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Everyday items bring fantasy to life in iconic movies

Tuesday - 1/17/2012, 4:08pm  ET

Thomas Warren, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - In the age of super technology and mind-blowing special effects, some of the most iconic sounds of the last half century came from items that could be found in a dumpster.

Take "Star Wars," for example.

Fans everywhere, at one point or another, would probably be guilty of mimicking the "pew, pew, pew" sound of the "Blasters" weapon. But the actual sound in the movie was the creation of sound designer Ben Burtt, according to Cracked.com.

Burtt says director George Lucas wanted "real-world" sounds for his science-fiction thriller. And to get the laser sound he wanted, Burtt climbed a radio tower in Phoenix armed with a microphone, a recorder and a hammer.

After beating the stars out of cable wires, the iconic sound was born.

David Farmer, the sound designer on the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, also took a page out of the "keep-it-real" book when creating the sound effect for the Nazgul -- otherwise known as the "Black Riders." That screeching sound may sound like nails on a chalkboard, but it's actually two plastic cups scraping against each other.

Other filmmakers have used more subtle sound effects, like the opening of doors on the Starship Enterprise in "Star Trek." Believe it or not, the doors opening in Capt. Picard's office is a piece of paper being removed from an envelope and a squeaking shoe across the floor.

Animals are not spared from a little doctoring by sound effects, either. After watching "Jurassic Park," a viewer would think a Tyrannosaurus rex is as scary as it sounds -- but the noises are a collaboration of other animal sounds.

The eye-popping roar is really that of a real-life elephant. The breathing comes courtesy of a whale. The grunting? A koala bear.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)