Wat velen niet weten is dat The Force Awakens een Nederlands tintje heeft. Nadat eerder de Nederlandse acteurs Dickey Beer (Return of the Jedi) en Carel Struycken (Ewoks: Battle for Endor) in een Star Wars film te zien waren was het nu de beurt aan Gerard Smith.
Hoewel Gerard in de Verenigde Staten is geboren heeft hij (naast de Amerikaanse) ook de Nederlandse nationaliteit, heeft hij hier gewoond en spreekt hij ook de Nederlandse taal. Toen ik van hem bericht kreeg dat hij wilde meewerken aan een interview was dit dan ook geweldig nieuws: een Nederlandse Star Wars acteur die vragen beantwoord voor de Nederlandse Star Wars community! Treffender kan het niet.
In The Force Awakens speelde Gerard een Resistance colonel en is hij te zien in diverse scènes op de Resistance basis op D’Qar… maar daar vertelt hij zelf meer over in onderstaand interview (dat op verzoek in het Engels is).
Interview met Gerard Smith
Hi Mr. Smith, it’s great to have an interview with a Dutch Star Wars actor for the Dutch Star Wars site! A perfect match! My first question for you: Could you tell how you got started in the movie business?
I initially got inspired to be an actor by watching countless episodes of a show called Daktari as a kid. Daktari, Swahili for “doctor”, is an American children’s drama series that aired on CBS prime time between 1966 and 1969 in the United States. The series, an Ivan Tors Films Production in association with MGM Television starring Marshall Thompson as Dr. Marsh Tracy, a veterinarian at the fictional Wameru Study Centre for Animal Behaviour in East Africa.
However, it wasn’t until many years later that I actually walked onto a movie set for the first time.
Whilst completing my MBA (Masters in International Business and Economics) at UCLA – University of California, Los Angeles, a professor pulled me over after giving a presentation with my group and told me that I was a pretty good presenter and had I ever thought about acting. He suggested that I do so and wrote down a few names and numbers that I could call (this was before the internet took off), and gave them to me. So I contacted them and one thing led to another and I ended up on a movie set.
To be honest, I don’t actually remember what movie or TV show was my very first. I just remember calling the numbers my professor gave me and sending my photos in to them in the mail. Then I got a phone call one day and was asked to come into an agency in West LA on the Sunset Strip (Hollywood Boulevard). I registered with the agency and from that moment on I was on many productions.
I quickly earned my way into the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (AFTRA) and was able to gain more respect by building my portfolio and ultimately landed a legitimate Hollywood “acting” agent/manager.
Can you tell how you got cast as a Resistance colonel for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? How did the casting process go?
It was my destiny. I came to the UK in 2012 for the Olympic and Paralympic Games after closing out and selling off my successful outdoor and adventure business in Belgium (think The North Face, Arc’teryx, etc.). I was hired on for the last 7 months as an event manager for The Games. My contract ended after The Games finished and I decided to stay in London to look for work.
So, one day I simply Googled acting agencies in London and a plethora of agency names came up. I registered with a few of them and was asked to come into one of them for a registration day. They said they were a new agency representing SA’s but had extensive contacts in the film industry. I didn’t think much of it nor did I hear anything from them for ages and then one day I got an email informing me that I had been chosen – from my picture – for a new movie and asking my availability for the summer months.
There wasn’t much of a “process” really. I was chosen from my picture, although I heard that there was a casting for some supporting actors. Once my availability was considered to be sufficient, I was informed that I would be a “pirate” in the anonymous movie. This is the 1st movie that I had been in for many years since I left Hollywood and when I heard “pirate” I immediately thought that the movie was a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel or something along those lines.
I then went to a fitting at Pinewood Studios where they took very accurate measurements.
I was not initially cast as a Resistance colonel. I was a basic Resistance fighter fitted into a standard Resistance “pirate” military outfit. On the first day of filming, I went to wardrobe and my costume was fitted on me. I, as did everyone, had to be inspected and given the personal approval of Michael Kaplan, Head of Costume Design. He looked me up and down, through his big black-framed glasses, and he very quietly and calmly told his assistant standing next to him to upgrade me to a Colonel.
How did the filming of your scenes go?
I was in multiple scenes both on location at the RAF Greenham Common – the Resistance base on D’Qar – and at Pinewood Studios.
In general, the filming was quite intense because I had to focus on my performance as an actor as well as concentrating on other things going on around me such as health & safety as well as other personalities and the absolute awe of being on the set of Star Wars with the original cast and incredibly talented crew, technical specialists, artists, creatures & robots.
It was imperative to be absolutely focused on your role at that moment. It can be quite distracting to be standing next to a 7 foot Wookiee as BB-8 scoots past you or Admiral Ackbar positions himself next to you in the War Room. Not to mention being in the same room with Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and many others. So total FOCUS on the task at hand and staying in character was key and it was very important not to get star struck. I carried on performing as if it was just another day at the office.
My scenes started filming late spring and early summer at Pinewood Studios. However, as we all know, Harrison Ford broke his leg on set and many of my scenes were postponed until late summer after Harrison returned back from LA fully recuperated. Upon our return in late summer, as you can imagine, the emphasis on being SAFE on set could not be over emphasized!
You were there on the set with some Star Wars legends like Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and new stars Oscar Isaac and John Boyega. How were they and did you get to interact with them?
The entire cast and crew were incredibly nice. As well, I will take a moment here to mention that the Director, J.J. Abrams, was (is) an incredibly talented, patient and all round nice person and extremely fun to work with. I am NOT just saying this just to be saying it. I have worked with a lot of directors and A-listers and believe me they are not all so patient and fun to work with!
Yes, I got to speak with many of the Star Wars legends, but not at great lengths except on one occasion.
One morning on location, I was asked by an AD to follow him. He brought me close to the Millennium Falcon and then asked me to stop and wait there until he came back. Then, after about 15 minutes, he came back and asked me to follow him closer to the Millennium Falcon. He brought me right under the spaceship and then I started seeing familiar faces like Carrie Fishers stand-in and Harrison Ford’s stand-in. Then J.J. emerged out of a crowd of activity under the Falcon where it became apparent to me that they were preparing to film a major scene. The AD put his hand on my shoulder and said “this guy” and J.J. gave a quick sign of approval then spun around and disappeared into the busy group behind him. The AD just walked away and told me to stay where I was standing.
It was about 9am by this time and the sun started burning its way through the early morning mist. About that time, a group of very nice wardrobe and make-up ladies approached me and started pulling out their sewing needles and make-up kits and went to work on my uniform and my face making sure everything was perfect. Not long after that, Admiral Statura (Ken Leung) approached me from the same group that J.J. had disappeared into. He said that we would be doing a scene together with Harrison and Carrie. I didn’t have time to get nervous or think about how incredibly cool this was. So Ken and I stood there together about an hour talking and getting to know each other in the warm morning sun. A very pleasant experience. Turns out he is from the same part of the States I am from and we just couldn’t stop talking. He even told me that his closest childhood friend in New Jersey was called “Gerard”! We had a lot of fun talking while waiting until everything was set. In the meantime, the lead photographer and his team also came over to us and took like a zillion photos.
Finally, Harrison and Carrie came out under the Falcon to rehearse their roles. Carrie’s action was to come to Admiral Statura (Ken) and me after her intimate moment with Harrison. So before we formally started rehearsing, she came up to me, reached out and shook my hand and said hi and asked me how it was going. We talked for a while in the morning sun with Ken and then Daisy Ridley came bounding over to say hi. She was smiling from ear to ear and very jubilant. Extremely nice and you get a very sincere feeling about her.
Ken welcomed me to the Star Wars family and made me feel very at ease. Carrie talked to me about many things and was explaining to me about her dog before J.J. came over and got her and asked her to go back to Harrison that we were ready to start filming.
After a few rehearsals, J.J. walked up to Ken and me and gave us a few suggestions to nail the action. Then he shook both of our hands and emphatically said let’s do this as he walked away.
I spoke with Harrison Ford on a few other occasions, mostly at craft and about coffee, but he was rehearsing the details of his scene with J.J. whilst we were all talking.
What great/funny/remarkable stories can you share regarding your time on the set of Star Wars?
I don’t know where to start (or stop). I couldn’t possibly explain them all here, so I will only select a few. The entire experience was amazing. From the outset of filming, J.J. Abrams made us feel like “part of the family”. Sometimes J.J. would take a moment at the beginning of the day and give a short impromptu speech about how he was really happy to have us ALL working together and that we should ALL feel as one family and that we indeed ARE all one family!
I guess one other remarkable moment was when, as if it couldn’t get any better, I had to step out of the scene for a few minutes while some cables were being moved in the place I was standing. So I was asked to step off (and down the steps) to the ground level. I just stepped into a group of onlookers and didn’t really look anyone in the face until after. So a few minutes went by and I decided to look quickly to my left. So, standing directly next to me was Kathleen Kennedy (President of Lucasfilm), Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg. Kathleen looked back at me and said “Hi” and Tom looked over and gave me a friendly nod while Simon Pegg kept staring straight ahead in total amazement of the set and what was going on.
The other truly remarkable thing about Star Wars and my time on the set was the SET itself!!! The set design and all of those absolutely incredibly creative people that helped make that happen is truly beyond comprehension! I couldn’t help just looking and studying (on my down time) the intricacies of the set design of the Resistance base! Incredible!
What is the best or most precious memory you have regarding The Force Awakens?
I am not sure if it’s the most precious moment, but it’s the one that I think about almost every day and that’s when I was selected to be in a scene with Han Solo, Princess Leia and Admiral Statura in front of the Falcon Millennium. It’s the scene I just described 2 questions prior to this one.
When J.J. Abrams came over and shook my hand before we started to film that scene, I knew that it was a special moment. It was even more special after we successfully completed the scene and J.J. came out and was smiling and said, jokingly, “if it didn’t work it was all Gerard’s fault” and was smiling from ear to ear looking at me!
In a previous scene on another day when Princess Leia was giving a speech to all of us inside of the Resistance base, J.J. came out from behind the camera between ‘takes’, walked towards the edge of the platform where we were all standing and looked at me and asked me what my name was in front of all of my Resistance Alliance Rebel colleagues. I told him my name was “Gerard”. He said, hi Gerard, and politely asked me if I could stand more “straight up” in the group rather than leaning slightly to one side because it didn’t look right on camera. I was embarrassed like hell but my fellow Resistance fighters were like, he spoke your name! What an honour to have J.J. Abrams actually speak to you!
Star Wars VIII is currently filming and Rogue One will be released in December. Will we see you in one of these movies (or in both)?
No, I was not involved with Rogue One. “They have contacted me to be involved in Star Wars VIII, but of course, I can’t disclose much about that now. Plus I don’t know anything . . . It’s really on a “Need to Know ” basis, even for some cast members and walk-on actors like myself. ”
Besides Star Wars you have acted in a lot of popular movies and series: SPECTRE, Blade, Babylon 5… what is your own personal favorite of all the things you’ve been in?
I really enjoyed working on Blade. That’s the most memorable for me. We filmed most of the vampire scenes in the San Fernando Valley in an abandoned factory building. Each day we had to walk through a huge “shower” and get covered in artificial blood before filming. That was after getting our vampire fangs fitted and special shoes. Each day we had new shoes and new clothes as well because they were ruined by the fake blood and impossible to clean it off. Every day after filming we had to take a shower before leaving (obviously).
Since I do some martial arts, and the director liked my look, I was upgraded to do a fight scene with Wesley Snipes. Since I had to work with the fight choreographer, I was invited to go behind the factory where Wesley’s trailer was. They had built a mini-outdoor gym on the side and so Wesley told me I could pump a little iron if I wanted. So that was cool.
Unfortunately, the entire fight scene that I am in with Wesley did not make it to the final edit. But it was really cool to have done it anyway.
I read you once helped Arnold Schwarzenegger move his furniture out of his house. I just have to ask: how did you get into a situation like that? Helping out ‘The Governator’?
It’s an amazing story really. As anyone that knows me can tell you, I am a huge fan of everything Terminator, so when I first met Arnie on the set of Batman and Robin in 1997 on the Universal Studios lot when he was Mr. Freeze and I was a Gotham City wealthy patron, I was very pleased to say the least. He was full on in his outfit and stepped out to have a puff on a cigar. I had “seen” him a few times since I lived in Venice Beach and joined Gold’s Gym on Muscle Beach where he used to pump iron out in the open Californian air. He passed by there every so often. He also owned a restaurant and Austrian beer house in Santa Monica called “Schatzi’s” where I used to frequent. So I had seen him a few times, but never met him until on set.
In addition to doing the acting thing, I was also an event and party manager at a VIP party service to the stars based in Beverly Hills called The Party Staff. They regularly sent me out to great locations such as The Playboy Mansion and other residences in Beverly Hills. On one occasion, I was assigned to Arnie’s house to manage one of his many charity events he was putting on. So that’s how I ended up in his Beverly Hills mansion moving furniture with him. It wasn’t a lot of furniture or big stuff. Just a few tables in the den. He asked me to help him move them out so that when the guests arrived, they wouldn’t be tripping over things and more space would be available for guests to congregate in the den if they so desired.
My final question: Could you say something in Dutch to all the Dutch Star Wars fans out there?
I am honoured to be a global citizen of the world and to represent the Netherlands in such an iconic movie as Star Wars! As a teenager, I was scolded once by my science teacher in school that I was a “dreamer” and was told on multiple other occasions to stop looking out the window and daydreaming. The creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, was in fact a dreamer. The creative team that Lucas initially set up in the summer of 1977 got together to “dream” of the worlds that Lucas had created to help bring the movie to life. So if I can say just one thing, that’d be “STOP NOOIT MET DROMEN!” (“NEVER STOP DREAMING!”)
That’s a great advice! Dankjewel voor het interview en hopelijk tot ziens in Star Wars VIII!
Special thanks to Sci-Fi signers united!
Exclusief interview met Michael Pennington (Moff Jerjerrod)
In Return of the Jedi maakten we kennis met een nieuwe Imperial: Moff Jerjerrod, die de ondankbare taak had te zorgen dat de tweede Death Star op tijd af was. Jerjerrod werd gespeeld door de Britse acteur Michael Pennington die toen al een enorme staat van dienst had als het om theaterwerk ging. Nu, 37 jaar na dato, mag hij zich een ware expert noemen als het om Shakespeare gaat aangezien hij naast het acteren in diens toneelstukken ook mede-oprichter is van de English Shakespeare Company. Afgelopen december had ik tijdens de EchoBaseCon het volgende interview met hem voor StarWarsInterviews.com en volgens traditie is het ook hier te lezen.
How did you get cast for Return of the Jedi?
Well, it’s a sort of half funny story, which is that because most of my work up to that point and subsequently has been in the theater and I was with the Royal Shakespeare Company from the mid 1970’s to 1981 or 1982. I had just had the great good fortune playing Hamlet for them and when you play a part of that kind there are people who say to you, oh, my goodness, what are you going to do next? What’s going to be the next great mountain you’re going to climb. What’s it going to be? The first thing I was offered was three days on Star Wars. This new Star Wars movie I didn’t know anything about, Return of the Jedi. It sounded like fun and easy. I only did three days on the film. So I’m really here at this convention under false pretenses because that’s all I did. On the other hand, I enjoy this, the fact that the films have lasted so well that people still have such enthusiasm. But whether you go to Cincinnati, Utrecht, Birmingham or Minneapolis, wherever you go, there is always the same. And I love to be part of that. To be part of a convention is great. So I got to just in the normal way. My agent said they wanted me for three days and I decided to do it. I didn’t audition. I didn’t meet George Lucas till the days that I did. I didn’t meet the director. So it’s sort of funny, haphazard way in which work comes to actors.
Did you see the first two movies before you got cast?
No. By that time, I knew a little bit or I asked around. I did get them in when I knew I was going to do my first convention about 18 months ago. I thought, I’m going to sit and watch the whole thing. Unfortunately, at that time, I had a little bit trouble with my eyes, I had some infections and things like that. It was physically very difficult to watch. I did my best to look at my scene and was amazed at how short it was because they had cut a lot. So I wasn’t really prepared. But I did understand the story.
Well, my next question was going to be if you found a way to play Jerjerrod in a way that would differentiate him from the other imperial officers?
At that stage all I had was what he actually did. I mean, I saw what he was doing, what his job was. You could press, if you would think in a very naturalistic, realistic way, maybe he’s a trained engineer or maybe he’s some kind of intellectual. What is it? I mean, he’s given this is very unpalatable job of building a new Death Star, and he’s immediately bullied by Darth Vader because he’s not making enough progress. Well, like with any character, you work out what the character might be like. You don’t use everything you think of because there’s no point wondering whether Moff Jerjerrod had a family or children that I could imagine that he did or didn’t. I could see this was a man who was under pressure, was being bullied by an authority, was going to stand up for himself. He was fundamentally probably quite a decent guy compared to many of the people.
And then, of course, we shot an alternative ending to his story by suggesting that he might have been strangled by Vader and only came across that years and years later as everybody else did. Well, it’s a pity that wasn’t it? In a way. But you get used to these things and you just go do the job and leave. The great Star Wars family is something I’ve never really been part of. I dipped in and out of it so quickly, I couldn’t really say anything authoritative about the entire sequence.
Although it was just three days, can you remember any remarkable, unique, funny things that happened on the set?
I had the privilege of working with Dave Prowse, Darth Vader. It was a curious job for Dave who because after all, not an inch of his body was visible. He was locked away by Darth Vader’s shellac suit and in the end, his voice was going to be redoubled by the American actor James Earl Jones who had a particularly good timbre, voice for the part. I’ve often thought that was a bit tough for Dave, but I think he’d accumulated so much popularity is that because he has been in each and every film. He was quite self-confident. Our biggest difficulty was executing a shot, which is pretty typical. A tricky thing to do cinematically, though not impossible at all, is to walk together, maintain the same speed, the same speed of speech, the same stride so the camera could remain on the same angle tracking with you. That’s not so easy to do. We managed that. Unfortunately, at the end of the first take, well indeed in each of them, we were supposed to swing out of the camera’s view. We approached the camera and just as we were going off vision, it seems that I trod on Darth Vader’s cloak which was rather long and stretched behind him on the ground. And he froze because that’s you do when your cloak is stepped on and he himself said “cut, he mustn’t stand on my cloak”. We became quite good friends, in fact, and I’m glad of it. But it was it was all so brief, there’s no other anecdotes.
What’s the biggest difference between acting in Star Wars and a Shakespeare play?
One’s a bit louder than the other normally. And that’s the Shakespeare play. It’s the same process. It’s exactly the same process. But of course, this is affected by the fact that usually in the theater you’re working and you’ve got to be audible and visible to somebody who’s hundred meters away. In the cinema the camera comes and looks at you. I’ve always loved movies; I’ve not done as many as I would wish to have done. But I have become quite experienced in terms of playing big theaters physically, which is quite a thing. But basically it is the same activity. After all, you could probably do a thesis about why Star Wars is Shakespearean. Somebody has probably written an academic paper about it. The camera will find you whatever you do, all you’ve got to do is think the right thoughts. Screen acting is no different technically from stage acting.
You have an amazing resume when it comes to theater work. Yet most people will always remember you for your role in Star Wars. How do you feel about this?
It makes me laugh. It’s completely fine. I am doing an interesting thing. Beginning next year, which in a way answers your previous question because I’m doing a production of The Tempest. I’m going to do it in a particularly small theater in London in which nobody is going to be more than about 20 meters away from the stage. It’s more a room than a theatre which has a capacity of about 80 people. I’m really looking forward to that, because as you kind of say, I’ve done an awful lot of these big things with big parts. I’m now going to do something in a room that’s no bigger than the one we’re sitting in now. I’d love to see if I can combine my fifty-five years of experience with what I know to be necessary to be truthful in acting.
Of all the parts you have played, what is your personal favorite?
I feel it does go back to Shakespeare. Hamlet, of course. But then I was the right age to play, which I wouldn’t be now. I did that when I was in my mid-thirties in Stratford. I did it for two years. Not every night because you play in repertoire, but they’re like an opera season. You do maybe two or three performances a week and then you have two weeks off. So it was not as exhausting as it might been. I’ve recently, by which I mean in the last five or six years, done King Lear twice. Once in New York with an American company in 2014 and then in 2016 I did a big tour in the U.K. in a new play, a different production of King Lear. I’ve played that twice, which is very unusual. You normally only get one chance at those parts because there’s so many other people waiting to play them, but I got lucky with that. I was able to improve the performance the second time and I’m very happy with that.
Back to Star Wars, a franchise that is still relevant. Did you expect this back in 1983?
No, I’m not sure that many people do. I think George Lucas and I guess others did. But I thought nothing of it. I knew it vaguely as I said. It didn’t strike me as something that would necessarily last for a lifetime. For a lot of people, of course, it has. Look around at the convention today, several people who were not born when it came out. But it’s been brilliantly handled as a phenomenon in terms of the days of releases of all the films, the conventions, the whole. As a phenomenon it is extraordinary. It should get Oscars not only for the films, but for the production, the technique. How to handle an audience of a long period time so they don’t go away from you.
Have you kept up with the recent releases?
Truthfully, for a long time, I thought the focus had probably shifted away. Of course, there’s a difference between those first half dozen and the later ones. I sort of lost interest and that’s no reflection on them but probably reflection on me. But I will go and see the new one now, because since the last one came out, I’ve done six or eight of these conventions and I’ve enjoyed them all, fantastic to meet the fans. So to return a compliment I will go and look at the new film. So the next time I’m asked the question by someone like yourself, I’ll have a proper answer for you.
If you have to describe your Star Wars experience in one word or one sentence, what would it be?
At the time it was ordinary. I couldn’t say more than that. My experience in retrospect now is actually quite intense pride because I see that without knowing I’ve entered an enormous extended family. I meet old colleagues who I haven’t seen since that time. I’m very pleased to be part of it and to know that those three days seem to have borne fruit so widely, so universally, I suppose I can say that.
Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews
Exclusief interview met John Celestri (animator – Star Wars Holiday Special)
In November 1978 verscheen een van de meest beruchte Star Wars producties ooit: de Holiday Special. Wat men ook over de zingende Leia, Chewbacca’s familie en het optreden van Jefferson Starship te zeggen heeft: de algehele mening is dat het animatiesegment absoluut de moeite waard was, mede omdat het de eerste kennismaking met fan favoriet Boba Fett was.
De man verantwoordelijk voor het animeren van Fett was John Celestri, die inmiddels al meer dan 40 jaar in het vak zit. Eerder deze maand sprak ik hem voor mijn site StarWarsInterviews.com en keken we terug op zijn lange loopbaan. Traditiegetrouw is het ook hier op StarWarsAwakens te lezen!
Over the last four decades you have worked in the animation business. How did you get started?
I’m basically a self-taught animator. I have always enjoyed being a cartoonist, telling stories, and performing. But my parents wanted me to pursue more practical occupations. As scholastic aptitude tests scored me extremely high in the areas of math, verbal comprehension, and abstract reasoning, my more artistic interests remained hobbies as I progressed through my high school and early college years trying to find a field of study that would provide me with an occupation. It wasn’t until I reached my early twenties that I discovered I had a natural ability to animate. I quickly learned that the field of animation encompassed use of both my academic and artistic talents. I became passionate about animating. Back in the early 1970s, there were few books on how to animate and fewer schools that taught animation. In New York City, where I grew up, the School of Visual Arts had a six-week, one night class-a-week, summer course, taught by a former Terrytoons Studio layout/storyboard artist. So I took that. I poured myself into my class project and by the end of the third week had shot my first pencil test reel on the school’s Oxberry camera stand. With my instructor’s recommendation in hand, I showed that 60 second pencil test to every studio in New York City I could. It’s a good thing I loved animating, because job openings were nonexistent and it took me twelve months to get my first freelance gig as an assistant animator on a couple of Hostess Twinkie commercials. But at the age of 25, I gave myself 5 years to see noticeable progress before going in some other direction. I even sent my portfolio to the Disney studio, receiving an encouraging letter but no job offer. However, six months after that letter arrived, I was hired in 1975 at the New York Institute of Technology as an inbetweener to work on the independently produced feature Tubby the Tuba. There I met and worked under the master Popeye and Max Fleischer Studio animators Johnny Gentilella and Marty Taras. During the 14 months I worked on that feature, I developed my skills into a Cleanup Assistant Animator, becoming Supervisor of the Inbetweener Department.
In 1978 you animated Boba Fett for the Star Wars Holiday Special. How did you get to work on this legendary TV show and was your initial reaction after hearing you got to work on an animated Star Wars segment?
I just happened to be animating at Nelvana Studies when the production started. I very much enjoyed seeing the first Star Wars film when it came out in the summer of 1977. I had watched reruns of the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials on TV back in the early 1960s, and knew first-hand Lucas’ movie references. It was a ton of fun watching cutting-edge effects being layered over a classic storyline. So, I was excited to get a chance to work on a non-Saturday morning animated adventure. I knew we didn’t have the budget to produce the quality of the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, but we could give it our best shot! Villains are ALWAYS the most fun to animate. I was originally cast to animate the Devil in The Devil & Daniel Mouse and animated several scenes of that character but I had to switch over to Daniel Mouse because that animator drawing him dropped out of the production; so, I made sure the Nelvana producers made up for it. I jumped at the chance to animate what we at the studio thought would be a major villain in the sequel.
The animated segment of The Holiday Special is considered to be the best part. What is your own opinion about the Holiday Special?
I eagerly awaited the original TV broadcast of the show. Honestly, after watching the first 15 minutes of the live action, I was worried that all the viewers would switch channels before our animated segment which was the best part of the show had a chance to be seen.
The Holiday Special was the first time the general public saw Boba Fett. What kind of instructions did you get from Lucasfilm regarding his creation?
It was George Lucas who requested that the studio I worked for design the look of the cartoon in the style of French artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, whose work could be seen in Heavy Metal magazine. That direction and a black-and-white home movie showing a person wearing Boba Fett’s prototype costume were basically all the cues we had to work with. All the color models and basic designs had to be okayed by Lucas before production of the cartoon proceeded. Regarding the animation itself, the biggest challenge was how to give a performance without facial expressions. I had to use hand gestures and body attitude. Not so broadly as a pantomime artist, but with economy of movement. I approached playing Boba Fett as a Clint Eastwood-style character in a spaghetti western, with mannerisms expressing a sense of extreme self-confidence. I used macho posing, tossed his rifle across his body from one hand to the other. In one particular scene, I had Boba adjust the fingers of his glove before gesturing with his hand. I timed tilting Boba’s helmeted head to go up and down, side to side to change the arc of the helmet’s rigid eye-opening to reflect the tone of his dialogue delivery. All of these were some of my touches.
In the mid 80’s Nelvana produced two other Star Wars animated shows: Droids and Ewoks. Why didn’t you work on those shows?
By then, I had left Nelvana Studios and was animating for other studios.
Right now Mandalorians are in the spotlight again thanks to The Mandalorian TV series. Have you, being a “Mandalorian Godfather”, seen it?
I don’t subscribe to any of the Disney cable channels, so I haven’t see The Mandalorian TV series.
How do you look back at your Star Wars Legacy?
Actually, I feel quite proud that the animation stands on its own as being the seed that helped grow the character of Boba Fett. Fact is, the Nelvana Studio staff was very young and inexperienced, myself included. I had been in the animation business a mere three years and had been a professional animator for only a year and a half when I did that animation. What it lacks in finesse is made up for with energy and commitment to doing my best and then it was the only performance associated with Boba until The Empire Strikes Back. I was extremely disappointed that the live-action Boba had so little screen time in Empire. Truth be told, I wish the animated sequence in The Holiday Special was officially acknowledged as being part of the Star Wars “Canon”, but that’s not my call.
You currently have an Indiegogo campaign where fans can get a hand drawn Boba Fett sketch. Sounds great! Can you share some information?
I have been a classical 2D pencil-on-paper animator for 45 years. I have always enjoyed capturing quirky personalities with my pencil; and now I want to share some of my favorite character drawings by presenting more than 80 of them in a large-sized 80-page 8.3 x 11.7 inch landscape portfolio, but I need your help to get the funding to lay out and print the book.
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Exclusief interview met Warren Fu (Visual Effects Art Director)
(Image credit: Partizan)
Wat hebben General Grievous en deze videoclip met elkaar te maken? Het antwoord is Warren Fu, die gedurende zijn tijd als Art Director bij ILM de befaamde cyborg ontworp en in 2013 de clip van Daft Punk’s Get Lucky regisseerde. Fu’s carrière startte ooit bij Industrial Light & Magic en in de jaren na zijn vertrek heeft hij zich opgewerkt tot een gerenommeerd regisseur van muziekvideos. Naast Daft Punk heeft hij ook met The Kooks, Depeche Mode, The Killers, E.L.O. en Snoop Dogg gewerkt. Een bijzondere loopbaan, dus reden genoeg om hem te interviewen voor mijn site StarWarsInterviews.com! Zoals gebruikelijk is het interview ook hier te lezen.
How did you join ILM and became one of the artists to work on Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith?
I studied business and economics at UC Berkeley, but I somehow managed to get an internship at ILM with some drawings I had done on the side as a hobby. Within a few intense and dedicated years of practice, I worked my way up from making photocopies and cleaning people’s monitors to being a VFX art director at ILM. By the time Attack of the Clones was in pre-production, I submitted my artwork to Doug Chiang and I got into the concept art team at Skywalker Ranch. I felt honored when I got the call to return to The Ranch for Revenge of the Sith.
Your biggest contribution to the Star Wars saga was the creation of General Grievous. What were your influences?
My main inspiration for tone and attitude was Michael Meyers from Halloween although the final character in the movie didn’t act like that. If you study the face, you can find a few other influences: The Crow, Shrunken Heads (in the mouth) and the some shapes stolen from the Desert Skiff.
You once said you preferred working on the MagnaGuards over Grievous. Why was that?
The MagnaGuards turned out closer to how I envisioned them. I pictured Grievous being a silent but deadly character that spoke through its intimidating presence so I was a bit surprised to see how animated and talkative he turned out. But at the end of the day, my work as a conceptual designer was in service of greater story so it doesn’t matter how I envisioned him, I’m just happy I was able to contribute the design to this great universe. I’m actually pleased to see that he’s still a prominent character in the universe. It’s pretty surreal to think that he’ll be around longer than I will.
I read that in the workplace you were known for your dry sense of humor. Do you have good anecdotes?
If you work or hang out with me for an extended period of time you’re gonna have impressions done of you, usually behind your back. I enjoy making fun of others because I have a low self-esteem and I need this to make myself feel better about… myself. For some reason, the people that enjoy the impressions the most are almost never the person I’m doing the impression of. In retaliation, that impersonated person will do an impression of me and then I won’t like it because I’m sensitive and what’s called “a terrible sport.” It’s a vicious cycle.
You wrote and drew a comic, called Eyes of Revolution, where you used your own face for Jedi Master Sifo Dyas. A clever way of becoming a part of the Star Wars lore! What made you do this?
I helped create Grievous, so in a way, he’s a part of me. In the story, Sifo Dyas’s blood is infused into Grievous’s body, which makes him his parent by blood in a weird way. So putting myself in there as Sifo Dyas was a way for me to say to Grievous: “Who’s your daddy?!” I actually didn’t think anyone would catch that easter egg because I thought it was pretty subtle.
What inspired you to make the comic?
It was a rare opportunity to tell our own stories. For the entire process of being a part of the Skywalker Ranch art department we were in service of George’s story. So when the idea for the graphic novel came about we were all pretty excited to hear that George gave us his blessing to tell our own stories in the universe he created.
This was right after we had finished work on Revenge of the Sith, so the creation of Grievous was fresh on my mind. And because I knew they wouldn’t have time in the film to tell the character’s backstory, I felt the urge to do that.
Why did you leave ILM and Lucasfilm?
I love concept design, but I always felt that it was fulfilling only a part of who I am. I love music, acting, drama, comedy, choreography, cinematography, sound design and storytelling, so many things outside the realm of concept art. Directing my own projects allows me to combine all of my favorite arts into one singular artform. I had directed a commercial for Aaliyah when I was an employee at ILM and I caught the directing bug after that.
You’re currently a music video director and you’ve worked with big bands like ELO, Daft Punk and Depeche Mode. That’s quite a change of a career! What made you do this?
The collaborative spirit of filmmaking is where I feel most at home. It’s the most challenging art I’ve ever done, but I have this burning desire to tell stories and create experiences, so it almost feels like I have to do it.
Do you miss working on new Star Wars projects?
Of course! If I were to work on anything Star Wars in the future, I would prefer it to be as a live action director. I would love the opportunity to direct an episode of the TV shows like The Mandalorian or the upcoming Obi-Wan series. Ahem, hi Kathleen Kennedy!
How do you look back on your time at ILM/Lucasfilm?
The greatest learning experience anyone could ask for. I got to collaborate with some of the most talented people on the planet, and created strong bonds and friendships that have lasted over 20 years now. I feel so lucky and honored to have been part of that group. I went back to visit a few weeks ago for the employee screening of Rise of Skywalker, and it felt so good to be back and see everyone making magic still.
Looking at the future: what are your current and upcoming projects?
Slowly shifting away from music related projects and into more narrative storytelling, hopefully in TV and films. I wouldn’t mind getting into a bit of music creation and composition for my own film projects.
(Image credit header: Partizan)
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Exclusief interview met Henning Ludvigsen
Iedereen die Fantasy Flight Games bord- en kaartspellen als Imperial Assault, Legion of Star Wars: The Card Game ooit heeft gespeeld is bekend met het werk van Henning Ludvigsen. Voor deze (en nog tientallen andere spellen) heeft hij illustraties verzorgd. Zo zijn bijvoorbeeld de bordstukken van Imperial Assault door hem ontworpen. Speciaal voor deze site was hij bereid enkele vragen te beantwoorden!
How and when did you become a Star Wars fan?
I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I was born in 1975, and even though I was too young to see A New Hope at the movies, I did watch The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi at the movie theatres. I remember other kids crying when Han Solo got frozen in Carbonite. I can’t remember not being a fan or having Star Wars being a huge part of my life. I had a bunch of toys, and I’ve played tons of SW games, read the comics, and collected memorabilia throughout the decades. I’ve never outgrown it, and probably never will.
What inspired you to become an artist/illustrator?
It was never any doubt. As a kid I was always the artsy one, and it was probably the one thing I was decent at, so I decided early on to work in the artistic field. I took the leap after middle school and took a two year traditional art education before starting working as a graphic designer and illustrator in the advertisement industry at the age of 18. About 10 years later I moved on to the computer games and board games industry.
You did the artwork for various Star Wars games from Fantasy Flight Games. How did you get this job? Did FFG ask you?
I’ve had the pleasure of working on a variety of Star Wars games for FFG; Star Wars – Imperial Assault, Star Wars – The Card game, Star Wars – Legion, Star Wars – Age of Rebellion, and probably some that I’ve forgotten about at the moment.
It all started out with creating basic character illustrations for Call of Chtulhu – the card game and Game of Thrones – the card game, and moved quickly over to boardgames. Since then I’ve made many games for FFG and other clients, and they kept throwing amazing projects at me, and I did my best to keep up with the workload and deliver as well as I could. I’ve never had to do anything special to get my board game gigs, they all seem to land in my lap, which is what happened to all the Star Wars projects as well.
What information do you get from FFG before you start creating the artwork for a new Star Wars expansion?
Luckily, I’m very familiar with the Star Wars universe, but I always got plenty of information enough to cover my understanding and get me going. It’s usually enough with a simple description on the setting of the game, or expansion, and then a set of very basic doodles or schematics of the tiles simply showing what’s important for gameplay purposes. They usually come with a short sentence on the tile if the designers have something specific in mind that they need to have included.
What are the boundaries of the creative freedom you have?
The only boundaries are the already established lay-outs and mechanics of the tiles that I need to make my art work with. However, I see this more of a challenge than boundaries. If I need to create a known location from the movies, for instance the Cantina from Mos Eisley, but the lay-out of the tile doesn’t match up 100% realistically, it’s fun to find solutions on how to still make the location familiar to the true fans of the movies.
Are there specific Star Wars reference guides or books you use creating your art and scenery tiles?
I’m mostly using the internet to search for references, simply due to time and that it’s easier to get references to very specific things or elements that I’m looking for. I have also found myself pausing the movies and screenshotting frames when I’m having a hard time finding something specific for reference.
Can we see new Imperial Assault tiles you designed in the near future?
I honestly don’t know. It’s been a while since I did the last set, and it’s also been a while since I’ve worked with Fantasy Flight Games in general. I truly hope they do contact me again as I really love working with them.
Of all the Star Wars creations you made: which one is your favorite?
It’s hard to say, and I’m rarely happy with my final work. However, I’m proud of the work I’ve done on Imperial Assault due to the amount of tiles done, but I also very much enjoyed working on the card game illustrations.
Do you actually play the Star Wars games yourself?
I have never played any of the Star Wars games I’ve worked on, unfortunately. This all comes down to time, or lack thereof. I’ve made over 250 board games, and I’ve probably only played 5 or 6 of them, ever.
What are your current (Star Wars) projects?
I don’t have any current Star Wars projects, unfortunately. But I do get to work on tons and tons of other IP’s that I’ve been a huge fan of from when I was a kid. I keep finding myself grinning and pinching my arm in excitement from being lucky enough to get the chance to work on these things.
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