The point when everybody gets bored during the Academy Awards is when they give out all of those technical awards to people you've never heard of. Awards for editing, cinematography, music and some other ones we can't remember ... you know, the ones that they give out on the dinky side stage or even sometimes just in the aisles if they're feeling really lazy.
But you are fans of some of these "technical" guys. Huge fans, in some cases. You just didn't know it.
It's a scene you've probably seen a hundred times, but there's one thing you always take for granted. At the moment Darth Vader walks through a doorway in A New Hope -- and into the annals of pop culture -- there's a sound that changes everything:
Darth Vader breathes really loudly. There's no reason for it, but for some reason it's scary as hell. That nightmarish mechanical sound follows him everywhere. That sound, and countless other little touches, were created by Ben Burtt. He has the boring job title of "sound designer," but he brought Star Wars to life in countless ways. (Trivia: Darth Vader's breathing is Burtt breathing through a scuba regulator.)
Ability to force-choke not included.
The high-pitched sound the blasters make? Burtt came up with that. Chewbacca's voice? Burtt created it by recording a moaning walrus and layering it with some other animal sounds. On top of this, he didn't just design R2-D2's sounds but actually performed most of them himself. That's right -- he is R2-D2.
But his work didn't stop with Star Wars. He also personally designed E.T.'s voice and personally performed the adorable voice of WALL-E. Yeah, he's WALL-E as well.
For the sake of time, we're going to skip over talking about the whip and boulder sounds from Indiana Jones (he made those, presumably with his sizable wang) and move on to a signature sound effect that is in almost every modern action and adventure film: the Wilhelm scream. It's a clip of a man screaming that's been used over 200 films:
Burtt discovered it. Burtt named it. Burtt is the father of the Wilhelm scream which he stumbled across on a studio reel labeled "Man being eaten by alligator" and made famous.
We would keep talking about that, but it turns out there's one more Burtt Star Wars sound we should mention: the lightsaber sound. The electric "unsheathing" sound when the beams emerge, the humming and clashing of the fights -- sounds that every kid can make with his mouth (they kept having to stop Ewan McGregor from making that sound while shooting the scenes in the prequels).
Liam Neeson was constantly breaking character to weep openly in shame.
How'd Burtt come up with it? By layering the sound of an electric motor from a movie projector over the hum of an old television set.
When the characters were fighting, he'd broadcast that sound into the booth and wave his microphone around in front of the speaker, in sync with what was happening onscreen. The moving mic caused the sound to fade in and out with the movement of the lightsabers. And with that crude setup, he created the sound of your childhood.
If you try to fight Keanu Reeves on the street, you will find he can't actually do kung fu worth a shit. The reason he's able to engage in zero-gravity martial arts fights that are so mesmerizing you're willing to sit through two bad Matrix sequels just to see more, is a man named Yuen Woo Ping. He's a fight choreographer, planning these sequences punch by punch.
The fights in the Kill Bill movies? Yuen Woo Ping. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Same guy. That amazing stuff Jet Li can do? Thank Yuen (who's done nine movies with him). The intricately choreographed fight/comedy/stunt scenes of Jackie Chan? Once more, nine of his movies were Yuen's work.
He's like a crazy, armed and straight George Takei.
His style of fight scenes -- which are so elaborate that they're basically ass-kicking high-wire dance sequences -- is so distinct that it's hard to miss. (Did we mention he did Kung Fu Hustle? Because he did.) Especially the way he uses the props and set, where anything can be a weapon. We like to imagine that this man has a bin full of farming, construction, ninja and custodian equipment on set and just reaches into it and pulls something random out, declaring, "I will make this fuck someone up."
"Who wants to see where I can fit this microphone?"
Take a look at Neo's fight in the chateau scene in The Matrix Reloaded, where he seems to have trouble deciding which kick-ass weapon is best for killing dudes, or the scene in Crouching Tiger between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi:
Yuen is well-known in his home country of China (where he is an accomplished director) but most of you don't know his name, even though he created some of your favorite scenes of all time (not to mention single-handedly revitalized martial art films in the United States in the last decade). He is the reason why our daydreams always involve flying beautifully through the air and kicking somebody in the head.
Did You Know? Chinese people gain the ability to fly under the influence of a full moon.
When some rich guy buys a famous painting to hang on his wall, he always knows the name of the artist -- that's the whole point. Yet half of the people reading this have movie posters on their walls and have no idea who actually created them. Well, there's one guy whose art is hanging in some of your homes right now.
His name is Drew Struzan. Here, let's give you a quick sample of his work:
Yeah, you know. Just the most iconic movie posters ever. Oh, he did this one, too:
Seriously, the man has drawn images that have been reprinted more times than the "Mona Lisa," and nobody knows his name. Oh, hey, he did this, too:
Drew Struzan, ladies and gentlemen.