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Exclusief interview met Nick Laws (productie assistent – The Empire Strikes Back)

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Voor velen was Star Wars het begin van een succesvolle carrière. Richard Armitage, Keira Knightley en Carrie Fisher zijn slechts enkele voorbeelden. In dit rijtje past ook de naam van Nick Laws, die als 20-jarige als productie-assistent betrokken was bij The Empire Strikes Back. In de jaren die volgden werkte hij o.a. als assistent-regisseur aan de Young Indiana Jones Chronicles en is hij tegenwoordig producent van Narcos: Mexico. Zoals zovelen voor hem deed hij voor mijn site StarWarsInterviews het volgende interview. Traditiegetrouw is het ook hier te lezen.


You were in your early twenties when you worked as a production runner for The Empire Strikes Back. How did you get this job?

I failed my exams to go to University so I thought I should try a ‘different’ career to what was normally considered when leaving school. A career that did not ask for exam qualifications! I became the ‘Post boy’ at 20th Century Fox in London…and worked in the mail room. During my time there, the Production Office for The Empire Strikes Back started their pre-production before moving to Elstree Studios. I delivered the mail to them! A few months later when they were at Elstree Studios, the General manager at 20th Century Fox received a call saying that the Production had ‘fired’ their runner and could I join them at Elstree Studios? I was allowed to leave and join the Empire Production Office.

Did you see A New Hope before you got the Empire job? If you did I bet it was a fantastic job for someone your age at that time?

I had seen A New Hope before joining 20th Century Fox but I had no idea how the film industry worked or what was involved to make the Production. It was an exciting prospect but I don’t think I fully realized how amazing an opportunity it really was! The prospect of working on it was a little frightening at first and I had to rent a small room to be near the studio.

What were your exact tasks as a production runner?

To go round to all the departments in the studio and deliver memos or information from the Production Office. I also made the tea and coffee and got the sandwiches for lunch!

I would then have to help with any photocopying of documents and call sheets. I would then take the call sheet to the Set for distribution. I would also help to get supplies for the actors dressing rooms when required.

Do you have any favorite anecdotes?

I remember the actors were always very friendly and joking, particularly Carrie. I was always in awe of them and most of the crew! I had my 21st birthday during filming and was given a huge birthday card signed by all the actors, crew (including George Lucas on a rare vist?!), Gary Kurtz, Irvin Kershner… I still have it! I was also given a set of Star Wars prints signed by Ralph McQuarrie. I always remember him being a very quiet and good man. The cast and crew also had a collection of money (£500) to enable me to buy a car (a Mini!) so that I could travel back home each day and move out of the local rented room! Amazing generosity!

Did you get to meet any of the principal actors or even George Lucas or Lawrence Kasdan?

I met all the actors as I sometimes had to pass on messages, but I never met George Lucas during The Empire Strikes Back. I met him briefly later when working on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. I was not aware of Lawrence Kasdan coming to the Production Office.

I bet almost no one knows that Luke’s bionic hand we see at the end of The Empire Strikes Back is actually your hand. I am sure there’s a good story attached to this.

I was working in the Production office, when one of the Assistant Directors came in to say that they were looking for a ‘young, virginal hand’! I was recruited! I went to the 2nd Unit Stage for the rest of the morning and the false forearm was attached and a number of takes were filmed. It was fun being out of the office. Strangely, the ‘fame’ of Luke’s hand has grown more in recent years than at the time!

After Star Wars you worked on some real classic movies like The Dark Crystal and Superman III as an assistant director. You were still in your twenties back then. What were your experiences on these movies?

The Dark Crystal was not a great experience for me. I was still very inexperienced as an Assistant Director and lacked confidence in what I was doing. I was looking after the actors and performers as they developed movements for the various creatures. I would have preferred to be on the set… but I did not have enough experience at the time.

Later, I worked on the Flying Unit of Superman II at Pinewood Studios. It was not a job I was particularly looking forward to, but it turned out to be really enjoyable with a good crew! The flying ‘technology’ was very secret at the time!

In the mid 90’s you worked on the Lucasfilm TV series Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, again as an assistant director for several episodes. Did they remember you from Empire? How do you look back at this groundbreaking TV series?

No… there was no connection to The Empire Strikes Back. I think `I got the job more on the basis of having worked in various foreign countries and I had just finished working on a film in war torn Mozambique called A child from the South. The Young Indy series was groundbreaking in so many ways. Even now, I am amazed how much we achieved with a very small crew, often filming in remote locations, without the use of mobile phones or email! The producer Rick McCallum took so many bold, innovative decisions and it’s amazing what was achieved. He and George Lucas wanted to get away from the Feature film ‘circus’ of a big crew and wanted to do it with a small ‘guerrilla’ team going in to each country using local crew and resources. I worked on episodes in Spain, Italy, Kenya, Turkey and what was then Czechoslovakia.

Even now on productions, I try to think of how a production can work more simply and efficiently?! That is the legacy of Young Indy. In the beginning it was fun, and we worked really hard in amazing locations and situations.

Your career spans over 4 decades. What are you most proud of, and what was your favorite project?

So many memories and experiences to consider!

I am proud of having worked on The Empire Strikes Back as a piece of cinema History! I am also proud of having worked with one of the greatest directors, David Lean on A Passage to India. I have been lucky to work with some great assistant directors like Gary White, Guy Travers, Patrick Cadell, who helped me in my career, and showed by their example how to treat everyone with respect and courtesy. I had an amazing experience working on a film in the Himalayas, Ladakh, called Samsara. The film was in Tibetan and it also gave me the brief opportunity to direct Tibetan monks in the opening scene!  I have enjoyed working in harsh environments; The Claim and Touching the void, but some of my best experiences have been in rural areas of Africa dealing with local villagers in Nigeria and Kenya!

Working with Sally Potter on a film called Yes was a great experience in so many ways. We filmed in London, Belfast, Beirut, Dominican Republic and Cuba on a really low budget and wages!

The Constant Gardener in Kenya was a life changing film for me and my Family. My two young sons and my wife travelled with me, and as the boys were in a local school in Nairobi, my wife had the opportunity to learn to fly. After getting her pilot’s license we decided to travel onwards to South Africa for her to take a commercial pilot’s course. We went for a one year family adventure…but have remained in South Africa for the past 15 years! My wife is now working as a police helicopter pilot!

I am currently working on the Netflix series Narcos – Mexico which is an enjoyable challenge!

From a career point of view, I am proud of having been a producer on the British feature film Fish Tank which was directed by Andrea Arnold.


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Geboren toen de opnames van A New Hope van start gingen. Voormalig assistent van Anthony Daniels. Auteur van de 'Star Wars Interviews' boekenreeks waarvoor hij 180+ 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 Warren Fu (Visual Effects Art Director)

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(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.

Copyright: Lucasfilm

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.

Copyright: Dark Horse Comics / Marvel

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

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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.

Mos Eisley Cantina tile van Imperial Assault

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.

Carbon freeze tile van Imperial Assault

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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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Jude S. Walko (Bounty hunter)

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Regisseur, acteur, producer, schrijver… en bounty hunter. De in Amerika geboren Jude S. Walko is het allemaal. In zijn inmiddels lange carrière was hij te zien in de Power Rangers, produceerde hij de horror/fantasy film SiREN en regisseerde hij The Incantation. In 2019 was hij te zien in aflevering 3 van The Mandalorian als bounty hunter die het op Din Djarin heeft gemunt. Eerder deze maand had ik contact met Jude en deed hij voor mijn website StarWarsInterviews.com het volgende interview, dat zoals altijd ook hier te lezen is!


How did you get started in the movie business?

I started out primarily as an actor, in the early 90s, but it’s hard to maintain a career as a working actor, so then I started working on film sets, additionally, as a Production Assistant. I eventually worked my way up to Coordinator, Supervisor and finally Producer. Now I am a member of The Producer’s Council of the Producer’s Guild of America and still remain a SAG actor.

How did you get cast for The Mandalorian?

I was in the right place at the right time. I got a call to check my availability when I happened to be in Los Angeles, which eventually led to a fitting and a role. They contacted me again when I was in Boston, but unfortunately the timing didn’t work out. Maybe I can get a spot somewhere in season 2.

In The Mandalorian you play a bounty hunter. How did you get this specific part assigned?

They liked my long beard and unique look, so decided to keep me as one of the Human Bounty Hunters. That was great because unlike people that spent hours in prosthetics, my make-up was relatively easy. I had the added bonus of people being able to recognize my face on screen, unlike many of the actors who were buried in a ton of Make-Up FX.

Were you a big Star Wars fan before you got cast?

I have a very unique relationship with Star Wars. I was 6 years old when I watched the first one in a theatre in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia with my big brother. I thought everything was really happening in space, as I was too young to know any different. Back then, some of the actors would tour with movie props and Mark Hamill visited our town. Somewhere I have a polaroid of me sitting in a mini X-wing fighter they used for some cockpit scenes. It was towed on a trailer by a pick-up truck. They also shot parts of The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia in our town, which starred Mark Hamill and Kristy McNichol not long after. I credit that experience, and the resultant fanfare, for giving me the bug to pursue a career in the film industry. Once I got older and realized they were movies, I fell in love with the process. I don’t consider myself a fan in the classic sense, as much as I do it actually being a part of my personal story. Luckily this story continues with The Mandalorian.

How did the shooting of your scenes go? 

Fantastic. I have been on nearly 100 film sets in all sorts of capacities for over nearly three decades, and I have to say it was one of the most professional sets I have been on. The average age of the crew on the sets was probably closer to my generation. Nothing against the younger professionals, but it just demonstrated to me that they had chosen a lot of seasoned veterans of the industry, because they wanted everything perfect.

You were directed by Deborah Chow, who will be directing all episodes of the upcoming Obi-Wan series. Do you think she’s a good choice?

Deborah was amazing. I would love to see more directors like her, especially being female and a minority. On a production that big, there are a lot of people and many things going on at once. Deborah had a very cool head and commanded a great deal of respect from the executives, actors and technicians. Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni were also there, in a creative capacity, and you could see how she managed to consider their notes in stride, all why commanding the set. She had the added pressure of having George Lucas on set one of the days I was there, and it was nice to see her shine in her element. I also would like to add that she had a predominantly female AD team, which were an extreme joy to work with.

Did any weird or funny things happen on or off the set?

Yes! As I mentioned I had less make-up time than others. So, one day, October 19, 2018 to be exact, I was out of the chair earlier than expected. The ADs told me to go wait on the set and relax. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was Jon Favreau’s birthday. So, I go on to the set, which was essentially the bar set you see in the series. Lo and behold, none other than George Lucas was there with a bottle of wine for Jon. It was just the three of us. I politely asked if I should leave, and they invited me to remain on set. It was a nice serendipitous moment. The crew eventually sang Happy Birthday, with a cake, to Jon after call, and George stuck around most of the morning.

What is the best memory you have regarding The Mandalorian?

I guess seeing all the amazing production value that was there. We had playing cards, money and drinks in the bar all with excruciating, Star Wars-specific detail. I had a gun that looked very much like Han Solo’s in the original series, and had the full weight of a real weapon. I kept it low slung like an old western gunslinger. There were droids and Jawas running around and a landspeeder. It was amazing to be surrounded by this universe that I had grown up in as a kid and had become the cultural juggernaut it has. In addition, it was great to see all the stars come out. Taika Waititi, Carl Weathers, Gina Carano and Bryce Dallas Howard were all there when I was as well as Pedro Pascal. Also Gina Rodriguez said hello to me one morning, as she was shooting next door.

I read that you’re currently working on an animated feature based on your life and experiences in Thailand. Could you tell something about this project?

Animation has always been a passion of mine. I’m a huge stop-motion fan from the Ray Harryhausen days, right up to contemporaries like Tim Burton, Henry Selick and the Chiodo Brothers. I’m also a lover of all things Disney, Pixar and Laika and have been a professional member of ASIFA-Hollywood for as long as I can remember. So cut to Thailand. I have lived there for over 20 years and have a wife and two children there. This project, Jaoshu Mai?! was a chance to combine two of my loves. At one point I had trademarked the term Thailanime and we did an animatic for the project with the help of Anthony Conley of Neopets fame. It’s still in development, like a lot of my projects, but ideally, I will definitely direct some animation projects someday.

Jude S. Walko op de set van The Incantation

You have worked on various movies in all kinds of ways: as an actor, director, producer. Which movie is your favorite and are you most proud of?

Well I wrote, acted in, and directed The Incantation. We shot it in France in a castle and under the catacombs, and I called in a favor from the very generous Dean Cain. It was hard and mostly privately financed, so there were are a lot of challenges. However, my producing partner Dan Campbell, of Blue Falcon Productions, and myself, pulled ourselves up from out bootstraps, as the saying goes, and pulled it off. I will never probably never be as grateful to a cast and crew as I was on that one, as it was my directorial debut. Please be sure to check it out on Amazon Prime or iTunes and always support Indie Film. Do it for the little guy. I also directed a film called Shark Island that is currently in post-production, so be on the lookout for that.

Any chance we’ll be seeing you doing conventions soon?

I would definitely be down for it, but don’t really feel I am a big enough part of the universe to warrant that. Maybe someday I will have a greater role in that community and would love to participate more. Never say never. Thanks so much for the opportunity to share my story!


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Exclusief interview met Lorne Peterson (Industrial Light & Magic)

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Hij werkte aan de eerste zes Star Wars films, was één van de originele leden toen Industrial Light & Magic werd opgericht én won een Oscar voor Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Ik heb het natuurlijk over special effects legende Lorne Peterson, die decennia lang aan de grootste films werkte: zo staan onder andere E.T., Ghostbusters en Jurassic Park op zijn c.v. Afgelopen december had ik tijdens de EchoBaseCon het volgende interview met hem.


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

I was only hired for two months and I knew a lot from industrial design. It was a wonderful experience; we all became friends. I was only twenty-nine years old the day I started, and a lot of us had gone to the same colleges. Some of us knew each other from one college or another and friends were brought together. So, it was it was very much like to be almost in college art department but with more money. Way more money.

You are also featured as Rebel in the Yavin 4 scene. What are your memories from the filming of these scenes?

Well, you know, that it wasn’t supposed to be me originally. There were just natives in Guatemala and one of them was going to be the tower. But he was too stiff. You know, he wasn’t a good actor. Not that I’m a great actor. (Laughs) I was of the three of us who went down to Guatemala the only one that didn’t have children. I wasn’t married, no children. So, I volunteered to work on the tower. You know, we only had three wires down now, and you have to stay really still for a while. Let it go so it wouldn’t go like this. (makes a waving gesture) I’d spend for hours and hours up there waiting for the sun to be just right, in the costume and with the helmet. It was a fun adventure. It was a little bit like Indiana Jones. We flew into Guatemala and then they put us on a military airplane, the DC-3. No pain at all. It had the seats and instead of sitting like this you sat against the side of the window. The seats were just made out of scraps of fabric, so there were bags of stuff on the inside. They were transported into the jungle. It was not a commercial flight, but it was a fun.

George Lucas had spent a lot of his budget on effects, but it took quite some time before ILM had produced an effect that was usable. I read that at one moment the pressure became really high. How did you experience this?

Yeah, it was very high. You know, when he came back from England, we’d hope that there were more of those special effects done than there were. The reason that a lot of it wasn’t done yet was we were still building the equipment, the cameras and the rudimentary computers that were used at the time. So they were actually built on the premises and so there were two shots that we did right at the beginning to show George that they were possible to do without going through a lot of optical processes and that was the detail of the gun firings, the large gun like this firing on the Death Star. And then the other one was the drop of the escape pod with R2-D2 and C-3PO. They showed me a sketch of it and they said I needed to make the model quick. So I made it in a week.

After the huge success of Star Wars, the expectations for the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, must have been big. Was this the case and can you tell something about your experiences when ILM was suddenly becoming THE effects company?

Well, it was pretty unusual because we didn’t expect it to happen. There was no expectation that it would become a blockbuster. My partner and I and the people at ILM, we rented the equipment back from George Lucas and did Battlestar Galactica. George wasn’t really happy about that, doing a film that was a little bit similar to Star Wars. But we had to make money, but then Star Wars did make a lot of money. So then George Lucas asked six of us to move up north to start over again in an empty warehouse and so that’s what we did. We went up, there weren’t even walls inside the building. We laid out two by fours like where we wanted the rooms instead of doing a drawing. We just basically took a bunch of two by fours and made different rooms in the hallway and then had the carpenter start to build after that.

Ok, what is your favorite moment or memory regarding working on the Star Wars movies?

Yeah, well, that’s a little bit hard. There are so many memories over 40 some years. Like I said, I was only hired for two months and the reason I was stayed on longer was that because I work in industrial design, I knew of a material called Superglue. Now everybody can buy superglue but you could only get it industrially at the time. When I arrived, the first few days they were using a five-minute epoxy, which you had to keep mixing over and over again. So I took a pencil and I cantilevered it over the edge of the table, then put a little drop of superglue and then I moved my hand and it stayed there. Everyone asked how do you do that? I said, we have to get this stuff. It makes it much faster and stronger and better. So that’s the reason that they never said “well we only hired you for two months and you have to go”.

From the beginning you’ve worked closely with George Lucas. How would you describe him?

He’s maybe the contrast of Steven Spielberg. George is a really quiet, relatively quiet person and he certainly knows what he wants. But usually the set is set up that there isn’t as much activity. He’s concentrating on what exactly he wants. Spielberg is somebody who… activity can happen all around him and people with clipboards, telephones, telling you’re your mother or wife is calling. Do this, do that. And then he’s happy to do that. George Lucas is different. He would like more contemplating to himself what it should be.

How was it to work with Lucas?

Well, I use an example that when we were doing Empire, I had saved a bunch of questions for him about the models and he was coming to the model shop that day, so I wanted to ask him what he wanted on this model, what he wanted with that. I started asking the first question, and he stopped me. He said, well, that sounds like your job to me. It was like, that isn’t what he wants. You didn’t think of that as his job. He already hired me because he liked what I did and you do whatever you want. “I like whatever you want to show” is a real joy to work with. You didn’t feel he was micromanaging anything.

You have created a lot of models for the Star Wars movies. Which one stands out for you personally?

The Millennium Falcon was a real favorite because that was one of the first models I worked on. But then also Slave I because what had happened at that time, the model shop was getting bigger and bigger and I was having less time than I could actually put my hands on a model. When Slave I came along, I really liked the design of it. So I said, well, I’m going to split off and devote more of my personal time to working on it with two other people; Ease Owyoung and Samuel Zolltheis to do that particular model. I was really satisfied with the look of it.

Lorne Peterson en Ease Owyeung met het Slave I model.

Is there any model that when you look back, you’re thinking, well, I should have made different.

I never quite thought of it that way. Granted there are some ships that were in the distance, the fleet ships that were less important. It’s just like if it was going to be close to camera, I would have done more work on them. But they were far away from camera and it wasn’t as important.

You have been in the effects business for more than three decades. You have witnessed the evolution of effects, from models and stop-motion to CGI. What is your own opinion regarding this evolution and where will it go the next 10, 20 years?

I was very worried right at first and other people were worried that everybody kept hanging around and there were books like What color is your parachute or How to change your career? when CG first came along. But it didn’t work out that way. I mean, Dennis Muren said one time “I think the model shop has maybe two or three years left and that’s it”. That was 25 years ago so it actually worked really well. There was a real hand-in-glove relationship because they did opticals a lot better. They could combine images here and there seamlessly. Whereas in optical, it took a lot of work to get an almost perfect shot and the many times that bluescreen would show up around the edge and the mattes would show up, that kind of thing. So that worked really well. But it is true that CGI kept getting better and better. But it did kind of push the envelope even for the model shop, because the model shop, if you’re in the presentation they started doing bigger environmental models and with a lot of action involved in it. We were still doing really satisfying things. I’d say right now some films like Transformers are almost more just a cartoon. They don’t rely much on reality. But there are other films where they tried to be seamless, that it just doesn’t show at all. It’s pretty good. I still like the look of a model and a model shot, the atmosphere, the feeling that it’s actually there. Sometimes CG seems like a different world, that it just isn’t the same world that we live in. But it depends on how much time and money they spend on a shot.

What do you think of the effects of the new modern Star Wars movies?

I still would have preferred real shots with the Millennium Falcon. The one thing that stands out in my mind as the biggest problem for me was the red sand. Was that in The Last Jedi? Yeah. I just thought how could how could sand be white on the top and then red below? Normally things oxidize with air on the top. So it’s more likely that something underground when exposed to air would be rust red, but not red red. It looks like a cake. When the ships would fly over, I didn’t like that at all.

I think it was done for the dramatic effect.

Yeah, and also, I think it was a pity that they darkened the X-Wing because the way that we had made the X-Wings, we’d made them light so the oil drips, the aging and everything showed up on the light grey. When you make the model darker grey, it disappears. You don’t get to see all that kind of thing.

They look brand new.

Yes, they don’t need to look that way.

I prefer the old ones as well. So, there’s an incredible list of movies you have worked on. Star Wars, Indiana Jones. Which one is your favorite?

Oh, my God, I don’t know if I could pick one. One of the last ones I did was the series of Pirates of the Caribbean films and that was really satisfying to work on those ships were a lot of fun. But not every project was a lot of fun. Some of them had to be faster, late nights and all the tough and hard work to do, like the Executor. We did the Executor it had to be done in seven weeks and we just worked around the clock. We slept for five hours and then got back to work.

That was one of the biggest models.

I think, of that kind of models. Yeah, it was about three and a half meters long. Something like this. It had a lot of technical problems to solve like how do you cantilever something so narrow and thin out long and not have a droop and that kind of thing. It was made out of a honeycomb aluminum that they use in airplanes to the bulkheads and things like that. They’re very, very light, but strong and that’s how we made it.

It looks like a masterpiece.

I think we calculated that it had something like tens of thousands little lights that were etched into brows. We didn’t we didn’t have to make each hole. It was like a miniature neon behind these brass panels that have all these little holes etched through the brass.

Well, 200.000 might be too many, but I know it was like tens of thousands.

Regarding your work on Star Wars: how do you back at the movies and your time at ILM?

I sometimes describe to somebody it’s as if you walk around in the world and it’s a bubble that you walk with. I think I’ll probably be rotting in my grave and the people are still watching Star Wars, that kind of thing. Very few human beings ever get to experience something like that. It’s a body of work, of accomplishment that like travels with me all the time. So, it’s really an unusual experience.

Met dank aan de organisatoren van EchoBaseCon!


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