Apple shows how ‘Star Wars’ sound artists use 280 Macs


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The range of Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, Mac mini and iOS devices used by Skywalker Sound artists are celebrated by Apple on “Star Wars” Day.

Alongside the release of the previously announced “Behind the Mac” YouTube video about George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch audio artists, Apple released a feature article detailing the same work. As part of this, Apple also announced a special “Star Wars” session online “Today at Apple”.

“With the power of approximately 130 Mac Pro racks, as well as 50 iMacs, 50 MacBook Pros and 50 Mac mini computers running Pro Tools as their primary audio application, plus a fleet of iPad, iPhone and Apple TV devices, Skywalker makes advancing sound art and reshaping the industry,” Apple says in the new article.

Skywalker Sound artists haven’t recently switched to Mac either. Instead, they’ve used it throughout the history of their work and the entire “Star Wars” franchise.

“I started with a Macintosh SE a long time ago,” Ben Burtt, perhaps the most famous sound artist of all, told Apple. “Word processing was a huge leap forward for me as a writer.”

“In a way, sound editing is really the same as word processing; cutting and pasting files,” he continues. “All the experience I had on the Mac immediately trained me in what was going on in cutting digital sound.”

“I started cutting using a Mac with Final Cut in the late 90s, and now I have four Mac computers,” Burtt explains. “Each handles a different process: one for image editing, sound editing, writing manuscripts, I’m completely surrounded. They’re labeled Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta.”

It’s also not like sound artists are all ditching their old technology, even though Skywalker Ranch keeps up to date with the latest Macs.

“I love playing with digital systems that are out of sync, which is the way the bits flow,” said Al Nelson, sound editor and supervising sound designer. “It’s broken, it sounds like a bad radio. I have a really old PowerBook, and it has some old software in it that I like to use; I can insert recordings into it and digitally break it.”

The software currently used by the team centers around Pro Tools for audio recording and editing. They also use the general automation tool Keyboard Maestro, as well as the specialized post-production tool, Matchbox.

All of this can be seen in the new “Behind the Mac” featurette now on YouTube, but much of it will also be demonstrated in the upcoming “Today at Apple” session.

At 8 p.m. EST on Monday, May 9, 2022, Apple will host an online session titled “Virtual Studio: Create Creative Vocals with Skywalker Sound.” Sound designer Leff Lefferts will show off some of Skywalker Sound’s projects, then an Apple Creative Pro will learn how to use GarageBand to create sounds.

This virtual session is free, but attendees must register for a spot on the “Today at Apple” site.


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