Apple’s new Star Wars-themed video dives deep into how Lucasfilm is using the Mac hardware and software in its Skywalker Studio to create iconic movie sound effects.
- On Star Wars Day on May 4, Apple released a new mini-film in its “Behind the Mac” series that focuses on creative uses of the Mac and Apple software.
- The nearly 17-minute video features Skywalker Sound, which is Lucasfilms’ sound effects unit located on the Skywalker Ranch. Skywalker Sound was responsible for iconic sound effects in Star Wars, Indiana Jones and other famous franchises.
- The video demonstrates all aspects of sound creation, from field recording and Foley to sound design and mixing to building a vast sound library and beyond.
Apple takes you on a tour of Skywalker Sound
The video explores different creative aspects of movie magic, with a strong focus on crafting believable sound effects that also tell the story. You can see how artists and engineers use their Macs and specialized software such as Pro Tools to generate iconic sound effects you know and love, ranging from the scream of a tie fighter and the sound of R2-D2’s voice to the pew-pew of a blaster.
Skywalker Sound takes advantage of the Soundminer sound library system, which features more than a million sounds. To make finding the right sound not feel like finding a needle in the haystack, the system supports descriptive keyword searches which Apple says are “almost poetic in their specificity.”
A press release in the Apple Newsroom says the 153,000-square-foot Skywalker Sound building is surrounded by vineyards and the man-made Lake Ewok. The studio has 130 Mac Pro racks, 50 iMacs, 50 MacBook Pros and 50 Mac minis running Pro Tools, along with a fleet of iPads, iPhones and Apple TVs. George Lucas often repeated that sound is at least 50 percent of the moviegoing experience. Read: How to extract audio from video on iPhone, iPad and Mac
A special Today at Apple session
A related “Today at Apple” session is also available. According to the company, people interested in sound creation can join sound designer Leff Lefferts and Apple Music’s Eddie Francis to learn how Skywalker Sound brings iconic movie characters to life. Apple says that the session will teach them how to make vocal effects using their voice, everyday objects and GarageBand for macOS. The session will be held on Monday, May 9, 2022, and you can sign up at the Apple website.
How some Star Wars sounds were created
The sound of the laser gates in “Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace” which momentarily divide Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul during the lightsaber duel was created by recording the wobbly blades of a broken ceiling fan in an apartment.
Or how about this one?
Sources sometimes materialize from thin air. “I’ve had people write me on the internet and say, ‘My aunt has a really weird cough, do you want to record it for a creature?’” Burtt says. (Nelson refers to these components as “creature sweeteners.”)
Apple, too, crafts sound effects used in its products, ranging from the iconic macOS startup chime or the swoosh of an outgoing message in Apple Mail.
The problem with movie dialogue today
Today’s movies could definitely improve upon dialog quality. It’s remarkable that despite all the technology available to moviemakers, movie dialogue often sounds muffled and has gotten more difficult to understand. As to why that’s the case, we highly recommend reading a thorough explainer on Slashfilms.