You can’t go about piloting an X-wing without having an Astromech co-pilot - that just wouldn’t be Star Wars™. Read on to learn how Audio Director Ben Minto and the DICE audio team created the sounds for these extremely helpful Droids™.
BEN MINTO: There’s only one R2-D2 and only one Droid can’t be omnipresent in every X-wing. So we needed to populate the Star Wars™ Battlefront™ X-wings with other Astromechs, especially as the Rebellion go through an awful lot of them during rounds of Fighter Squadron.
Across the Star Wars universe there are plenty of examples of other R Series Droids. Beyond Artoo, famous ones include R5-D4 A.K.A. ‘Red’ from Star Wars™: Episode IV: A New Hope™, Obi-Wan’s R4-P17, “Arfor”, and “Goldie”, the R3-S6 from Star Wars™: The Clone Wars™. When you listen to the various R Series Droids you can hear that there are some common types of sound used as a base for when they communicate, and then something unique about each model.
The original R2-D2 recording sessions for Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope generated a lot of material, and those parts not suitable for R2-D2 lines were repurposed for many other Droids. Reading up on how the sounds were produced (mostly Ben Burtt talking, whistling, and cooing through an ARP 2600 synth) and the sheer amount of editing time it took to get phrases that fit their purpose, to try and replicate this process seemed like the perfect time-consuming task to attempt on my paternity leave. I had a couple of hours to spare each day (during nap times) for the R series Astromechs that we have in the Star Wars Battlefront X-wings.
After a bit of research, it seems that one of the dominant parts of the synth patch was having the ARP’s filter resonance set quite high, in order to start self-oscillating to produce a fairly pure sine wave. The ARP2600 was a semi modular system produced in the 1970s, and whilst they can be found on the second hand market, in digital plug-in forms, or even as modern day part for part clones, I looked at creating a similar patch on my own modular system.
I started with a self-resonating filter to obtain the sine wave (instead of from an oscillator) and then by using an envelope with additional slow amplitude modulation and by applying some frequency modulation to the filter’s controls (some slow for intonation up or down and some fast for the more squawky parts) it’s quite straightforward to generate passable and recognizable Droid tones, whilst being new and unique.
Next I tried processing my own voice through different ring modulators and also a couple of frequency shifters to obtain some new different source.
Then I just kept on building a larger and larger patch, adding more complexity and options, and kept recording out source material, so that when I started to try and edit new phrases I would have a large pool of source material to work from. Whilst building the patch I tried to include a single band vocoder, an envelope follower and a pitch tracker. However, the best results came by keeping it simple and sticking to the limitations of what could be achieved if I did only use an ARP2600, so I ended up combining the ring modulator, resonant filter and envelope tracker elements into a single patch.
Whilst the results were useful using my own voice, especially in the higher regions, and manually playing the patch, the breakthrough came when I had an idea. Why make my own baby coos, when I have a baby coo generator at home? I had already used a recording of my unborn son’s ultrasound as an element for a cooling unit on Tatooine.
When I started looking at the Astromech sounds, Atticus (my son) had only really just started to make some basic noises, including these great dolphin-like sounds.
A few weeks after this, his morning babbling became more Droid-like, so I took to recording him each morning over a period of a few weeks and then editing all the good bits out into one long file.
I then ran through the modular patch to obtain more source material.
Then, by taking all these pieces I started to edit them together to create phrases that would fit the reactions we wanted for the X-wing Astromechs - ‘You got one!”, “Behind you!”, Woo Yay!” etc. Sound inspiration can come from anywhere, even with two things as disconnected as babies and Droids.
Thanks for listening!