audiences and are still imitated in school playgrounds around the world today.”

Among his achievements are the croakily iconic “E.T. phone home” — a raspy voice from a chain-smoker Burtt discovered in a coffee shop — Chewbacca’s screams (a combination of several animal howls, including a bear, a walrus and a lion), and Darth Vader’s heavy, mechanical breathing, which he made by breathing into a scuba regulator.

The talent seems to run in the family. Burtt’s son, Benjamin A. Burtt, received an Oscar nomination, together with Steve Boeddeker, for sound editing on Black Panther.

Burtt the elder also worked as an editor on George Lucas’ Star Wars Prequel Trilogy and has directed several documentaries, including 1990s’ Blue Planet and Destiny in Space in 1994). Behold, his non-linear film experience on movies and outer space, is part of the permanent collection at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in L.A..

Ben Burtt is a key part of the Star Wars mythology,” said Locarno artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro. “A young and precocious sound effects prodigy, he created a library of organic sounds to bring the universe of the film noises to life; these creations became inseparable from the mythology of the Lucasian saga. The list of his innovations is practically endless…Ben Burtt is a pioneer and visionary who has fundamentally changed the way we perceive sound in cinema.”

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Burtt will receive his honor on Wednesday, August 14 at the Piazza Grande in Locarno and will take part in a public Q&A on Thursday, Aug. 15 at the Forum @Spazio Cinema.

The 77th Locarno Film Festival, which runs Aug. 7-17, 2024, is also honoring Oscar-winning director Jane Campion, indie production legend Stacey Sher (Erin Brockovich, Django Unchained), and French-Swiss star Irène Jacob (Three Colors: Red).

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