6 Artists You Didn't Know Made Your Favorite Movie Moments
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.
Ben Burtt: Decided What Your Childhood Sounded Like
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.
Yuen Woo Ping: Choreographs All of the Best Fight Scenes
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.
Drew Struzan: Makes All of the Most Famous Movie Posters
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.
Stan Winston: Special Effects Badass
Now this is a name you probably have run across; he worked with James Cameron a lot, so you might have heard him mentioned here or there. But to try to encompass the scope of his work, let's just say that if somebody wanted to make that Aliens vs. Predator vs. The Terminator vs. velociraptors crossover we've been asking for, he could have had Stan Winston do the effects for all of them. He probably had the stuff still lying around.
Winston's first big job was doing work on The Thing, and by "work" we mean he made that disgusting tentacled dog creature:
But it was the original Terminator film that made Winston famous -- he took Cameron's sketches of the Terminator exoskeleton and actually built the thing. (It took six months -- it was made of steel ribbing coated in plaster, then coated in chrome plating.)
Cameron brought him back for Aliens, tasking him with creating the alien queen -- a creature 14 feet tall that, oh by the way, would need to be able to move on its own with no CGI and no miniatures. He wanted a real, physical creature that would take two men to operate.
A few years later, Winston created the Predator.
And designed Edward Scissorhands' scissor hands.
Then he was brought back for Terminator 2 ... wait, wasn't that all just CGI? What's the big deal -- it's all done on computer, right?
... was not CGI. That's a robotic, moving physical model made by Stan Winston.
So is the "blown apart" T-1000:
All of that stuff is Winston, working with animatronic puppets and costumes and old-fashioned FX work. The CGI was basically just there to animate the transition from one Stan Winston creation to the next.
Oh, and then he did the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.
And Dennis Nedry.
Again, that film is famous for its CGI, but the dinosaurs were mostly old-fashioned mechanical creations, built by Winston's team. Sadly, Winston passed away in 2008. Too bad, because in a world dominated by cheesy and unrealistic CGI (now in 3D!) we need his puppets more than ever.
Honorable Mention: Rob Bottin
We mentioned that Stan Winston made that disgusting dog creature in The Thing. So who made the rest of that film's horrors? Rob Bottin.
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! FUCK YOU, ROB.
Not only did Bottin design the terror that is the alien in The Thing, but he actually worked so hard on the movie that he had to be hospitalized after shooting. It's hard to even describe how goddamned horrifying his designs were, so let's just look at that spider thing again.
Also? RoboCop. And by that we mean Bottin created RoboCop himself.
That seemed to be a temporary break from making really disturbing shit. After all, he also gave us the elaborate murdered remains in Se7en and the mutants in Total Recall (including Kuato, the thing growing out of that guy's torso). Yes, if you've ever masturbated to the scene in Total Recall where the nice young lady has three breasts, you really masturbated to Rob Bottin.
One more thing about Bottin ... he is a member of a very exclusive band. The Mos Eisley Cantina Band. That's right, he was in costume and rocking out in A New Hope. He was the bald one holding a stupid looking instrument whose face looked like an ass.
One of these butt-faced dudes is secretly a genius.
Michael Pangrazio: Paints Entire Worlds by Hand
"Matte painter" is one of those jobs that you probably didn't even know existed, if you haven't watched a lot of "behind the scenes" DVD features. But whenever a film features a fantastic, alien landscape in the background, you can probably guess that they didn't build a whole alien landscape for the movie. So where do those stunning vistas come from? They're just big goddamned paintings.
Before they were all done with computers, they were painted by hand, by people like Michael Pangrazio. For instance, he did the impossibly huge warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark:
And, you know, pretty much all of the other backgrounds. He got his humble start painting mattes for the goddamn second and third Star Wars films.
That's him on the far right. Behind him is a matte painting. In front of him, the supposed snow-swept landscape is another matte painting.
His work has been featured primarily in movies that need a surreal, stylistic and heavily elaborate look, such as the mindbending landscape of Labyrinth -- a film featuring surroundings that appear to be the result of Jim Henson getting high and browsing an M.C. Escher art book.
We're blaming "Pigs in Space" on the same thing.
Labyrinth isn't the only fantasy film featuring Pamgrazio's paintings; he also has Willow, The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal under his belt. The next time you watch one of those movies, stare into the jaw-dropping background and imagine the actors walking toward it, only to bump head-first into a Michael Pangrazio painting.
John Williams: Composer of Blockbusters
This is the one name on the list you have almost certainly heard before -- this guy did the Star Wars theme, after all. But it's only when you appreciate the pure, epic scope of what he did that you realize Hollywood wouldn't be the same without him.
Just one more connection from Obama to Darth Vader.
Take Jaws, for instance. You probably can't hear the Jaws opening theme in your head the way you can Star Wars. But what you can hear is the duh-dum, duh-dum sound the great white shark made when it was bearing down on a victim. That was John Williams. He was able to not only compose the most perfect musical representation of a giant killer shark but also to do it with two freaking notes.
Trust us, this thing isn't as interesting when it's backed up by a jazz flute.
What are the odds that he could pull something like that again? Well, pretty good, actually, considering that he used only five notes to create the iconic alien communication method in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The Superman theme that is now a musical shorthand for signaling movie heroics? John Williams.
The Indiana Jones theme? Same guy.
Yeah, John Williams has pretty much scored your childhood happiness.
Honorable Mention: Bernard Herrmann
We could rattle off the classics Bernard Herrmann did the music for (Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Taxi Driver, etc.) but what's amazing is that this guy composed two pieces of music that virtually any human in the Western world can imitate on command.
He also had an adorable puppy dog, yes he did!
Remember the shower scene in Psycho? And the shrieking sound when Norman Bates stabbed the girl to death? That was Bernard Hermann.
Then, for several decades, anytime something weird happened, some joker nearby would start humming the Twilight Zone theme. They were humming Hermann.
Equally Honorable Mention: Hans Zimmer
When it comes to big, heroic themes, it's hard to beat Hans Zimmer. If you can't hum the themes from The Lion King, you certainly remember how they made you feel:
Of course, more recently you know Hans Zimmer as the sound of Chris Nolan's Batman films:
Goddamn, does that make us want to punch a criminal. Subtle, he is not. And as epic as the Batman scores are, even they're not as epic as his utterly sinister score for the mindfuck of the year, Inception. That film's score could shake the theater floor more than the explosions:
Oh, and he did one theme that several thousand of you reading this have heard at some point today. The theme to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2:
A lot of you just now imagined a gruff sergeant calling you Ramirez and demanding that you go secure something.
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For more secrets from Hollywood, check out 5 Things Hollywood Reuses More Than Plots and 5 Annoying Trends That Make Every Movie Look the Same.
And stop by Linkstorm to see if John Williams will be working the score for the next season of AoC. (He isn't.)
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