Legendary sound designer Ben Burtt has worked on all the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" movies, not to mention "Lincoln," "Wall-E," "E.T.," "Willow" and many more. And although he was a passionate fan of the original "Star Trek" series, Burtt had never ventured professionally into the "Trek" universe — until J.J. Abrams came calling.
"When it came to 2009 and the J.J. reboot, it was just an interesting coincidence of events," Burtt told MTV News. "They had actually gone through post-production on the film and had a mix of the movie, but something about it they weren't happy with. And they found out I was in town — I was working on something with 'Wall-E,' I guess — and they asked if I'd come over and just watch it, listen to it and give them some suggestions."
Burtt screened the film and immediately offered Abrams his expert opinions. "I wrote it all up in a little report and said, 'Here's what I think. Here's what I think is right, and here's what I think is not so good, and here's what I would propose to fix it,' that kind of thing."
Burtt gradually became more involved in the project until he was fully immersed in making and remaking sounds for "Star Trek." "I wanted to tread carefully, not come in and be a bad guy and just toss things out and be arrogant about it," Burtt said. "But fortunately the crew that had worked on it, they couldn't have been more gallant about it and let me take over, and with their help, we made it into, I thought, a much better-sounding film."
Since then, Burtt has reteamed with Abrams for "Super 8" as well as his latest effort, "Star Trek Into Darkness." For the "Trek" films, Burtt has endeavored to combine the old and the new. "I've tried to use technology and technique from the '60s in making the sounds, in the hopes that what I make will resemble in some way the style of the original show," he said.
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Case in point: the ever-present transporter, used to beam characters up and down from the U.S.S. Enterprise. Burtt explained that the current transporter sound has three elements. "There's some chimes, which are heavily echoed, and they're in the same pitch and register as what you might have heard in the original show," he said.
And while researching the sounds from the classic series, Burtt discovered that they were created with a Hammond chord organ. "Going back and getting some organ recordings and playing with it, I was able to fashion some things very similar to the transporter, perhaps exactly the same way, so that's in there," he explained.
The final touch was the addition of a sound element to match a new visual: "There's a little bit of electrical spark added to it, because the visual effect now is a little more active," Burtt said. "Instead of just being a twinkling of glitter, it sort of swirls around the character, and so there's a little bit of electrical arcing in there, sparking, which is actually a recording I made of the old 'Frankenstein' props from the 1931 movie."
Burtt found the owner of the props years ago. "We contracted with him to record all his devices that send sparks around the room," he said. "I'm always dipping into those recordings, because there's nothing else like it. You want some kind of sizzling electrical effect, well there it is."
Working on "Trek," Burtt was mindful of the fact that much of what people love about the reboot has to do with the blend of the fresh and the familiar. "I've taken the same approach with the sound," he said. "I've tried to create all new sounds for everything, including the transporter, but acknowledge how it originally sounded and do something that grows out of that."
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