Via Skype we (as part of a group, during a Fox media presentation) had the opportunity to speak to Matthew Wood; a lead sound designer at Lucasfilm. Wood has over 20 years of experience, and has been nominated for an academy award.
Wood, who has worked almost exclusively with ‘Star Wars ®,’ (He’s also worked on films such as ‘Wall-E’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’) has done a full restoration of the films audio specifically for the blu ray release – this involved going through all the original sound files – The interview conducted, follows:
MATTHEW WOOD: Thanks!
QUESTION: Would it good if we could start with a little history of yourself, and your involvement with the saga?
MATTHEW: Sure. I work up here at Skywalker sound. We’re at Skywalker ranch in northern california. This is where we did all the prequel movies. We mixed ‘Return of the Jedi’ here originally.
I started working on the ‘star wars’ films back in 1996; when we were doing the special editions for theatrical release, and I’ve been kinda working subsequently on their remastering – and working on them since then. We’ve sort of built upon every release since : the Dvd’s in 2004, up till now.
So with the blu ray we are very excited; because it’s the first time we can take our masters directly from our archives in Skywalker sound, and have them heard completely uncompressed in a lossless format – that’s been very exciting for us. Giving us an opportunity to go back into episode 4 ‘A New Hope’ and really making sure the masters are exactly what George [Lucas] intended – and whether they are coming from the right sources. It was like a balancing act to get the mix right, for how people will emotionally remember it – even though the majority of people saw episode 4 in mono when it first came out.
So we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to do it how we did the prequels; to have them at least 6.1 surround sound – and use that as our basis. Kind of bringing things up to the new standard sound stage of 2011, and kind of preserving the emotional impact the films had in the 70’s and 80’s.
QUESTION: Did you have to recreate any foley (sound effects recreated in the studio) or did you just clean up the originals from the archives?
MATTHEW: Well, we didn’t actually have to recreate any foley. I was able to find everything from the original source tapes – so it was just a matter of going through all the archives here at Lucasfilm – recording a lot of that back from the original magnetic track back into digital, and then synchronizing that with the film. We were definitely able to find all the elements.
That was my main task, to find…I wanted people to have the original experience with all the original sound they remember. But it would just be sort of extended into 2011 technology. So you know, you would have subwoofer information with the low frequencies, and all the surround panning would work, so I just wanted it to fulfill the same 6.1 surround stage, but with all the original high quality sound sources.
QUESTION: We’ve just gone through the iconic cantina scene. Seeing the finished film against the original raw version. Can you take us through this process?
MATTHEW: That’s a great scene. It’s got a great blend on John Williams music, and all those crazy aliens that Ben Burtt (original sound designer) had created with the sound design. So that was a heavily layered area. And if you listen to the original raw track: the British actors are just there talking under their masks, which is pretty funny.
We wanted to give that sense of space of the cantina. So we have a big enveloped 6.1 environment. We cleaned up the dialogue a lot; particularly when Han first meets Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke. We went back to the original production sound elements we found in the archive and recut that from scratch to match the same performances, but from a higher quality source. I mean, we found some tapes that hadn’t been played since their original 1977 transfer onto magnetic film.
And the film which it had originally been transferred onto in 1977 had degraded over time – as it had been run so many times during the editing process, back when the film was originally made. But the original tape – the tape that was used on the set by the sound recordist – had only been played once. so I was able to cut from the original master.
QUESTION: How long did the process take?
MATTHEW: We started working on this release – the blu ray release – around 2007. It was a huge task to get all six movies up to same technical quality. And even though we worked on the prequels more recently, they still required work to get them up to the latest versions.
It was a complete rework; to make sure we got them up to George’s original vision, the exact cut he wants them at. That was some detective work, and for me personally that was great. Working on the original films 4, 5 and 6 – if I couldn’t get them all exactly right, it would set off an alarm inside of me, saying: ‘Thats not right!’ I’ve seen them all so many times – especially as a kid. That was one of the advantages I had; seeing them a million times as a child, it gave me a great kind of respect for working on them now as a professional.
MATTHEW: luckily I was able to retrieve everything from the original tapes for everything from ‘A New Hope’. ‘Empire’ and ‘Jedi,’ were archived in a way that made it a lot easier for the restoration process – as [the archived audio] was already split out into material for effects, music and dialogue.
Now, for ‘A New Hope’ I had to go back to the original sound recordings. Now that was fun as I got to hear and listen to George Lucas and Alec Guinness together in the looping studio doing all the [additional dialogue recording] for the scene after Obi-Wan is struck down and he’s just a voice in Luke’s head – it was all recorded on the stage.
I got to hear George and Alec discussing The Force and what it means in-between each take. I thought that was great to hear – so yeah, I cut it all back in, and was able to retrieve everything from the original material, so I didn’t have to re-record any actors.
QUESTION: Is any of that interchange between Guinness and Lucas available on the blu ray as a special feature?
MATTHEW: That I don’t know actually, I don’t know. My main task was to make sure the six feature films were basically taken from the highest quality sources, and to make sure they were definitely up to George Lucas’s and Ben Burtt’s specification. I’m happy to tell people those elements exist, but whether they’re on the blu ray I’m not sure.
QUESTION: Thank you Matthew for your time.
ANSWER: You’re welcome!
A funny follow up question was asked to Fox after the Skype call ended:
QUESTION: Standard question: any chance of the theatrical editions at some point?
ANSWER: They’re on VHS and DVD in many homes across Australia!
So there you have it. It was a great presentation. The blu-rays are clearly a must buy for any film fan. Whether or not you care about the special editions or not, there is so much work put into the extra features, the transfers of the films, and of course the sound remix.
The only excuse you can have for not buying this set is that you don’t have a blu ray player. Well I can’t think of a better reason to buy one now!
‘Star Wars: The Complete Saga ’ will be available on Blu Ray on Wednesday 14th September! and JB HI FI, The Strand Sydney will be hosting the official launch event from 6am-8am this Wednesday 14th September!
Get down to JB HI FI, The Strand at 6am to get in on all the action.
May the Force be with you…