Industry Updates

Ben Burtt and Sound Design for Wall-E

Wall-E, while short on dialogue, is filled with incredible sound design courtesy of 4-time Academy award winner Ben Burtt, also known as “The Father of Modern Sound Design.”

Learn more about how the movie was built from the “sound” up and how the voices of Wall-E and Eve were created here on VOX Daily.

Disney: A Rich History of Sound Design

Sound plays an enormously significant role in entertainment and in the shaping of how audiences respond to what they are watching, whether it be a moving picture or an animated film.

In the earliest days of sound design for film, crews would make use of simple, controlled orchestral instruments and devices that could be used inside a studio due to the size and bulk of the recording equipment at that time. As audio recording technology evolved, sound design became more authentic and elaborate, particularly as sound designers could capture specimens of live sound outdoors to establish more sonic credibility.

From wind machines turned by hand, to rain sticks, and sheet metal to recreate thunderstorms, Disney has cornered the market for Foley artistry in animated films for decades.

Ben Burtt and Wall-E

Sound designer at Disney Imagineering, Ben Burtt, with his experimental methods and unique insight into how sound is made, is perhaps the most spectacular sound designer of all-time. Burtt was commissioned by film director Andrew Stanton to be the sound designer for Wall-E.

Known to many as either the “Doctor” or “Father of Modern Sound Design”, Burtt’s experience goes all the way back to designing sound for George Lucas’ original Star Wars movies. He also designed the sound universe of the Indiana Jones movies and is fully responsible for giving Wall-E and its world a voice.

Playing with sound has always appealed to Ben Burtt, making all kinds of neat sound effects with the use of a stretched out metal slinky, including the sound that accompanied the firing of Eve’s laser blasts.

Creating the Voices of Wall-E and Eve

Ben Burtt related that the most difficult assignment he has ever received as a sound designer was to design voices for characters. His primary challenge was to maintain the soul of a human being while creating a believable, synthesized sound that appropriately matched the characters’ robotic form and features.

A good example of creating a voice for a non-human character is evident in Disney’s film, “Dumbo” (1941), wherein producers used a Sonavox (an artificial larynx) to make a train “speak” with human-like qualities to achieve a desired result. Today, the Vocoder, a digital tool, is used to create a similar yet more sophisticated effect to alter the voice, even modulate pitch.

The Vocoder was used in Wall-E to change the vocal qualities of voice actress Elissa Knight, who performed the voice of Wall-E’s love interest, Eve.
The voice of Wall-E was first performed by Ben Burtt and then manipulated with a digital pen that acted like a joystick, modulating the sound even further.

What Does Sound Design Mean to You?

Looking forward to hearing your comments about either Wall-E, Ben Burtt or sound design in general.
Best wishes,
Image via Ben Burtt Interview

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  • Avatar for James Herron
    James Herron
    March 30, 2009, 10:23 am

    Excellent piece… thanks!

  • Avatar for Nick
    May 21, 2009, 5:45 pm

    very informative and creative piece. Its interesting to see how someone such as Ben Burtt goes about his creative process, as he is clearly a vet in this business.

  • Avatar for Chuck Baker
    Chuck Baker
    December 14, 2011, 10:30 am

    that one robot on the spaceship having to constantly clean up the “foreign contaminant” from Wall-E’s dirty tracks

  • Avatar for Mark Gizel
    Mark Gizel
    December 14, 2011, 10:31 am


  • Avatar for Joseph Loewinsohn
    Joseph Loewinsohn
    December 14, 2011, 10:31 am

    MO, the cleaning robots name was MO
    (my favorite too!)

  • Avatar for Amie Nutter Breedlove
    Amie Nutter Breedlove
    December 14, 2011, 10:32 am

    Definitely, Wall-E himself!

  • Avatar for DeVora Clark
    DeVora Clark
    December 29, 2013, 10:57 am

    After I retire from teaching, I’d like to get into voice over, but with the added talent as singer/songwriter. As I cannot afford to pay for the music sound recordings that would rival Celine Dion ($$$), I have to record at home, and I do this “by ear.” I want to learn the audio engineering of mix/master (I use Logic Pro on iMac), and then learn voice over for some income while I continue to record CD’s. Where is the best online ed source to pursue these 2 goals (online b/c I teach days)?