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Exclusief interview met Brian Herring (BB-8)

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Vraag een willekeurige fan wie zijn favoriete sequel trilogy personage is en de kans is groot dat het antwoord BB-8 zal luiden. Deze droid was zonder enige twijfel een van de opvallendste nieuwkomers in The Force Awakens en was direct een publiekslieveling. Het is dan ook niet verwonderlijk dat een interview met een van de personen die hem tot ‘leven’ brengt in de film hoog op mijn prioriteitenlijst stond! Twee weken geleden was het dan zover: na lang wachten kon ik niemand minder dan Brian Herring diverse vragen stellen. Brian is de puppeteer van BB-8 in zowel The Force Awakens als The Last Jedi en heeft daarnaast nog meer rollen op zich genomen, onder andere in Rogue One! In dit lange interview verteld hij alles over hoe hij als kind zijnde al geobsedeerd was door Star Wars, hoe de eerste ontmoeting met zijn idool Harrison Ford een aparte wending kreeg en nog veel meer…

Interview met Brian Herring

Hi Brian! What or who inspired you to work in the movie business?

I grew up in the theatre. My mother worked in wardrobe and I was always around shows as a kid. I wanted to be an actor and did a lot of community theatre then went into the business when I was about 18.

How did you get one of the best jobs in the galaxy: puppeteering BB-8.

I had been working as a puppeteer since joining a UK satire show called Spitting Image in 1993. Jobbing about for the BBC, The Jim Henson Company, ITV, commercials and a few movies. I’d worked on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus for Neal Scanlan, who won an Oscar for Babe and we’d got on well.

I had randomly called him about something else I was working on and after a couple of minutes chatting it came out that he was heading up the CFX department for the new Star Wars film. From there he hired me as the Puppeteer Consultant.

My job was to find performers, work with the designers and fabricators to find ways of getting people into strange yet performable positions within creature suits and make sure they could actually perform while they were in there.

I would also liaise between the CFX, Art and Construction departments to ensure the puppetry requirements were met for each scene and I also had to put an R&D team together to start developing some of the new creatures as quickly as possible. We started in August of 2013 working on early versions of the Happabore and the Luggabeast.

While that was going on designs for a little round droid called ‘Snow Globe’ started coming through from Christian Alzman at ILM. Jake Lunt Davies eventually realised the design that everyone now knows as BB-8.

At this point Josh Lee was working on ways to bring that design to life. JJ wanted a practical character on set and Josh came up with the idea of a puppet version. I did some early character studies with a 12 inch version and from there BB-8 became 7 different versions on screen. There’s a great panel online with Josh and Matt Denton at Celebration where they talk about the different droids.

During that process Josh was joined by Matt and Giles Hannagan and I roped in Dave Chapman to perform with me. It took months of R&D which culminated in a show and tell for JJ and Kathleen Kennedy in around March of 2014. Quite possibly the most stressful day of my life. It could have all gone digital in an instant. However, when JJ saw the character come to life in front of him he was over the moon. He then said something to me along the lines of “I love how you’re puppeteering it. Go read the script, you’re in the movie!”

When was your first encounter with the Star Wars phenomenon and what did you think of it?

I was 7 in ‘77. My Dad took me to see Star Wars, no episode number, no subtitle back then that I recall, and it blew my mind like everyone else. I was THAT kid. I had the curtains, the bed sheets, all the toys, which I still have, comics, the lot.

I even had a school report when I was about 9 that said something along the lines of;

“Brian’s obsession with Star Wars will lead him nowhere and he should concentrate on his academic work”.

It was a massive influence on me. The story, the myths and legends it was based on. I even knew the names of the effects guys. We only really had a few dedicated movie magazines, those fold-out poster magazines and the special collector’s editions back then. Little articles with behind the scenes pictures which were our only real access to that world unless they showed the Making of Star Wars at Christmas. This was all before video recorders too. If you missed it, you’d missed it!. I devoured that stuff. I recently cleared my loft and discovered so much of it. #HezzasLoft if you want to see some of what I found.

Are there things or mannerisms of BB-8 that were your idea? Did you have any input in creating the character?

BB-8’s character came from JJ and Lawrence Kasdan’s script. We had to find ways of making him play his part.

Dave and I spent a couple of weeks with the puppets, working out what we could do with it. I’d done a screen test with an early version of BB-8 that Josh was pulling along on wheels and it had dawned on me then just how small he was. You had to crouch down to be next to him. It was like a toddler or a dog. I liked the idea of his personality being a cross between a tenacious child and a faithful Jack Russell.

So, armed with the knowledge of the script, Dave and I set out to find his vocabulary of movement. What he looked good doing. What it couldn’t do so well. How to make him look happy, sad, scared etc. Could it do stairs (it turns out it could, but that’s another story entirely). You don’t tend to get a lot of rehearsal on set, so we had to know our jobs and be ready for whatever was thrown at us on the day. Dave and I have been working together for a while now and we share a sense of humour. Our timing is often the same and that makes it easier for us to sync our performance.

We also worked on his ‘breathing’. When puppets stop moving they die. Although we were dealing with a droid I knew we had to give it characteristics that the audience could relate to. Star Wars has some of the most human machines in cinema and we knew BB-8 would have to stack up against C-3PO!

Neal Scanlan wanted BB-8 to be constantly moving. He had suggested a ‘ball hover’, to try to make it look like he was always correcting himself so as not to fall over. I found that by pushing the rods with my hips and moving the axle rod slightly I could make the puppet cycle without actually going anywhere. The more excited or upset BB-8 gets the faster I do it.

Can you tell something about the BB-8 puppet? For instance, what possibilities does the puppet have?

The puppet version of BB-8 is operated on a system of rods. I have control over the body movement and the head pitch and roll. Dave takes control of the yaw movement. Moving the head left and right to hit eye lines on camera. Together we have to make BB-8 hit his marks otherwise it looks really odd. Usually I would use a monitor, but because I’m running along behind the droid in a green suit there is nowhere to put one, so I have to rely on playback after the take or, more usually Dave, Neal and of course JJ to tell me if it looks OK.

With the rodded version I can get a lot of subtle movements from the character. Just by tensing my arms I can vibrate the handles and make his head shake. This gives the impression BB-8 is nervous or scared. I also do the voice for BB-8 on set. This really helps the actors relate to his as a character rather than a prop.

The rodded version is also the quickest version we have. If they want BB-8 to run for his life, it’s me pushing him. I can go across sand, mud, down slopes and up hills. There’s a video on the internet of me in blue Lycra running up the middle of the set at Greenham Common. Blue Lycra is not a good look.

What was the best moment you’ve had so far playing BB-8?

We were in Abu Dhabi shooting the scene where Finn and Rey escape from the TIE Fighters. They needed a reference pass for BB-8 running through the sand for a CGI shot. Then JJ asked me how fast I could run? I’d spent a lot of time with a personal trainer for the film so I knew I would be in good shape for the job, so I replied I could keep up with John and Daisy. Then next thing I knew, they were setting up the shot of BB-8 running through the sand. Dave was strapped to the camera buggy and we were off. That shot turned out to be the very first footage anyone ever saw of BB-8 in the teaser. Most people assumed it was digital, but it was me running like mad in the hot desert sand.

We also did many different versions of BB-8 peeping around the corner in the Millennium Falcon. I actually had a monitor for that and Roger Guyette, the second unit Director, was sitting in the cockpit with his monitor and he just kept laughing and getting us to do more. Fast ones, slow ones, the head leads, the body leads, just the head came out, only the eye. We must have done 20 different takes. I was so happy when that also made the trailer and became one of the brand new droid’s signature moves.

I always enjoy hearing about strange or funny things that happened on the set. Could you share some great stories?

Harrison Ford arrived at work for his first day on the Falcon set. I was standing in the cockpit corridor in my wonderful green nylon suit holding the droid’s rods and Han Solo walks up the ramp IN FULL COSTUME with his big hairy friend at his side. He looked me up and down and said “Who picked that look?” And then walked off!

Not exactly how you would imagine or want the first meeting with your idol to go, but there it is. He turned out to be everything you hope he would be. Professional, funny, generous and gloriously grumpy (entirely for effect)!

Along with Lee Towersey (who, with Oliver Steeples built and performed R2-D2 for TFA and latterly Rogue One), I drove the First Order Mouse Droids. On the first big shooting day on the Star Destroyer there were some 40 or more Stormtroopers and lots of other supporting artists dressed as Officers and Technicians. The Stormtroopers can’t see very well in those helmets and we had to weave the little remote control droids in and out of them and not get kicked across the set.

I had already tripped the trooper escorting Oscar Isaac across the hangar, so I was on the back foot a little. In the afternoon, we shot the scene where Finn is marching Poe across the deck and they suddenly make a run for it. The Stormtroopers had changed their timing which meant my droid was late. I could see it was going to be a disaster and I was once again in Oscar’s way, but if I turned I would have hit something else. However, rather than stop he jumped over it and sprinted up the stairs to the fighter. That take is in the movie!

Though not particularly funny, one day that really sticks in my mind was the day we shot the scene between BB-8, C-3PO and R2-D2. It was quite technical. I was very conscious about keeping out of Anthony Daniels’ way. He has little vision in that head and can hardly hear. I was doing BB-8’s dialogue live with a classic character and he was playing the scene and talking to and about R2. It suddenly struck me that it was like being invited to join in with Laurel & Hardy! Many of those moments were not lost on me.

BB-8 is possibly the most popular character of the sequels and maybe even the most popular Star Wars droid overall, which is something you deserve credit for. What do you think the reason of his popularity is?

Firstly, it’s important to note that I’m part of a very big team. There were so many people that brought BB-8 to the screen. From design, through engineering, animatronics, paint finishing, CGI and sound, BB-8 is every tool in the box.

The design comes into play massively. The puppets themselves have been so well thought out and executed that they allow for a great deal of expression. Most of R2-D2’s acting is done in the sound edit, but BB-8 can be instantly expressive. As a puppeteer that’s a real gift and I get to sink my teeth into bringing him to life.

It’s honestly a dream come true. I love performing BB-8.

The secret of his success though? I think it’s lots of things. He’s very cute, small and feisty. He’s funny, he appeals to a wide audience and I think they’ve used him well within the story. Just enough to leave you wanting more.

There are hundreds of BB-8 collectibles and toys. Which ones do you have and which one is your favorite? Mine is the LEGO fig and the Sphero!

It seems like I’ve got all of them! It got a little out of hand for a while, but after massive counselling and help from my lady love I’ve reigned it in now. I really like the unique things. Whenever I go to a convention now I always go to Artist Alley and pick up the different artists impressions of him. I love the fact that really talented people take time to render him in so many different ways. It’s strange seeing so many products with BB-8 on. He was our secret for so long and now he belongs to the fans.

You started doing conventions. What are your experiences meeting the fans and what was the funniest thing that happened at a con?

I went along to Star Wars Celebration Europe in 2007. One of the crowd. Bought a ticket. Had a ball. I went back in 2016 on stage in front of 4,000 or so people. It was a very different experience.

Since then I’ve been going along to conventions all over the world and I love it. Star Wars fans are awesome. As we make these movies it sometimes becomes just a job. Long hours in uncomfortable circumstances and it’s very easy to forget how much what we’re doing means to people. I’ve been given a very unique opportunity to be on the inside AND I get to go and speak to the people it means so much to and believe me, they are not afraid to tell me what they think! Good or bad. I try to take that enthusiasm back to Pinewood with me.

The cosplayers are amazing too. Such talent and creativity. I had an entire family dressed as Rey show up to the table once. Mum, two daughters and Dad. Brilliant! There are also the BB-8 costumes. All shapes, sizes and styles. Each one with a slightly different twist.

I once saw a little girl, she couldn’t have been more than 4, dressed as Rey and she was attacking a 6 foot guy dressed as Kylo Ren with her lightsaber. He was just humouring her and letting her get her strikes in. I’m assuming he was her Dad, but you never know at these things!

There is even a guy who dresses as ME! Full green suit pushing a homemade BB-8!

There was a guy from South America who presented me with an action figure of me in the green suit. He’d adapted the BB-8 to have rods and made a whole backing card and blister pack for it. Unfortunately he wanted it signed and I didn’t get to keep it. I tried to buy it but he was having none of it.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know some of the members of the 501st Legion of which Dave and I were made honorary members in 2016, the Rebel Legion and the Droid Builders. They all do great work and they all have their own Star Wars stories. How Star Wars got them through a difficult time, or how it introduced them to their husband or wife or how it inspired them. I totally understand that because it inspired me. I do wonder if there’s a little 7 year old out there seeing the behind the scenes footage thinking “Maybe I can do that!”

I’ve been collecting signed movie posters and Star Wars memorabilia for years, so when someone brings me a Force Awakens poster that Mark, Harrison, Anthony or Carrie have already signed and they want my signature on it, I know that’s a big deal. I’m hugely flattered and I don’t take that for granted.

In Rogue One you puppeteered SE-2. Which other droids and creatures did you puppeteer? Can you tell something about your work on this movie?

I was a little less involved in Rogue One. Although there were creatures in the movie, they were mostly background players. Appearing briefly here and there with some notable exceptions like Raddus and Pao.

The first thing I worked on was Bor Gullet. There was at least a dozen of us on that. I originally worked with Dave on the main tentacles, then towards the end of the shoot I ran the eyes. I also worked on a new version of 2-1B the medical droid that originally appeared in The Empire Strikes Back. He was in Saw Gerrera’s hide out. I don’t think he made the cut, but it’s in the visual directory.

SE-2 was shot on location in Iceland. That was myself on the head and body, with Dave Chapman and Patrick Comerford on arms and Matt Denton on the animatronics. This was a bunraku (rod) puppet built by Pete Hawkins. We waited in the rain in that spectacular landscape for a couple of days for the weather, then shot the whole thing in two set ups and three takes! Then ILM removed us all from the shot as they do with me and BB-8. That was the second time I had performed the first droid in the film.

As well as SE-2 I did various creature heads during the principal photography. Mon Calamari officers, Oolin Musters, Leevan Tenza and a few others. A lot of the stuff I shot was later superseded by the reshoots. Making Rogue One was a completely different process from The Force Awakens. Very much a hand-held, guerrilla style shoot which resulted in a totally different type of Star Wars movie.

It was recently announced that Rian Johnson will develop a brand-new trilogy. How would you describe the way he handled The Last Jedi and what do you think of the decision to have him create a new trilogy?

Rian is great. I was a fan of Looper but I didn’t really know what to expect. JJ was a tough act to follow, but Rian came in to an established cast and crew and led the way forward. He’s great fun, he enjoys a laugh but gets his shots. He has an amazing eye and he LOVES Star Wars. You could pass the monitors in video village while they were setting up a shot and it would look like a Star Wars movie. Epic. Even with no action. His take on The Last Jedi is familiar yet totally new.

The fact that Lucasfilm and Disney have picked him to do three more movies speaks volumes for his work on The Last Jedi. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do with a blank canvas.

My final question: next month is the release of The Last Jedi. Will we see Brian Herring puppeteer droids or creatures in Solo, Episode IX and beyond?

Well Solo has wrapped. Ron Howard tweeted a picture from the set that I was in, so that cat is out of the bag. I’m really looking forward to seeing it. The script is brilliant and I say that as a very fussy Star Wars fan.

As far as the future is concerned, I’ll gladly stay ‘Up the Galaxy’ for as long as they’ll have me. There are more movies coming, new worlds with many new alien characters and droids to discover. I hope to have a hand in as many of them as I can.

I hope so too! Many thanks for your time!


Wil je Brian volgen op social media? Dat kan!

Twitter: @BrianHezza

Facebook: PuppeteerBrianHerring

Instagram: brian_hezza

www.professionalpuppeteer.com


Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews – ‘Mem-Wars’ from a galaxy far, far away…

Star Wars Interviews

Geboren toen de opnames van A New Hope van start gingen. George Lucas cultist en aanhanger van Legends (1976-2012). Voormalig assistent van Anthony Daniels. Auteur van de 'Star Wars Interviews' boekenreeks waarvoor hij 175+ cast en crewleden interviewde. Trots op zijn vermeldingen in de credits van de boeken The Making of Return of the Jedi, Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor, The Star Wars Historical Sourcebook, The Star Wars Archives en Star Wars Icons: Han Solo.

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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Alan Austen (Stormtrooper & Bespin Guard)

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Brits acteur Alan Austen speelde maar liefst drie rollen in The Empire Strikes Back. Stormtrooper (op bovenstaande foto is hij de trooper rechts van Carrie Fisher), Bespin Guard én (de handen van) Han Solo. Speciaal voor StarWarsInterviews deed hij onderstaand interview, wat volgens traditie ook hier te lezen valt.

Interview met Alan Austen

How did you get cast as a Stormtrooper and as the double of Harrison Ford in The Empire Strikes Back?

I joined Central Castings and The Film Artistes Association in early 1979. Being cast as a stormtrooper in The Empire Strikes Back was all down to luck for me. I was the correct height and age. I was already on set playing a Hoth rebel when I was asked to try on the stormtrooper costume. I fitted and I was able to walk around in it, so I was cast. Doubling for Harrison came about after the production team realized that they needed some filler shots of Han Solo. Harrison had already gone back to the U.S.A. so I was asked to double for Han Solo.

I read that in The Empire Strikes Back there are some close-up shots of Han Solo’s hands where they’re not Harrison Ford’s hands but yours. In which scenes can we see you as Solo?

Yes, my hands doubled for Harrison’s in several scenes. Due to the editing, it’s very difficult to tell them apart. I remember that I had to push buttons and flick switches.

Had you seen the first Star Wars movie before you got cast?

No, I had never seen the first Star Wars movie. Of course, now I have seen it several times and never tire of watching it. That goes for all of the original trilogy movies.

What do you recall of the shooting of your scenes?

So much stands out. Of course the Cloud City shoot out is vivid in my memory and also the carbon chamber scenes. The main thing was being able to run and hit marks whilst wearing a storm trooper helmet.

Alan Austen (zittend rechts van John Hollis die Lobot speelde) op de carbon freeze set

What would you regard as your best memory from The Empire Strikes Back?

I only did one Star Wars movie. So many cherished moments from The Empire Strikes Back. The lifelong friendships that I made, the laughs and fun that we had on and off set. A great conversation that I had with Billy Dee Williams. The fun moments with Carrie!

What did you talk about with Williams and what were those fun moments?

The conversation with Billy was him giving me advice about acting and working on movies. No personal stuff. Carrie was just constant fun always laughing and joking. No more to say other than that.

You have been in the convention circuit for some years now. What do you like the most about being a guest and what is the most remarkable or craziest thing that happened at a show?

Yes, I love doing the conventions, they are most enjoyable. A stand out moment was at a convention in The Netherlands when two stormtrooper cosplayers danced together in their costumes. This was videoed on someone’s phone and then watched by eight Star Wars actors on the flight home.

Besides Star Wars you have been in several movies including Raiders of the Lost Ark, Flash Gordon, James Bond: Octopussy. What do you regard as the highlight of your career?

The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark are the highlights. Later on I worked in British tv drama but nothing ever lived up to those two movies.

The Empire Strikes Back is not only considered to be the best of all the Star Wars movies by many fans. Actually, it is even considered to be one of the best movies overall. How does it feel to have been a part of this?

I am very honored to be a part of The Empire Strikes Back. However, I realize that I was and am very lucky. I am fully aware that it was a question of right place right time. I just hope that I lived up to the opportunity! I think I did.


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Interviews

Exclusief interview met John Mogridge (Snowspeeder pilot)

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Vechten tegen de Imperials op Hoth, Han Solo naar de Carbon freeze leiden én The Emperor onthalen op de Death Star. Brits acteur John Mogridge deed het allemaal. In The Empire Strikes Back is hij namelijk te zien als Snowspeeder piloot en Stormtrooper terwijl hij in Return of the Jedi een Death Star Gunner speelde.

Speciaal voor mijn eigen site StarWarsInterviews.com deed John Mogridge het volgende interview waarin hij terugblikt op zijn Star Wars tijd. Zoals gebruikelijk is het interview ook hier te lezen: op StarWarsAwakens.nl!

Interview met John Mogridge

How did you started your career in the movie business?

I joined the F.A.A. (Film Artistes Association) and the Central casting agency in November 1978. The Empire Strikes Back was my second film. You got work by phoning the agents and asking if there were any work “Calls”. They’d say Empire Strikes Back, Elstree studios, 8AM. That’s how I got my first day on The Empire Strikes Back. That was March 1979.

Can you tell how you got cast as a Snowspeeder pilot and snowtrooper for The Empire Strikes Back?

I arrived on my first day and the 2nd assistant director, Steve Lanning, gave me my daily salary voucher (we call it a Chit) with the title “Rebel” on it. I was a rebel for a while. Then they wanted snowspeeder pilots and he gave me that job. I did that until the end of May or the beginning of June. Then I was given the Snowtrooper role. That was only for a short time and finished my on and off run on The Empire Strikes Back as a stormtrooper in the carbon freezing chamber and Bespin cloud city scenes.

John Mogridge en Alan Austen als de twee Stormtroopers die Han naar de Carbon freeze begeleiden.

Three years later I got the call for Revenge of the Jedi as it was called at the time. I only played an Imperial gunner on that film in the Emperor’s arrival scene.

Did you see the first Star Wars movie before you got cast? What did you think of it?

I took my brother to see the original Star Wars film and really enjoyed it. I was lucky enough to get the autographs of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Dave Prowse for him when I worked on The Empire Strikes Back.

You’re one of the Snowspeeder pilots in the scene where Carrie Fisher gives the pilots instructions. What are the other scenes in which we can see you?

Some memorable scenes. The carbon freezing chamber seemed very high and a bit sinister compared to the bright and shiny cloud city set. I did a lot of filming with the second unit being directed by John Barry. Sadly, he was taken ill one day and died the next. A lot of people were upset by that. He was a nice man.

What do you recall of the shooting of your scenes?

A funny scene… there’s a picture on the internet where a snowtrooper is seen falling over as they enter Hoth. I was on that scene. I tripped but didn’t fall and it seems so did many others. It didn’t get in the film. Irvin Kershner took a long time to build a scene and the photo of me in the briefing scene standing around looking bored took ages to set up. He did do a great job.

John Modgride (recht van regisseur Irvin Kershner) op de Echo Base set.

Your Rebel pilot character got a name many years ago: Habeer Zignian. When and how did you find out and what was your reaction?

My character having been given a name was a complete and pleasant surprise. Although I only found out in 2018.

What is the best memory you have regarding Star Wars in general?

I am really proud to have been a very minor part in a great series of films. It changed my life. I met and I’m still in contact with so many friends like Alan Austen, Peter Ross, Chris Parsons (editor’s note: all three men played various parts in the original trilogy) and so many more who I wouldn’t have known without Facebook and the world wide family of Star Wars fans.


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Exclusief interview met Bruce Logan (ILM)

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Vraag een willekeurige Star Wars fan wie in A New Hope de Death Star vernietigde en de kans is groter dan een Gorax dat het antwoord Luke Skywalker is. Fout! Het was namelijk ILM’er Bruce Logan die verantwoordelijk was voor het letterlijk opblazen van het Death Star model in 1976. Dit was slechts een van de vele special effects waar Logan voor verantwoordelijk was in A New Hope.

Speciaal voor mijn eigen site StarWarsInterviews.com deed Bruce Logan het volgende interview waarin hij terugblikt op eind jaren 70; de begintijd van Star Wars. Zoals gebruikelijk is het interview ook hier te lezen: op StarWarsAwakens.nl!

Interview met Bruce Logan

In the mid 70’s you joined ILM to work on Star Wars. How did you get this job?

I had met with George and Gary at the beginning of the production when they were interviewing visual effects people. George got back from shooting the live action in England, and because the signature (very hi-tech at the time) motion control effects system was being constructed not a frame of film had been shot. Panicked, he called me up to head up a second unit effects unit to shoot puppeteers in black suits “flying” miniature spaceships on black rods. Not surprisingly this did not work out very well. So my unit moved on to do some of the signature explosions in the show.

Why didn’t you return to work on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi?

After Star Wars came out, George moved ILM north to San Rafael to avoid Hollywood and all the “rules” that when with it. Half of ILM moved with him and the other half stayed in the same building and broke off to form Apogee (editor’s note: a VFX company).

What do you recall of your meetings with George Lucas?

I found George to be very organized, the man knew exactly what he wanted but not always how to get it. He gave me marching orders and then left me alone to figure out how to do it. I’m not sure that I even watched dailies with him as my unit was at another location across town. He must have liked what he saw because our unit moved to bigger and bigger stages and we shot bigger and bigger explosions.

You’re one of the first crewmembers of ILM in the 70’s. What was it like working there back then in Van Nuys?

As I was not part of the main unit, I did very little work on Valjean. However, as I was friends with almost everyone there and because they had a full machine shop, I spent many weeks there with my full race Mini Cooper machining parts and fabricating equipment. So, I got to experience the entire production process without really being involved.

Which shots/scenes were you responsible for? And are there good anecdotes you can share regarding creating them?

My claim to fame is that I blew up the Death Star. When I think back to the first day of our unit, I remember Joe Viskocil, our powder genius who constructed all the miniature bombs, I realize we were just a bunch of unsupervised kids running the orphanage. Joe came in the first morning and there was a huge explosion and a cloud of smoke coming out of the little room on wheels that was used to load film. Luckily there was only a loss of hair and a rash on Joe’s arms. It was an interesting way to start. But it never really got any better as the explosions got bigger and better, I remember running around the stage wiping burning napalm from my arms after one of our larger explosions. Later, looking at pictures of our shoot, I see that our only fire protection was a single hand held fire extinguishers. Ahh! simpler days.

What was the hardest effect to create while working on A New Hope?

Although I was not involved, I would say the Landspeeder was one of the hardest. In a non-CG world getting rid of the wheels putting in heat ripples and suspending it in shot where we didn’t see the whole craft.

However, the construction and first extensive use of motion control is obviously the most significant innovation of the movie.

Which effect from A New Hope are you most proud of?

Blowing up the Death Star, who wouldn’t be?

© Bruce Logan

Today CGI has largely taken over and there are less practical effects. Is this –in your opinion- a good or a bad thing?

My favorite Visual Effects are when they based on live-action elements and then enhanced with CG. Whether based on miniature or full scale live-action, I like the organic feel of these kind of shots. Shot which are entirely CG still have an uncanny valley feel to them, even with the unbelievable advances in CG effects.

I read that you knew about Joseph Campbell before work on Star Wars started and you were happy George Lucas got a spiritual message out. Do you think that’s something modern Star Wars lacks after George left in 2012?

I think the Joseph Campbell influence fell away almost immediately. Any discussion of the “Force” became more about superhero (Jedi) powers and less about an elemental interconnectedness of all beings and all things. But the whole franchise is based on “A New Hope” and as such this philosophy unavoidably underlies everything. Thanks Joseph.

My final question: You blew up the Death Star, not Luke Skywalker. I guess you should have gotten that medal?

Yes. But what I don’t talk about so much is that, I also blew up Alderaan. I guess all that loss of innocent life, cancels out any medal I might be entitled to for the Death Star.


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Exclusief interview met Katie Purvis

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Katie Purvis behoort tot een select groepje acteurs die op zéér jonge leeftijd al in de Original Trilogy te zien waren: in 1982 was ze pas 15 jaar toen ze geselecteerd werd om een Ewok te spelen in Return of the Jedi. Ondanks haar leeftijd was ze al behoorlijk bekend met de Star Wars familie aangezien haar vader Jack Purvis in A New Hope (hoofd Jawa) en The Empire Strikes Back (Ugnaught) te zien was en al jaren een duo vormde met Kenny “R2-D2” Baker.

Speciaal voor StarWarsInterviews.com en StarWarsAwakens.nl deed Katie het volgende interview waarin ze terugkijkt naar begin jaren 80, ingaat op de impact van haar vaders carrière, treurt om een mislukte ontmoeting met Harrison Ford én een unieke anekdote heeft over een zieke Ewok!

Interview met Katie Purvis

How did you get started in the movie business?

My dad Jack Purvis was working on Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits movie where he played Wally, one of the six Bandits. One summer’s day he took me with him to the film set when they were filming the iconic Titanic scene. The story goes one of the little guys, Tiny Ross, had broken his arm when he fell whilst on horseback in a previously filmed scene, so Terry asked my dad if I would suit up and be Tinys stand-in for the shoot. So I was taken to costume and make up and transformed from a 14-year-old schoolgirl into Vermin the Time Bandit. That was how I got started in the film business!

And how did you get cast for Return of the Jedi?

Again, I consider myself very privileged in how I got cast in Return of the Jedi. This was due to my dad already having been in A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. My dad’s agent asked me if I would be interested in being on the movie to play a teddy bear character a few months before. They were looking for around 50 short people to play Ewoks! As I was only 15 years old, I had to speak to my school to ask permission. At the time, I was taking my Mock O Levels exams, so I did have a bit of study leave during the filming days. So the production gave me a schedule and together with my head teacher we worked my exams around that. This meant I would be filming for two days and then sitting in an exam hall the next! Needless to say this made it very hard to excel at academics, when all I could think about was what was going on in the Ewok Village!

What do you recall of the filming of your scenes for the Return of the Jedi?

The whole 2-week experience was so exciting for me a teenager. I had already met Mark Hamill back in 1976 whilst my dad was working on A New Hope, as he had been to our house for tea, when my dad Jack and his partner Kenny Baker had been working in Cabaret in the evening after a day’s shooting. Dad brought Mark home before taking him out with them to watch their show. Mark was really kind to my brothers and I.
So when I met him again on Return of the Jedi it was just like meeting one of my dad’s friends. I didn’t really get introduced to the other cast members, as it can be really busy on set and my dad being so humble didn’t want to disturb them as he said they would be preparing for their scenes. This was a little disappointing as I had had a schoolgirl crush on Mr. Ford. First day on set my dad and I were standing in our Ewok costumes feeling all fat and furry when Harrison came past and greeted my dad! I was so nervous as I thought finally I am going to get the chance to meet my hero! Unfortunately not to be. Dad and Harrison had a chat and to my dismay my dad didn’t even introduce me and Harrison walked off into his position to begin the day’s scene! I won’t tell you how I expressed my disappointment to my dad about him being responsible for me not meeting my schoolgirl crush!

Did any strange, remarkable or funny things happen on the set?

I’m sure it’s well documented that the Ewok costumes were very uncomfortable and made you very hot and the eyes kept misting up. Kenny Bakers wife, Eileen, when I informed her that I was feeling unwell one afternoon, assisted by lifting her arm up and shouting ‘CUT’ when I told her “I think I’m going to be sick!”
At once the makeup lady rushed onto set and ripped my Ewok head off allowing me to upchuck my lunch! All I remember hearing was the guy from the Electric department shouting “Don’t be sick in my electric box!”

Return of the Jedi was directed by Richard Marquand, while George Lucas produced it. How were both men to work with?

Being young I didn’t really appreciate the fact that I was working alongside such greats as Richard Marquand and George Lucas, again because my dad been there from the start in 1976 so there was a great camaraderie amongst them all. To be honest I was so nervous I just did as I was asked. I think I speak for most of us who played Ewoks, it was the first time we’d met so many other Little People and all been together, so that was more exciting than working with these iconic film directors! It’s only now that I realize how blessed I was to have been part of those movies! And so wish I had taken photos and got autographs.

After Star Wars you starred in some of my favorite 80’s movies: Labyrinth, Willow and Legend. What fond memories do you have of those productions?

I loved working on the films that followed, Legend, Labyrinth and Willow, although Labyrinth was my favorite. Again for me it was about coming of age, I was now 18 and had past my driving test, although I didn’t have my own car My mum let me borrow hers. It was a red mini, which I felt so cool driving! This meant no longer did I have to drive to the studios with my dad, after all how uncool was that! We filmed Labyrinth in the summer months so we had a holding area just outside the Stage where the set had been built. There everyone would hang out, make up people, props and costume, actors and puppeteers! It was great time to be 18 and driving your mums Red Mini! I felt so grown up having just left school!

Your father Jack Purvis has played a lot of parts in the original trilogy, including popular characters like Teebo, the lead Jawa and an Ugnaught. How do look back at his Star Wars legacy?

Star Wars has been part of my family’s life since I was 10 years old. Even now I only have to hear the Star Wars music and I not only get goose bumps but I immediately am taken back in time to so many parts of my life growing up. From school summer fetes that my dad and Kenny Baker opened as guest celebrities The Minitones in the late 70’s to summer shows in Torquay where Jack and Kenny were appearing and where the showgirls would perform a show stopping number with lightsabers to the Star Wars theme tune whilst a prop R2 would spin around. My brothers and I would be watching from the wings most nights. Inevitably one of the showgirls’ lightsabers would break in two as she thrust it too hard and ended up missing someone in the audience. The crowd used love this part of the show, I suppose because Star Wars meant so much to everyone. I know it changed Kenny and Jacks lives, and ours too as our families were able to move to bigger houses in nicer areas. They became well respected as not just musical cabaret act but actors from a successful movie. The movie opened up other opportunities for them that they may never have had had it not been for their small roles in that low budget movie.

What would you regard as your best memory of all the movies you were in. Is there a special moment you’ll cherish forever?

I have been to places I never would have got to go to, had it not been for Star Wars and the love of the Star Wars community.

What are you doing these days? Are you still in the acting business?

Nowadays I no longer act as unfortunately as a result of back surgery I can no longer walk unaided. However, I have three children who would love to appear in any future Star Wars movies, so if there is any casting agents out there reading this were waiting to hear! That would make them the third generation of Purvis family to appear in the franchise. They have already been told by Mr. Mark Hamill himself, to call him Grampa!
So nowadays I am honored to be asked to appear at conventions and related Sci-Fi events.
The Star Wars community, along with some awesome people and actors have helped raise money for many charity events, which I am humbled to say has changed people’s lives. I can truly say I have met some very kind and warm-hearted people, whom I never would have met had it not been for Star Wars and its legacy.
And this is what is so incredible about the Star Wars Story!

Met grote dank aan Casper Fijlstra voor het mogelijk maken van dit interview!


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