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CNET News Video: How George Lucas' sound design studio stays on the cutting edge

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CNET News Video: How George Lucas' sound design studio stays on the cutting edge

3:55 /

What makes a good movie? The story? The acting? What about the sound? It may be a cinematic element that goes in one ear and out the other, but when you really stop to listen, you may be surprised what an impact sound design has on a movie. CNET News.com reporter Kara Tsuboi spent a day at Skywalker Sound, putting her ear to the ground to learn some sound secrets.

[ Music ] ^M00:00:06 >> Remember the scene from Terminator 2, when a T1000 robot is at hot pursuit of Linda Hamilton and Eddie Furlong? Yeah, scary moments especially when they find out he can walk through the jail cell bars. As a sound designer how do you find the right sound in way of mood emotions and in this case the terror of this kind of action? >> As he was scooping the dog food out of the little tin can he [inaudible] like this. He made this kind of weird sucking sound [sound being made] and he said that's it. So he recorded this and he brings it back. He plays it back to the director, the director loves it then he used to joke for a long time after that, that it was 'a million dollar I owe him' on visual effect shot, sold and made real with the sound of a .29 cents worth of dog food slipping out of the can. >> That's all part of the creative process here at Skywalker Sound, owned and operated by film director, George Lucas. The state of the art facility is tucked away in the woven hills of Northern California. Its part of Skywalker Ranch. The 5000 acre property that Lucas uses as a filmmakers retreat. And in the technical building there's 6 edit suites and a sound stage to record original sounds. ^M00:01:12 [ sounds in the background ] ^M00:01:17 >> The inside of this building is absolutely gorgeous. And everywhere you look, hanging on the walls are vintage movie posters. They all come from George Lucas' private collection. And around every corner you are bound to find something pretty special. In this case, just a few of Skywalkers Sounds' 19 Oscars. >> When George Lucas was thinking about doing Star Wars, he even really had the option of just going to the sound effects library at the studio and pulling out sounds for R2-D2 or you know Chewbacca the Wookiee or Lightsabers or any of that stuff. All of it had to be created specifically for the film. Sounds completely unlike anything that anybody had ever done before. >> Those first unique sounds created 30 years ago started the Skywalker sound library that now holds more than 1,20,000 sound clips. >> We got terra bytes of storage. >> 60 fulltime editors can access them with the click of a mouse to build richly layered and textured sound tracks for movies of all sizes and for all studios. >> We do almost all of Robert Zemeckis' film, so we just finished Beowulf, which is in the theatres right now. We have done all the Pixar movies through the years so Toy Story, Monsters Incorporated and Finding Nemo and obviously Ratatouille. ^M00:02:04 [ Background sound and music ] ^M00:02:39 >> Scoring an animated film can be an extra challenge since every single sound you hear has to be manufactured to fit the story line. >> In this sequence we probably have over 200 separate sources of sound and we boil those down into 8 or 10 basic layers. We have the footsteps of the characters [sound of footsteps] we have the splash sounds, we have the fire sounds [sounds in the background]. We have voices of the people of the kitchen, etcetera. >> Randy Tom is a Oscar winning sound designer who knows how to search Skywalker Sound Library to find exactly what he is looking for. >>829 splashes? >> We have a lot - you can imagine how many splashes there are in the world. >> This is a stag theater tucked deep inside the technical building. And after the sound is mixed in a movie this where they'll screen first with the director and the cast and the crew. Titles like Star Wars, Titanic and Ratatouille, all were viewed here first. And it's a perfect place to watch a movie because well, as you can tell [whispering very softly] it's absolutely quite. I am Kara Tsuboi reporting for CNET NEWS.com. ^M00:03:50 [ Music ]

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