Native David Acord is an Oscar-nominated sound designer at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Sound near San Francisco. The Salesianum and UD grad’s most recent film, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” hits theaters Dec. 16. We chatted with Acord about success as a sound editor and his popularity for voicing the most famous Stormtrooper of all time.
DT: You have to have one of the coolest jobs in the world.
DA: Yeah. I’m pretty happy with it. It’s a lot of fun. I have fun almost every day at work.
DT: What makes it fun?
DA: Well, the post-production sound end of things, when you’re doing design, when you’re creating sound effects specifically. It’s very free form, especially when you’re doing it in sci-fi or fantasy, where it’s more animation. You can make anything sound like anything you want it to. So a spaceship flying by doesn’t exist in real life and you have to generate that sound. Visually, the ship is what it is. But you can make it sound like anything you want to. You have a lot of creative freedom to explore all the options. It’s fun to exercise that part of your brain.
DT: It’s been about a year since the whole viral uproar over the Stormtrooper [FN 2199] that calls Finn a traitor in “The Force Awakens.” You did the voice work for that. Do people still talk to you about it?
DA: Yeah. That’s a funny story. I didn’t even know how popular that character was until months later. I wasn’t reading the press about the movie because it was just making me nervous. Even though it was wildly loved and celebrated, I just wasn’t reading a lot of stuff about it. Maybe it’s because I’m an older guy and Internet memes just aren’t on my radar. But it was pointed out to me like maybe four months later. My friend said, “Just Google traitor trooper. It’s everywhere.”
DT: I would say, if you weren’t famous before, then that made you famous.
DA: [Laughs] The stuntman in the scene did all the heavy lifting for that part.
DT: What’s the coolest sound you’ve ever created or the strangest way of creating a sound?
DA: There are so many different ways you can accomplish your goal. Some people set out to record this and it exactly worked the way I wanted it to. But in my experience, most of the time, it’s a lot of experimentation and trial and error—mostly error. And then you’ll eventually get to where you want to be. Once in a while, right off the bat, something will work. The suspended laser effect in “The Force Awakens” is kind of neat. That was a thing that we went through a few iterations of how that was going to sound. The effect I’m talking about is when Kylo Ren freezes the laser bolt in mid-air when Poe tries to kill him early in the movie. And the camera moves right by this thing as they escort Poe over to Kylo Ren. The sound of that laser, we had one particular thing in there that sounded kind of buzzy and synthy, and J.J. [director J.J. Abrams] said, “No. It’s got to be a little more electric, a little more crackly.” And so we experimented with a few different options like that. It’s a back and forth between you and the director—you kind of land on something that they have in their head, which is the hard part. If you think about trying to articulate to somebody what something sounds like in your head but it’s a totally made-up sound—the inclination is to try and verbalize that sound, try to make the sound effect with your mouth. That isn’t always the best way to do it, but it’s usually the only way that you can. So it’s sort of translating somebody’s description and mouth sound effect into something that’s usable on-screen. The result that we ended up using, a lot of the electric pull, is a cloth tear. It’s like ripping cloth that is heavily treated. And there’s a little bit underneath of it of some tape pull. You put duct tape on a surface and pull it off. You’ve got to mic it pretty close and it makes that kind of crackly sound as you’re pulling the tape. The end result doesn’t sound anything like either cloth or tape pulling, but it’s a pretty neat effect anyway.
DT: I know a little bit about some of this stuff, but not like the fans who are really into it. They remind me of that SNL skit where William Shatner goes to a “Star Trek” convention and tells his fans to get a life.
DA: I remember watching that sketch. As a kid I went to “Star Trek” conventions, “Dr. Who” conventions, “Star Wars” conventions. I was a big fan of all that stuff when I was younger. I still am. I think the convention world has come a long way in the last 30 years or so. They’re much bigger now. They’re a much more socially acceptable thing to do. Just being nerdy is so much—I don’t know if the word is cooler, but it’s OK now. You felt a little embarrassed about it when you were a kid because it wasn’t cool. But it’s a much kinder, gentler world to nerds these days.
DT: What can you tell me about “Rogue One”? You referenced a couple of Eagles players in “The Force Awakens.” Did you put a Carson Wentz reference in “Rogue”?
DA: I should preface this by saying I’m not supposed to talk about “Rogue One.” I’ll just say, you’ll have to wait and see.
DT: What are you working on now?
DA: I just finished my part on “Rogue One” last week, and now I’ve moved on to “Guardians of the Galaxy II,” which will be out in April. It’s awesome. I can’t wait for everybody to see it.
DT: Do people recognize you on the street?
DA: No. Thankfully, no. I just do occasional voice bits as sort of a companion piece career to what I’m doing. So like most voice actors, you don’t get recognized.