You might have noticed a rather large disturbance in the force this week when the House of Mouse bought Lucasfilm, therefore changing into the House of Mousedroid. And the not-so-small matter of another Star Wars trilogy and further films, television series and associated media was announced. As a result, this rather fantastic interview with the lead sound designer for LucasArts David Collins got lost in the mix. Not any more, please enjoy again our chat with David.
Our latest guest is the lead sound designer for LucasArts, a voice director, voice actor, musician and was once again one of the hosts for a Star Wars Celebration, taking the stage at Star Wars Celebration VI. And he’s our very special guest, so please welcome to Jedi News David Collins.
JN – David, welcome to Jedi News.
DC – Thanks so much! Happy to be here.
JN – Your CV is littered with amazingly cool Star Wars projects that seem to run the gamut of the saga. When you first started at LucasArts, did you have any idea of where your Star Wars journey would take you?
DC – While I like to think that I was a big dreamer, I had no idea that my job at LucasArts would lead me to being a stage host, voicing characters, directing, writing music and dialog…. What an amazing journey it’s been so far! I really do think that it was Star Wars that got me involved with sound, as I had trained as an actor and musician in school and while growing up. But the sounds and the music in Star Wars were so inspirational. And while I was a huge fan of LucasArts video games growing up, it was a relatively small industry back then. I watched the games industry grow exponentially between 2000 and 2005. It was an unbelievable time to be at LucasArts.
JN – In The Force Unleashed you voiced Darth Mauil, alongside Sam Witwer who now famously voices him on The Clone Wars. As a voice director, how often do you see that happen, two actors who can both do top quality performances of characters and on that note, what qualities are you looking for to help you decide which actor gets the role?
DC – Great question! What’s interesting about Maul in The Force Unleashed was that we were so focused on the main characters and their performances that we didn’t record Maul until very late in the production. Maul was kind of overlooked as a character from a dialog standpoint, because historically he had been a man of very few words (in Episode I, he didn’t make a sound during his lightsaber duel… he just snarled in silence).
Because Maul was actually PROXY projecting a sophisticated training hologram, I was the first to attempt the voice. And it was mostly all ADR and sounds…no language, etc, so we didn’t have to localize in other languages. The team and the director liked it, and it was very different from Sam’s performance as Starkiller…so it worked in that scene.
Ironically, Sam went on take Darth Maul to a whole new level in The Clone Wars, which has been so amazing to watch. It’s more than safe to say that none of us had any idea that that would happen years later! And he’s truly wonderful in the part.
In answer to your second question, I have worked with actors who can play the same roles with incredible skill. That happens quite often. There have been several Vaders, Lukes, Hans, etc over the years, and each actor brings their own skillset and creates something familiar-but-new.
JN – What initially sparked your ongoing interest in the Star Wars saga?
DC – As kid, I was a die-hard fan. I’m too young to remember seeing the first Star Wars in theaters, so I’ve been a fan as far back as I can remember my childhood, really. But as far as continual interest goes, it was my senior year of high school and freshman year in college that really re-sparked my interest, and it has continued to this day. In 1993, a few things happened: I saw a hardcover copy of Heir to the Empire while over at a friend’s house, and I suddenly remembered how meaningful Star Wars was to me as a kid (Star Wars was really dormant in the late 80s, with the exception of Star Tours opening at Disneyland, which I loved). At the same time, Super Star Wars came out on the Super Nintendo, and I played and beat that several times. Later in the fall, I was exposed to Rebel Assault and X-Wing on the PC, and I couldn’t get enough of it. The Dark Empire graphic novel came out. I read that, then re-read the film novelizations of all three classic movies (and even Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, though not officially canon) before I started ready Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy.
From there, Star Wars just grew and grew all the way up to the Special Editions. I followed Tales of the Jedi, collected the first few waves of Power of the Force action figures (orange cards all the way up until Ep1), was obsessed with Shadows of the Empire, and read every book as they came out. I was also formally studying classical music at that time in college, so I was constantly comparing Stravinsky, Holst, Wagner, and others to John Williams’ Star Wars scores. This gave me a new appreciation for Star Wars that led all the way up to my first job at Skywalker Sound in 1999.
JN – As a kid you must have played Star wars with your pals. When you did, what character did you play?
DC – I always wanted to be Luke Skywalker. It’s funny: as a kid, I wanted to be Luke. As a young adult, I wanted to be Han!
JN – Smugglers Gambit was one of the absolute treasures of Celebration VI, and your Han Solo was an integral part of that. When did you learn that Kyle had chosen you to play Han, and what preparation did you do to nail the voice and attitude so convincingly?
DC – I used to do scratch voices for almost everything while I was at LucasArts, including quite a bit of Indiana Jones. I would say that I first tried to do Indy back in 2007 or so, and you can actually hear my voice in some of the ADR moments in a trailer for Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, (but the final line was dubbed by the actor that played the part in the final game).
In the fall of 2011 I was approached by the Forcecast to do a Star Wars Holiday song. I didn’t know what to do, but all I could think of was the Holiday special, and writing a song about Wookiee Life Day. I remember thinking that I knew I could pull off a “reasonable” Han impression, and so I started writing the song. But the script took on a life of its own! I recorded it one morning, mixed in effects and music, and it played last December on the Forcecast.
Boy, did it get a great response!
Fast-forward to February 2012, and I run into Kyle Newman at a 3D screening of Episode I on the Fox lot here in L.A. He said “Dude! Your Han was amazing!” He told me that he wanted to write a Han Solo radio drama, and that I should be in it. We got lunch about a month or so later to discuss it, and I told him I had just finalized a contract for Celebration VI how about doing something there? It went back and forth, and Kyle was amazing at getting everyone on board.
JN – What does your role of voice director entail?
DC – Being a Voice Director means that you are casting and directing voice actors in the studio for your project. You are also being a representative of that project, providing context to the actor, and ensuring that you’re leaving the studio that day with the performance that you and team are looking for. This means that I spend most of my time providing context for the actor. They’re in a very plain-looking booth with a script and a microphone, and they are required to use their imaginations to dream up wild scenarios all the time. My job is to feed that imagination. If you’re an actor in a booth having to pretend that you’re under attack for example, I will help describe the scene for the actor.
Often times it’s really about communicating exactly what we’re looking for. Often times a script can be read in several ways. I’ve been so lucky to work with some of the best VO talent in the business.
JN – You are a very musical fellow, as evidenced by your role as the contemporary music director at the Presbyterian Church of Novato in California. What music interests you the most?
DC – The church in Novato was a wonderful place, though I haven’t been there for several years now. I really enjoyed directing music there, and I love and miss the wonderful people that I sang with. Honestly, I’m into all kinds of music. It’s hard for me to focus sometimes! I recently put out an album of swing music in the style of Brian Setzer with my band SwingSet, and I wrote a ton of music for the Thrillville franchise with Jesse Harlin (which is still on my myspace page here:, but overall I’d have to say my biggest interest in music falls into two categories: film scores, and rock. I grew up on Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, heavier stuff like 80s Metallica and the first Guns N’ Roses record. I love harmonies from bands like Queen, Styx, Kansas and King’s X. As a kid, those were incredibly exciting. It’s what got me started playing instruments when I was 13 years old, and is the reason I play guitar, bass, drums, etc.
I also performed all over California as a teenager in a musical theater network for kids, so I sang a lot that way, too. During that time, I had a high school band that was in serious talks with Elektra records back in 1992. Unfortunately that never materialized, but I have great memories of making trips to L.A. and playing in front of record execs (we did a whole showcase at one point). Music is such a huge part of my life…. Ironically, it was music that brought me to Skywalker Sound (spending my first year assisting in the recording of orchestras), and yet I seem to do less music than anything else in my professional career. Hopefully there will be more to come in the future!
JN – Conventions offer you the opportunity to interact with your fans at close quarters. You must have some great memories of such events, could you tell us about some?
DC – Absolutely. When I go to conventions, I see myself in almost everyone I meet, because we immediately have something in common. If I wasn’t on stage, I’d be right there in the audience or walking the show floor.
As you can imagine, having the opportunity to work on Star Wars makes me want to pinch myself every now and again. I have those moments on stage with guests all the time. So I love it when I interact with fans in close quarters, because it really means something to me. I’ve been really overwhelmed by the response that the Force Unleashed has gotten. Back in August, I had some fans find me during the setup day, and they had found pictures of PROXY on the web, printed them out, and wanted me to sign them. That’s when I knew that I needed to start having my own! I wish that everyone who worked on those games could have the same opportunity to see how passionate the fans are.
I’ll also never forget the first time I was recognized for Star Wars: someone came up to me at Celebration III in Indianapolis at a bar. She said her boyfriend was a HUGE Republic Commando fan, and that he and his friends wanted to buy me a beer. And the first time I saw a Republic Commando costume back in 2007 at CIV…. I was thrilled!
There were only 60 of us working on that game, and my audio crew was really just three of us to cover all SFX, music and dialog. That was a deeply personal expression of that team’s love for games and for Star Wars, and it represented 2 years plus of most of our lives… all because that team was driven by passion. So to see fans sharing in that passion makes it all worth it.
Lastly (and most importantly), talking to people of all ages whose love for Star Wars helps them overcome their hardships is incredibly inspiring. Whether they are physical, mental, economical, emotional… Star Wars means so much to so many people. Everyone has a unique story with Star Wars in their lives. I wish more people could hear them. My girlfriend Lauren wants to write a book!
JN – You’ve worked in the era of the Old Republic, the prequels and the classic era of Star Wars. Where else would you like your Star Wars journey to take you?
DC – Oh man, I would love to see more side stories in the classic era. I think that’s why I loved Smuggler’s Gambit so much. I think that the New Jedi Order is also a great setting for games, animation etc. And while this game is mostly forgotten, I loved working on the cinematics for 2002’s Star Wars Bounty Hunter, because it told a side story of how Jango was recruited. I love when side stories like this are realized and presented.
One of the things I love about the Clone Wars series is how it brings so many things to the screen that we’ve only read about. I hope that we see more TV, film, or game versions of some of the great moments that we’ve read about in comics, novels, and sourcebooks.
JN – Is there a project, past present or future, that you would like to be involved with?
DC – I would love to work with Lucasfilm Animation someday. I feel a special connection with that team after working with Dave on so many fan events (including the first time anyone saw any footage, back in 2007). I would love to work with Lucasfilm again, any time!
As for past projects: I would’ve loved to work on Dark Forces. When I first started at LucasArts, I was in awe of Clint Bajakian, he wrote all of the music AND did all of the sound work on that game. He was who I was aspiring to be, because I loved Dark Forces so much. Ironically, we both work together now at Sony Playstation!
Other than that, I have a real tie to Empire and Jedi. I often wonder what it would be like to go back and be on the set for those films in any capacity.
JN – Proxy, your character from The Force Unleashed has gathered a fantastic following since the release of the game. Would you like to see more of this classic Star Wars droid?
DC – Of course! PROXY is a great character. What a fantastic idea: a training droid with advanced holo tech. And he’s programmed to love you and kill you at the same time. Haden Blackman is a tremendous writer.
I hope that PROXY comes back. Or at the very least, that he serves as an inspiration for similar characters.
JN – Thanks for being our guest here at Jedi News, we really appreciate it.
DC – Thank YOU! Always a pleasure.
You can visit David over at Wookieepedia.
David Collins Interview Copyright 2012 Jedi News. No part of this interview can be reproduced without prior written consent from Jedi News.