If you’re a Star Wars fan like me you probably fell instantly in love with BB-8, that adorable spheroid critter. I love how much emotion is conveyed in his movements and voice. And it turns out a very simple guitar effect was used as part of the sound design process to imbue his vocalisations with a touch of humanity: the humble talk box. Jammed into the face of none other than SNL alumni Bill Hader. The info is contained in this great interview by Amy Ratcliffe for The Nerdist featuring supervising sound editor Matthew Woodand supervising sound editor/sound designer David Acord.
“Coming up with how it sounded, we were able to present an idea to J.J. to use this interface, a tactile interface for him to change timbre and pitch with his hand,” Wood said. “It was a five point way he could manipulate the sound that would create the tone. Then, we fed that through Bill Hader–this is when he came into the scene. There was a way Acord found out to feed those tones through a tube called a talk box… It feeds that tone into Bill Hader’s mouth so Bill can perform with his mouth, not actually using any breath behind it but just the movements of his mouth. The tones would go in there, and then we’d rerecord out to a microphone again. We came up with all these little riffs that BB-8 would have and then those were cut together. It was a real big group effort on BB-8. It took a long time to get that sorted. The main thing was to have, when he goes in to talk to R2-D2 at the end of the film, a very distinct quality language for them both.”