Disney and Pixar’s 2008 film WALL•E is an original tale imagining life deep in Earth’s future, with an entirely original soundscape to match. WALL•E, a robot at the center of the story, spends the first act of the film alone, so the movie isn’t your typical dialogue-heavy quip fest. Instead, every beep, clank, and boop has meaning. The task of creating those sounds was in good hands: the film’s sound and character voice designer, Ben Burtt, is an Academy Award-winning sound designer who’s considered the father of modern sound design. Here are 14 facts about the sounds that make up WALL•E:
- WALL•E’s sound and character voice designer, Ben Burtt, started his career on the original Star Wars trilogy, which is perfect since the filmmakers wanted WALL•E to pay a silent nod to both R2-D2 and silent film star Buster Keaton, two cinematic predecessors who proved how much can be conveyed without words.
- Burtt likes to gather sounds in the real world with a microphone and recorder. He explained, “When you use sounds gathered in the outside world, the real world, and you bring them into a science fiction film, you get the credibility of those sounds to sell to the audience the reality of what’s really just a very fantastic world.”
- The sound of the wind on Earth is composed of recordings of Niagara Falls, where 3,160 tons of water flows over the edge every second.
- The wind sounds heard inside WALL•E's trailer during the toxic waste storm were created by recording the sound of a canvas bag being dragged across a carpeted floor.
WALL•E has various speeds and a multitude of motors, and Burtt deliberately picked out different sounds for these movements:
The slowest speed for WALL•E (when he has to be quiet) is an old Army hand-cranked generator used to power a field radio. Burtt heard the generator while watching the John Wayne film Island in the Sky on TV, and thought it made a distinct noise. He purchased one and attached it to a workbench to crank out the noise for a recording.
WALL•E's fastest speed is principally made by an Inertia Starter from an antique biplane, which was used to start the engine — though when WALL•E gets going, additional sounds get added. Again, Ben heard the noise and purchased a starter from a 1939 plane.
- WALL•E's compacting noise is the recording of a car being crushed at a dump.
- WALL•E's voice was actually created by running Ben Burtt's voice through a computer. With the aid of a custom modified computer created by Burtt and software from a synthesizer program called "Kyma," Ben’s voice is analyzed and broken up into its component parts, changing its volume and pitch. Because of this, Ben is able to make WALL•E's voice do things a human voice never could!
- EVE is voiced by Pixar employee Elissa Knight. Ben took recordings of her and ran them through the computer to develop EVE.
- Burtt also does the voice of M-O, while M-O's cleaning noise is a recording of Ben's electric shaver.
- A classic thunder sheet was used to create the sound of a spaceship taking off.
- The clicking steps of WALL•E's pet cockroach is a recording of handcuffs. Burtt borrowed them from a police officer to record the sounds.
- Auto's voice is actually created by a text-to-audio program where Burtt types in what he wants Auto to say, and the computer outputs the lines.
- Burtt estimated that he and his team did probably a year’s worth of work before they arrived at the sounds for the main characters that they felt comfortable with.
- Burtt’s work on WALL•E involved thousands of sounds. 2,400 sound files were created for WALL•E — more than he created for the entirety of the original Indiana Jones trilogy. Another film he did that was set in space — the first Star Wars film, A New Hope — had approximately 800 sound files.
For more fun facts about WALL•E, check out this episode of “Pixar Did You Know?”:
Revisit Pixar’s WALL•E, now streaming on Disney+, and have a new appreciation for every sound in the film!