This Week’s Spotted in the Wild

In anticipation for the new Star Wars films, the Star Wars media team has been posting the original trailers for the original Star Wars films to YouTube. The Star Wars trailer and the Empire Strikes Back trailers are odes to a bygone time where every trailer was painstakingly narrated by men with serious voices.

On Wednesday, the media team posted the first Return of the Jedi trailer, which still bears the original title of Revenge of the Jedi. When I watched it, I chuckled that sound designer Ben Burtt even managed to get a Wilhelm Scream in the damn trailer. It’s right there at 1:09:

This Week’s Caught in the Wild

You guys are just trying to make me use My Little Pony screenshots on all these posts, aren't you?
You guys are just trying to make me use My Little Pony screenshots on all these posts, aren’t you?

Mandydax pointed out last week that our listeners should be “owl-eared”, not “eagle-eared”. She is, of course, completely correct. Here’s what our owl-eared listeners picked up this week.

From Wdonohue: “Bogey’s [wolf whistle] reminded me of sheepherding whistle commands, which aren’t just for sheep, but other stock and game animal herding dogs. The wolf whistle is at the 20 second mark: That said, I think the shipboard signal whistle origin is more likely.”

For those who don’t want to go to YouTube, here’s just the key clip. (The sound distortion is from the clip itself.) In the video, the code is for “come by”, which commands the dog to circle the livestock:

*head explodes*

Wow, that never even crossed my mind. Wow, that’s close, too. Also, the fact that the phenomenon is called a “wolf whistle” links the call back to canines… wow.

I couldn’t find a history of herding whistles, but it seems that each dog often has a different set of whistle commands, so when multiple dogs are working together they don’t get confused. Thus, the whistle heard above isn’t necessarily the same whistle used for different dogs.

Thus, I agree with Wdononue that the sailor story is probably a more likely origin for the wolf whistle. However, this may still be part of the story.

From Steve D: “Just heard take 4 [of the Wilhelm Scream] in ‘Lockout’, about 18 minutes in. :D”

I couldn’t find a clip of it online, but I do remember catching the Wilhelm when I saw Lockout in a theater in West Virginia. According to IMDB, the scream happens when an inmate trips and falls right after coming out of stasis.

Good catch! Also, I’m sorry you watched Lockout. (/snark)

Also from Wdonohue: “Not a link to the origin [of the drum sting], but: I searched on ‘muppet show rim shot’ and this was the top result. It’s all about timing:”

I. Love. Muppets.

From Mandydax, also about the drum sting: “You know I can’t resist: Pinkie Pie Rimshot. /) to Fes for me. ;D”

My Little Pony strikes again. (See what I did there? Heyo!)

And finally, here’s one I found. It seems that OH!3 recorded a song called “Starstrukk” that is almost entirely predicated upon the wolf whistle. Clip and full video below. Warning: Katy Perry content.

This Week’s Caught in the Wild

mlpwilhelmOur eagle-eared correspondents are wild for the Wilhelm Scream this week!

From Jerry B: “Just heard [the Wilhelm Scream] in an opening cutscene for God of War III on the PS3.”

That is indeed a Wilhelm Scream! A cursory glance at YouTube suggests that there are Wilhelms all over the place in God of War III.

From Annie L: “We actually used the Wilhelm scream in my band’s cover of “Rock Lobster.” That was the first I’d heard of it – thanks for providing this write-up. :-)”

Pirates for Sail covered “Rock Lobster”, and the scream shows up at the very end of the track. Yar!

From Mandydax: “I think [the Wilhelm Scream] was one of the death screams in the original Command and Conquer. Also, if I’m not mistaken, it was in at least one episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, but I’d have to track down the scene to give you a YouTube reference.”

I couldn’t find a clear sound bite from Command and Conquer online, but a lot of people on the ‘net have heard the Wilhelm in the game. From what I can gather, the game features a lot of screaming.

The Wilhelm apparently shows up all over the place in MLP:FIM. This video points out three instances.

I knew it was only a matter of time until MLP:FIM showed up in a post here.

Mandydax also found examples of the Villains Theme: “I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that “sneaky music” in Looney Tunes cartoons. It probably predates those, too, but I knew I’d heard it in one of the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ songs, and I tracked it down to the title track from Bedlam Ballroom. It’s the very opening of it.”

I know for certain that I’ve heard the Villains Theme in Looney Tunes, too, but I’m having a hard time finding exactly where. Surely this means I need to rewatch all the Looney Tunes cartoons. Oh, tragedy!

The Wilhelm Scream

wilhelmOne of the most famous of all recycled sounds is the so-called Wilhelm Scream, a sound effect found in over 225 films and counting. It first appeared in the 1951 Gary Cooper vehicle, Distant Drums, though the scream was named after the arrow-caused demise of Private Wilhelm in 1953’s The Charge at Feather River.

The sound effect has popped up every few years since then, but it became something of a sound effect in-joke after sound editor Ben Burtt used it in Star Wars and many other films he did since then. The likes of Quentin Tarantino and Peter Jackson have further picked up the joke and carried it forward.

It is not certain who voiced the famous shriek, but research seems to point at Sheb Wooley, the man who sang “The Purple People Eater“. Wooley played an uncredited role in Distant Drums, and he frequently did such voice work.

Now that the Internet has been cataloging appearances of The Wilhelm Scream for years, many seasoned film watchers easily catch a new Wilhelm appearance. However, what most people don’t realize is that the sound most often called the “Wilhelm Scream” is only one of six screams, and that all six are referred to as “Wilhelm”. The series of six takes were recorded together as “man being eaten by alligator”, and all six crop up in films from time to time.

Take 4 is actually the shriek most often identified as the Wilhelm Scream:

But Take 1 can be heard in The Empire Strikes Back:

And Take 3 can be heard in Star Wars coming out of a falling Stormtrooper, and can also be caught in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones:

(I have yet to find standalone digital recordings of the other three shrieks. Please let me know if you find a recording.)

Yet it is undeniable that Take 4 has won the hearts of sound designers, to a point where I’ve heard folks complaining that the Wilhelm Scream is now too ubiquitous. The sound is now so easily recognizable that it can distract an eagle-eared cineast from the urgency of a film’s action scene. However, I have a deep love for the Wilhelm, because it reminds us that the art of a sound minion is usually invisible: if it is done well, you don’t notice it. The Wilhelm is a little aural stamp that reminds us that all that sound has to be created, too.

What to know more? Check out this exhaustive history of the Wilhelm Scream:

Here’s a video starring the guy who wrote the history page listed above, during which he plays all six Wilhelm screams.

Here’s a great list of Wilhelm Screams, which includes detail on which scream was used in each film.

Want to see the Wilhelm Scream in action? Here’s a great, 12-minute-long compilation of film clips. Check the notes on the video for film titles.

Have you spotted a Wilhelm Scream in the wild? Let me know!