Op jonge leeftijd was Christian Alzmann al Star Wars fan: op de kleuterschool tekende hij Darth Vader met vingerverf! Nu, 40 jaar later, werkt hij bij Industrial Light & Magic als Senior Visual Effects Art Director. Voor The Force Awakens was hij een van de verantwoordelijken voor de algehele ‘looks’ van de film én ontwierp hij BB-8! Naast Star Wars puilt zijn CV uit van grote titels, Christian heeft namelijk ook aan titels als Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Pirates of the Caribbean en Star Trek Into Darkness meegewerkt.
Exclusief voor StarWarsAwakens.nl kon ik eind juni Christian interviewen over zijn Star Wars werk!
Interview met Christian Alzmann
Hi Mr. Alzmann, welcome at StarWarsAwakens! You have worked as a concept artist on The Force Awakens. I was wondering how you started working on that movie? I guess there was a meeting where you got descriptions from the director and producer of what they wanted and roughly what the story will be?
Usually it’s just like you stated. The director gives us a brief either in person, at meeting, or through an email. On Star Wars projects, because we are at Lucasfilm, directors have been very open about back stories and their point of view. Of course the more information we receive the better it is for us to design and illustrate their ideas. The Force Awakens in particular was unusual in that for the first few months we worked with the writers and production designer Rick Carter while waiting for the director to be named.
A lot of people (including me) love the designs of The Force Awakens because it has that old school Star Wars feel. What’s your secret? How did you and the other designers manage to achieve this?
Not a secret at all. We poured over the original trilogy art created by Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston. We worked really hard and went through a lot of trial and error to tap into and discover what their design philosophy was on the first films. Most of us were very familiar with Star Wars but it was still challenging to nail down the design elements of the Star Wars universe. I found it a bit like teaching myself how to speak a whole new language using only bits of existing text as a guide. The other tricky part was unifying the look. Everyone had their own definition of the Star Wars look and we had to pull those all together.
You designed BB-8. JJ Abrams made a sketch of two circles and that was your starting point. How hard or easy was the BB-8 design process?
We knew there was going to be a little sidekick droid for Rey. We had tried a few different things before JJ did his post-it sketch. I had done an early design of a floating droid that had a very similar head to BB-8, but once he did the sketch it was quite clear he wanted a rolling droid. Since BB-8 didn’t have a name yet most of my early designs were titled Rolling Droid 1, 2, etcetera.
Once the shape was agreed upon it was a pretty smooth process and we started designing details. I did a few designs trying to figure out the look of the lower drive ball. For this I referenced different spherical shapes like soccer balls. I also tried to get a nice design for BB-8’s face by balancing naturally lovable faces with something much more abstract. The final BB-8 design touches were done by someone on the design team at Neil Scanlon’s group in the UK.
One of your creations for The Force Awakens didn’t make it to the film…but was picked up for Rebels. It looks like The Fifth Brother from the animated Rebels series. Can you tell more about this? How it wasn’t picked for the film but for the TV series instead?
I had worked pretty extensively on Kylo early on. At that early point we were calling him Jedi Killer. Among the many talented people present in our early design/story meetings was Dave Filoni, the director of The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, and we knew he was working on something new. He, like George Lucas had done in the past, would come to the art department and look through the unused concepts we had for designs that he could use. George had set it up long ago that nothing ever gets thrown out and that it might not be right for this movie or that scene but it might work for something in the future. Dave also based another character on Rebels named Ketsu Onyo on an unused pirate design I had created originally for The Force Awakens.
You created (with Iain McCaig) awesome artwork for Harrison Ford/Han Solo. Long coat, beard…it has that Western vibe. Why wasn’t it picked for the film? I love it and think it was just perfect.
Iain and I had talked about older actors that still looked really heroic and Iain brought up Jeff Bridges in True Grit. This worked perfectly since we were going for a spaghetti western vibe with that particular piece of art.
In the end they didn’t go with that look for the film. Possibly because Han’s role was more of the wounded father and less of a gunslinger this time around.
Of all the things you’ve created for The Force Awakens, what do you regard as your best work and biggest achievement?
I had done a lot of paintings of Luke at the beginning of the project. I am really happy with the amount of emotion I was able to get into those paintings. But, I’d have to say it’s probably the little task I was asked to do, almost on the side, of designing that little rolling sidekick droid. Who knew?
Suppose you could go back in time and re-design a character or starship from the original trilogy. Which one would you choose, why would you choose that one and how would you change the design? It can be anything, from Darth Vader to the Falcon!
I tried to come up with something here but I couldn’t even dare. It would be a house of cards. Take one design out and the whole thing falls. It’s all too embedded in my childhood as being the right thing, it is Star Wars.
Maybe there are very small details I might change in the fabrication of the designs. Things like the chain that holds Vader’s cape around his neck or the store bought white cowboy boots on the stormtroopers or when Obi-Wan’s lightsaber looks like it shorts out during his fight with Vader on the Death Star. Mostly things that won’t really improve the quality of the film but I can easily defend any design choice made on the early films. They were all very brave and unique.
We have the same childhood hero: Ralph McQuarrie! What makes his art so great according to you and in which ways has his art influenced you?
Everything he designed felt new and felt believable. He had the ability to show a human moment through what felt like the lens of a camera. His high level of technical ability allowed him to not only make film concepts but also matte paintings and book cover illustrations. All of that made for a really diverse and amazing career. Also he designed Darth Vader! Ralph was a master.
Another childhood hero of you is Syd Mead. He and Ralph McQuarrie are legendary artists. Has the fact that their art is so great and almost perfect ever made you insecure? Or did it inspire you to become better and better?
I would say both. Most artists are insecure. When I started on The Force Awakens I was pretty nervous. It’s a very big set of shoes to fill and I was doing it in the shadow of artists that are my heroes and along side some of the best contemporary artists. It was humbling and overwhelming but when you’re given a job, all you can do is work your hardest and let the art and the work inspire you.
I think in a lot of ways the insecurity can lead you to becoming a better artist. It can become the fuel that ignites some of your best work.
Those are very encouraging and inspiring words…and a great end to this interview. Thank you very much for your time and help!
Exclusief interview met Dominic Pace (Bounty Hunter)
Na lang wachten was het dinsdag dan zover: de eerste aflevering van The Mandalorian, de allereerste live-action Star Wars TV serie ooit. En hoe kun je zoiets beter vieren dan met een exclusief interview met een van de castleden?
Afgelopen april kwam ik in contact met Dominic Pace die in deze serie de rol van een bounty hunter vertolkt. Dominic is al decennia lang een enorme fan met een dito collectie. Hij kon destijds nog maar weinig zeggen over de serie maar we spraken af om er in november op terug te komen, wat ook gebeurde.
Speciaal voor mijn eigen site StarWarsInterviews.com deed hij het volgende interview wat zoals gebruikelijk iook hier te lezen is.
Interview met Dominic Pace
You’re a pretty big Star Wars fan and you have a pretty big collection as well. How and when did you become a fan?
Before I could even spell. My first playset was the Cantina Playset. I had the original 12 figures. My mother got me that magnetic alphabet board and I remember the first word I put together on there was ‘Jawa.’
The dream of every fan is to actually be in Star Wars. How did you get cast for The Mandalorian?
I am blue collar actor. I have been very fortunate to land numerous Guest Stars and Co Stars on television, however I never turn down work of any kind. In order to survive in this business as an actor, you have to accept flexible jobs of all kinds. I was invited in for a simple makeup test for a major Hollywood Special Effects Company, Legacy Effects. It was there that I met Brian Sipe, one of the leading makeup artists within their company. There was no discussion of any future work or what the project was. I had previous prosthetic experience before (Van Helsing, Bright, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). I was calm and professional for the entire 6 hours of application. Brian and I got to know each other. At the end I handed him my business card telling him I’d love to work on whatever project he was doing. It did not cross my mind one bit that it was Star Wars as Star Wars has always been filmed overseas for the most part. I received a phone call two weeks later to report for a project code named, Huckleberry. I did not realize it was a Star Wars project until I was invited into a wardrobe room. I quickly noticed some of the sample wardrobe photos on the wall. Any Star Wars fan would’ve been able to have connected the dots at that point. What added to the shock and excitement was that I was lead into another room with a clothing rack. It had my name on one section of the rack with the words ‘Bounty Hunter’ next to it. I was at a loss for words and just tried to stay calm.
In The Mandalorian you play the bounty hunter Gekko. How did you get this specific part assigned? And what kind of character is Gekko?
Gekko is just the nickname and not official by Disney. Makeup artist Brian Sipe was working on some sort of GreenPeace Convention a few years prior. He did this extensive prosthetic on this model. The model had these two humps on their head with a very distinct makeup design similar to a Gecko. The model was holding a Gecko in her hand. Brian gave me the same mold, but altered the head bumps to horns. The paint design stayed the same. It is a one of a kind Bounty Hunter and species in the Star Wars universe as of now. I am 100% certain no one has been established with this look except me due to the origin of the model outside Star Wars. I was personally given this role as it was the most extensive makeup. Brian appreciated my attitude and patience so he gave me the most elaborate design for my two episodes.
You wear heavy makeup and prosthetics. Can you share your experiences getting dressed up as Gekko?
Normally this would be a tedious process as the entire character took about two hours each morning to prepare. I’m sure every Star Wars would agree that it would be an absolute joy to watch your detailed Star Wars character come to life each day. Richard A. Porra was the costume designer. Richard gave me a bandolier, forearm guards sewn into my dark blue robe, along with a face mask which really made the character. Initially I almost had a bare face. I was being rushed to set and I could’ve left the mask behind as they had trouble finding it on day 1. I really wanted that mask and reminded Richard that the initial screen test had the mask. It truly makes the character as it makes my Bounty Hunter more mysterious.
How did the shooting of your scenes go?
Though it was priceless enough to have been at least featured in the Cantina, what Star Wars fan wouldn’t want their own bit of action? It was an exciting time, but a stressful time, as I wanted to make sure my character was established. As the performer, you do not have a say in this. The director and producers either want you in their shot, or they don’t. It’s never your choice. The first week was amazing in that, the first day I arrived on set, standing in the cantina with his arms folded was none other than George Lucas. At this level, you cannot approach the stars or producers unless they acknowledge you or initiate. I mention that because as much as any fan would love to approach Lucas, you are just there for a job. Regardless, it was such an honor to be in his universe that day with him present.
The cantina scenes were finished after the first week. The first assistant director asked about 20 featured cantina aliens and Bounty Hunters to stay behind as the director Deborah Chow wanted to have us all line up. I had no idea what the lineup was for, but in general, it was mostly likely that they had to make a cut for the following week. Not everyone was going to be chosen for the following week. They cut half of us, and luckily I was chosen. Making that cut solidified my Star Wars immortality. Not only did it lock my place in the universe in focus, but also I fulfilled my dream of being in a Star Wars action sequence.
As an Italian American, I was always inspired by the Rocky series growing up. Carl Weathers was an essential part of the Rocky success. It was such an honor to be alongside Weathers whose had such a legendary career. My adrenaline was pumping so hard during this one scene, and being alongside Carl made it that much more special.
The overall experience was simply priceless. However an entire year of not being able to say anything, along with waiting to see if you made it into the shots was stressful in a good way.
You just mentioned George Lucas. Did you meet him?
I did not meet him that day as I always have a tremendous respect for the head producers and director. When you have a $100 million budget on the clock, unfortunately it’s not a meet and greet time. However simply being in his universe as one of his characters was an honor enough. I had the privilege of meeting him years prior at a charity event, but not on set.
Did any weird or funny things happen on or off the set?
The Gekko like bumps looked like breasts on my head. I brought it up to Brian during the initial makeup and costume test and thankfully he changed my head to horns. That would’ve been funny and embarrassing at the same time.
What is the best memory you have regarding The Mandalorian?
Getting to choose my own blaster. I think every Star Wars fan would love to choose their own lightsaber or blaster. Having that honor from the prop master was absolutely priceless. I picked the biggest blaster they had and I hope they make it out of a figure someday.
Final question: What is your ‘dream Star Wars project’?
Being a one of a kind Bounty Hunter in Season 1 of The Mandalorian.
Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews
Exclusief interview met Alan Austen (Stormtrooper & Bespin Guard)
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.
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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Exclusief interview met John Mogridge (Snowspeeder pilot)
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.
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.
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)
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?
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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