Bogdan Belyaev was working from home when the air raid sirens went off. They hadn’t been heard in the city of Lviv since World War II, but it was February 24, and Russia had just invaded Ukraine. “When we heard that missiles were attacking and that our [internet] connection was dropping from parts of our country, we got into shelter,” says Belyaev. That meant him, his wife, and their dog and two cats huddling in the center of their building. “It’s a ‘shelter,’ really in quotes because it was actually our bathroom,” he says. “There is a rule of two walls. You need to be behind two walls. The first wall is taking the impact, and the second one is stopping the small shrapnel.” But for Belyaev, work carried on because he needed it to. People on the other side of the world were relying on him, and the project was the culmination of a passion he’d had since childhood: Star Wars.
Belyaev is a 29-year-old synthetic-speech artist at the Ukrainian start-up Respeecher, which uses archival recordings and a proprietary A.I. algorithm to create new dialogue with the voices of performers from long ago. The company worked with Lucasfilm to generate the voice of a young Luke Skywalker for Disney+’s The Book of Boba Fett, and the recent Obi-Wan Kenobi series tasked them with making Darth Vader sound like James Earl Jones’s dark side villain from 45 years ago, now that Jones’s voice has altered with age and he has stepped back from the role. Belyaev was rushing to finish his work as Putin’s troops came across the border. “If everything went bad, we would never make these conversions delivered to Skywalker Sound,” he says. “So I decided to push this data right on the 24th of February.”