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Exclusief interview met Nick Kellington (Bistan in Rogue One)

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Nick Kellington

In Rogue One werd ‘space monkey’ Bistan geïntroduceerd. Een nieuwe soort alien die op Scarif verantwoordelijk was voor het neerhalen van een AT-ACT! De rol van Bistan werd gespeeld door de Britse acteur Nick Kellington.

In de promotiecampagne van Rogue One speelde Bistan een aanzienlijke rol; hij was in de ‘behind the scenes reel’ te zien, op artwork, hij stond op het podium tijdens Star Wars Celebration én er is zelfs een LEGO figuur van hem! Daar dit personage vanaf het eerste moment een enorme indruk op me maakte werd het mijn doel om de acteur achter het masker te interviewen.

Onlangs was het dan zover, waardoor ik nu het allereerste Star Wars interview van Nick kan presenteren. In dit (lange!) interview vertelt hij uitvoerig over zijn ervaringen en wordt een erg goed beeld geschetst over hoe het er achter de schermen aan toe ging.

Interview met Nick Kellington

Hi Nick, let’s start at the very beginning: How did you get into the movie business?

At school I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life but I did know that the drama classes were fun so that’s the path I followed. I studied Drama and Psychology at university after which a couple of friends and I started a street theatre company. We weren’t great but once again, it was fun.

I started going to auditions and workshops in Circus skills, Commedia dell’arte (an Italian Mask art form), Mime and Puppetry. The auditions were hit and miss but as an actor you have to develop a thick skin because that never changes. More often I found that the companies running the workshops would then hire me as a performer because they saw something in me. I learned so much “on the job” in front of live audiences. This led to more success in auditions and I started working as a jobbing actor on the stage, touring around the UK for a few years with various companies. Most of the shows were devised and involved physical theatre, clowning, dance, puppetry and mask work.

I knew nothing about the movie industry but I started going up for Creature roles on Television. I found that working in creature suits for children’s television drew upon the same skills I’d learned in theatre but also gave me new experiences working with animatronics, monitors and cameras. Most notably I play “Igglepiggle” on “In the Night Garden” and “Dipsy” on the new Teletubbies. These kids TV jobs definitely helped me move on to Feature Films.

I now work in both the movies and television as a Creature Performer and I love it. The work is hot, claustrophobic and can be painful, but it’s still fun!

In Rogue One you play the part of Bistan. Could you tell how you got this role?

The creature industry is a relatively small community. Even if you’ve never met someone, you do start to hear the same names mentioned.

At the time Episode VII was being made, I was puppeteering on a kids TV show called Strange Hill High and was about to go straight into filming the new series of Teletubbies. I’d heard rumours of a top-secret project that no one would talk about. In fact, the less information you could get about it, the more you felt it had to be the new Star Wars film. I’d put feelers out but security was really tight around the project and I simply couldn’t get seen for what turned out to be the The Force Awakens.

The following year I had a break in my schedule between filming series of Teletubbies so I asked around if anyone needed a performer for anything.

Reports in online entertainment news sites suggested that filming on Rogue One was to start soon so I figured all the roles would have been allocated to performers and I’d missed out on getting into Star Wars once again.

But out of the blue I got a phone call asking me to come to Pinewood for a meeting about an un-named project.

Not many people are expected to go for job interviews with no idea of the job they’re going for. But in acting if you get an invitation to Pinewood you just go. Pinewood is a remarkable place, it’s been at the centre of the UK movie industry for decades and it’s always exciting to be there.

When I arrived, even right up to the front door of the workshop, no one mentioned what the project was. I couldn’t believe it when, inside, there were amazing clay maquettes, costumes on stands, animatronic heads being worked on and most tellingly, R2 Units everywhere! My brain just melted! I was so happy.

It turned out that a friend, Vanessa Bastyan, who had fabricated some of the costumes for me on the TV shows I’d worked on was now running the creature workshop at Pinewood. Vanessa knew my work and she’d got me in there to meet the boss, Special Creature Effects Supervisor, Neal Scanlan.

They wanted to try me out for a “Space Monkey gunner” character they’d been working on. There was a chance this creature may have a more developed role to play and so they wanted an experienced performer inside. Fortunately for me, Bistan’s face is quite flat and the guys who were already on the crew were mainly western performers and to put it bluntly their noses were too big to fit inside his face!

I tried a face piece on and surprisingly, for something not built for me it fit. Neal seemed interested and said that it might work. I was then taken to try on the muscle under-skeleton and Bistan’s flight suit costume. At first the costume guys said I was a quite a bit shorter than what they’d wanted but, once dressed, my short legs made the creature look a bit more ape-like, also I’m actually flat footed which can sometimes make me walk a bit like a monkey anyway! Photos were taken and Neal said they’d review everything and would be in touch but could make no promises.

A few weeks later I was called back to Pinewood for the Creature Effects (CFX) “Show and Tell” day. This is when the finished creatures are presented to the film’s Director who decides if they’ll appear in the movie. It’s an important event for the team and the CFX crew would have been working really hard towards this day for months, designing and building the creatures.

This was my first time in the full Bistan costume including the contact lenses.

Nick Kellington

Gareth Edwards en Nick/Bistan op de CFX Show & Tell day.

We were on a big sound stage with tents scattered around for us to get dressed in. Creature after creature walked past me on their way to the performance space. They were all new designs and looked so cool. Eventually it was my turn and I was led on. My eyes were streaming from the contact lenses, which are hard and quite irritating. The stunt co-ordinator joked, “There’s no need to cry.”

“I’ve just been thinking about these kittens” I replied, “I can’t help it.”

I, or at least Space Monkey, was introduced to Gareth Edwards who starts examining Bistan and directing me. I remember Gareth asking me to walk a bit less like a monkey.

Then he put a camera on a group of us to see what the creatures looked like on screen. I was sat at a table with Admiral Raddus and the other two Mon Calamari officers from Rogue One. The performers inside them were Paul Kasey (Raddus), Aiden Cook and Tim Rose. We were asked to improvise a meeting in a war room, discussing tactics etc. I remember laughing inside my costume because Tim was playing his Calamari as a hippy pacifist saying stuff like, “Hey man, I think we should all just go home. I don’t wanna fight, let’s get a beer.” Tim’s very funny and naughty but he can get away with it because he is Admiral Ackbar.

Next I was given a laser rifle and they put fans and spotlights on me as if I was looking up at helicopters right overhead. Gareth filmed loads of close ups of Bistan’s face, exploring how my eye’s looked, how the paint job on the skin reacted under light, how the hair moved in the wind and how I performed.

All the time Gareth gave me directions as if I could see or hear enemies in different places. He’d tell me I was exhausted, totally demoralized or frustrated. The camera was really tight on my face and Gareth wanted me to work with tiny head movements or just my eyes. My facial animatronics weren’t operational at the time so it was all down to me.

Then I had to run around the set with the rifle, pretending to take cover behind walls and firing at imaginary foes. It was just like playing as a child except this was for Star Wars and I was in heaven.

The day went on and there were more lighting tests and photos. I didn’t know where I was going to be taken or what I was going to be asked to do next. At one point I did a stunt assessment in costume, pretending to fight loads of stunt guys with a stick/sword. On another sound stage I did a camera test in what turned out to be a U-Wing. They positioned me at the ship’s gun and we improvised an aerial dogfight, testing both the costume and myself and also experimenting with how they might film the sequence.

At the end of an intense day, whilst I was still fully in costume, Neal came up to me, shook me by the hand and said, “Congratulations Nick. Today you carved yourself a role on this movie.”

Nobody could see it but I had a beaming smile inside Bistan’s head.

Nick Kellington

Een maskerloze Nick met een ‘beaming smile’.

What can you tell about your costume and especially the head (it must have been filled with all kinds of electronics?)

Bistan was made by some brilliantly talented people who I must to give credit to. He is an Ivan Manzella design. Sculpted by Colin Jackman. Gus Hoegan created the animatronics. Elisabet Berggren fabricated the muscle body suit. Heather McMullan was the hair artist. Henrik Svensson did the paint job. Gary Page made the space suit, which was designed by Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon.

Bistan’s an awesome creation and when you wear the whole thing you just can’t help but move in a way that isn’t you, it’s so cool.

Well actually it’s really hot! Also if you wear it for too long you get masses of pain in your back, shoulders and neck but, for me, it’s worth it for Star Wars.

Once the animatronics are turned on all you can hear are the electric servos buzzing so you’re pretty much deaf. I have an earpiece through which I can hear my puppeteer who is operating Bistan’s face and Paul Kasey the movement director. I had two puppeteers for my scenes in Rogue One, Phill Woodfine who is a really experienced operator and Matt Denton who is also one of BB-8’s inventors.

You could argue that the puppeteers who operate the creatures’ faces from outside the costumes add just as much to the character as the person wearing the suit. Performing these designs of creature is a real team effort and when you work together lots you become a tight ensemble. That makes the performance feel organic and real.

As Bistan I wore extra large chimpanzee contact lenses that are hard and uncomfortable. When I’m wearing them under light they make everything look orange and fuzzy. On a dark set all you can see are silhouettes and no detail. The sets on Rogue One were very dark.

The muscle suit worn underneath Bistan’s spacesuit is a bit like a cross between a bulletproof vest and an American footballer’s shoulderpads. It gives him the correct body shape and moves as his muscles would under his skin.

Bistan’s head is extremely close fitting too because as well as using animatronics to move the forehead, muzzle and jaw, the creature’s face is blended directly into my face with prosthetic applications and paint around my eyes.

Mechanically it was a lot to fit into such a small space but it moves so beautifully and has a great range of expressions. It’s impossible to tell where the animatronics finish and I begin.

In Bistan’s case, having a human’s eyes with the animatronic face gives the character a real soul. We filmed a “Creature Shop” featurette for the Disney Channel in the workshop and I was being operated by Patrick Comerford, who also puppeteers the Admiral Raddus face. It was interesting seeing how even up close, without any filming lights or cinema magic, the presenters were still really freaked by how realistic Bistan looked, and our performance of course.

Could you share some stories regarding the filming of your scenes?

Filming the Battle of Scarif was awesome. For Bistan we filmed it in two parts.

Firstly, in the sequence where the U-Wing glides down and drops off the marines onto the beach, Matt Denton and I were actually in the U-Wing as they flew it over the battlefield from a crane. They’d built the beach with loads of sand and palm trees on an airfield just north of London.

We were filming with a 2nd Unit camera crew out of the gunner’s door. I don’t think you can see Bistan as the U-Wing glides down as he was on the far side of the ship but it was great fun flying over the action with explosions blowing up marines and storm troopers all over the place as they ran across the beach. It was quite a spectacle from above.

Funnily, I already knew one of the marines on the U-Wing, Andy Wareham, from years back. We’d worked on In the Night Garden together when we were just starting out. So you had both Igglepiggle and Tombliboo Unn flying into the Battle of Scarif on the same ship!

Andy’s a stunt man now for loads of big Hollywood films. Actually, I’m sure Andy said that another marine on the ship was the suit performer for one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in the 90’s so there’s another mash-up for you.

The second part of the U-Wing sequence was shot on a sound stage at Pinewood. Phill Woodfine was operating me that day from just off camera.

I turned up early for rehearsals and there was a large container mounted high up on hydraulics with massive grey flats all around it. The whole construction was as tall as the sound stage and it looked quite impressive. Then they turned the flats on and wow, it looked incredible!

The flats were actually huge panels of LEDs projecting aerial landscapes of what would turn out to be Scarif and the container was a U-Wing flight simulator. It was like an amazing theme park ride and felt so real once you were on board and it was moving.

Phill and I climbed on with a small camera crew and filmed the gunning scene with Gareth Edwards directing and even operating the camera at some points. We were locked in there with explosions and sparks flying everywhere. It was pretty intense.

It’s awesome to have been involved in filming the Battle of Scarif. There aren’t that many characters in the Star Wars cinematic universe that have been shown taking down an AT-AT and now Bistan has joined those ranks. It’s kind of a badge of honour.  Ok technically, I know these were AT-ACTs but you know what I mean.

There’s a Bistan action figure and even a LEGO minifigure (I have the LEGO one myself). When did you find out you were ‘immortalized’ as toys and what was your feeling then?

With the kid’s TV characters I’ve played I’ve had quite a few toys released of me already so maybe you’d think I’d be used to it by now?

Nope! I am totally stoked about there being Bistan Star Wars toys! It’s amazing!

I have a small collection of LEGO minifigures anyway so it feels brilliant to be able to add a LEGO Bistan to the display.

I got him the day he was released with the LEGO U-Wing Fighter set and built it pretty much as soon as I got home. It looks great. I’m also loving the Bistan Pop! Vinyl Bobble-Head, that’s very cool.

I’m extra excited this year though as I believe they’re releasing a 3.75” cardboard-backed Bistan action figure which, for me, is the holy grail of Star Wars toys! It’s especially exciting if you played with the originals as a child, which I did. I have to say, in the early press photos he does look a little like the lost member of the rock band KISS but I don’t care, it’s just awesome that it exists and I will definitely be buying one, probably more!

Nick Kellington

Bistan was prominently featured on some promotional artwork and made an appearance on Star Wars Celebration London (during a panel with Neal Scanlan). Was Bistan originally supposed to have a bigger role or more scenes in the movie?

As I said earlier, I was partly brought in because there was a chance Bistan might have a bigger role to play in the film but you never know how storylines are going to develop.

I was lucky that the team who put together the “Celebration Reel” picked up on the on behind the scenes shots of me filming as Bistan in the U-Wing. Even though Bistan laughing didn’t make the final cut it’s just a cool image and it helped promote the film.

I did film more scenes on Yavin 4 but unfortunately those scenes were dropped. This isn’t unusual on big feature films. You just have to give the production the shots it wants and then hope for the best.

Fortunately Bistan, or Space Monkey as we knew him then, was particularly popular with the production crew because he looks so cool and there was always a little bit of a buzz when we were filming with him. Maybe this is also why he was asked to make an appearance at Star Wars Celebration in London. He’s definitely a crowd pleaser.

I just mentioned the fact that Bistan made an appearance at Star Wars Celebration in London. Was that you in the costume?

Yes, I was Bistan at Star Wars Celebration and I had a great time at the convention, thanks.

It was my first convention and once we’d finished our panel and interview I had the rest of the day there to enjoy myself. It was fun because I could walk around the convention and nobody recognized me whilst all the time I had this amazing secret that I was in Star Wars.

What did you think of the whole ‘convention experience’?

It was fantastic seeing so many fans enjoying Star Wars together, especially families who had all dressed up. I really enjoyed seeing how many fans were dressed as Rey. She’s a great role model. I’d be happy if my daughter is a Rey fan when she’s older.

The Rogue One Celebration Reel was due to be released that weekend and Bistan’s appearance was an extra surprise for fans as the panel was titled, “The Creatures, Droids and Aliens of Star Wars: The Force Awakens | Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016”. It’s still available on YouTube and anyone who is interested in how creatures are made for the movies should watch it.

The audience was one of the largest I’d ever performed to and Bistan got a great reception. Matt Denton was operating me again and he suggested that I pick up Warwick’s Ewok to have a look. When I threw it back to Warwick I didn’t know it was going to hit him! I did apologise afterwards but Warwick was totally cool about it.

Nick Kellington

Warwick Davis (links) kijkt toe terwijl Nick als Bistan tijdens Star Wars Celebration het publiek vermaakt.

What was the first time you saw a Star Wars movie and were you a fan before you got cast?

I’ve been watching Star Wars and playing with the toys for as long as I can remember and I do love it.

As a child I had a Star Wars spin-off storybook about the Millennium Falcon with an audio cassette tape narrated by C-3P0 which I played to death. R2-D2 would bleep every time you had to turn the page.

I had a few action figures of which the Hoth Wampa and Gamorrean Guard were my favourites.

On a family holiday in Swanage, sometime around 1984, I was allowed to buy one book in a seafront bookshop to read whilst we were away. I chose, “STAN LEE presents THE MARVEL COMICS ILLUSTRATED VERSION OF STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI” (In Full Colour) for £1.25 in paperback which I still have on my shelf at home.

Even now in my forties I secretly covet my friend Nik’s original Rancor Monster whenever I see it. I’m not a fan that knows every last detail about Star Wars but it was always a big part of my childhood.

Growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s in the UK, it seemed that every public holiday they would show either Episode IV: A New Hope, Indiana Jones or one of the Superman movies on television, all three during the longer Christmas or Easter breaks.

I didn’t have Star Wars on VHS and there was no On Demand channels so it felt really special whenever the public holidays came round because I’d be home with my family and that’s when I’d get to see Star Wars.

Even though I accept that Empire is technically the best film of the original trilogy, A New Hope is still the most special to me perhaps because it’s been with me the longest. Actually, I love all three of them, you don’t have to choose!

My eldest brother took me to see Return of the Jedi at the cinema when it was first released. I must have been 7 or 8 by then. Apparently when we came out of the cinema I said, “When I’m big I want to be in Star Wars!” at least that’s what my brother tells me.

So thinking back to your first question, perhaps I did always know what I wanted to do with my life. It would just take 30 years or so to achieve it. Yes, I was definitely a fan before playing Bistan and I still am now.

I always enjoy the funny, remarkable and weird stories about the things that happened on the set. Do you have any?

My first day on a Star Wars set was at Yavin 4. Turning up, I wasn’t sure whether it would be mostly green screen or not. I was amazed to find that they’d built the entire Rebel Base on Yavin 4 in a giant aircraft hanger big enough to fly airships into. I think it’s one of the biggest buildings in the UK and at one point they’d built an entire block of Gotham City in there to film the Batman movies. Weirdly enough I also found out later that my dad had taken his RAF basic training there when he was doing his National Service as a young man.

Anyway the new Yavin 4 was amazing, like walking into a childhood dream. They had re-imagined everything perfectly. The set design, all the SAs in retro costumes, even the analogue displays on computer monitors and little flashing lights, all perfect.

Best of all, there was a huge X-Wing right in the middle of the hanger. It was beautiful. I probably shouldn’t have but I walked straight up to the X-Wing and placed both hands on it, enjoying the moment saying to myself, “It’s real! It’s real!” If I had been in my normal clothes someone might have stopped me but as I was dressed as Bistan it was more like, “Ok . . . erm. Just let the monkey do what he wants.”

On another day back at Pinewood we were filming the War Room scene where Jyn Erso is attempting to persuade the rebels to go to Scarif, I was there with Matt Denton operating me.

We were all waiting for something technical to be sorted with cameras and they allowed me to remove Bistan’s head so I could have a breather. I still had my contact lenses in and as I’ve mentioned, I can mostly only see silhouettes.

I heard a voice from the person stood right next to me, “Hey Nick.”

I turned and leaned in to see whom it was to find I was stood right next to Gareth Edwards. He was clothed in an army jacket. Everyone on the Yavin 4 set, cast and crew, seemed to be dressed in either a flight suit or an army jacket. This meant that to me everyone’s silhouettes looked fairly similar so I simply didn’t know he was there until he spoke.

“Oh! Hi Gareth.” I replied.

I asked him how it was all going. He asked me what it was like in the costume and told me he liked the character. Everything was cool.

In fact, for me, everything was amazing! You see, probably every time I’d spoken to Gareth previously I was usually in the Bistan head and/or there was lots of work to do. Generally Gareth would need to shout instructions or speak to me via my operator’s microphone because I can’t hear anyone. Equally I would need to shout back from inside Bistan’s head for my voice not to be muffled. It wasn’t a dynamic conducive to small talk.

So, unusually, there we were, just chatting. Like normal guys . . . except I’m literally a performing monkey and Gareth Edwards is the director of a Star Wars movie!

Then Gareth said, “You know, we should get you a cameo.”

“Wow. Thanks. That’d be awesome.” I replied.

Out of nowhere a behind-the-scenes camera crew sees us talking and starts interviewing Gareth about Space Monkey and the moment is lost. Suddenly we’re ready to film again and so I have to put the head back on and obviously Gareth becomes really busy and I don’t meet him again that day.

Shortly after, production would be moving on to film the Jedha sequences out on the back lot. This would have been the ideal chance for my cameo but Bistan wasn’t on Jedha so I wasn’t called in for those days and it never happened. Gutted!

I’m sure Gareth had a million things to think about and, understandably, I was not high on the list. For the rest of my time at Pinewood I was always up to my neck in Space Monkey either in a crowd or filming my single shots on the U-Wing. I guess my cameo just wasn’t meant to be. With playing Bistan already, maybe I was being a bit greedy.

Nick Kellington

How do you look back on the whole Star Wars experience?

Recalling events for this interview does make me think, “Wow, that really all happened. That’s part of my life now. That’s just crazy.”

I totally love being a part of Star Wars. The filming of Rogue One and having the opportunity to contribute even a small bit of myself to that universe was so rewarding personally and professionally. Also, being surrounded by so many lovely, talented people whose work you respect was just one of the best experiences. My time there will always be special to me.

My last question: will we see you again in The Last Jedi or another upcoming Star Wars movie?

Who knows? Since Rogue One I’ve been back at Pinewood but on what? I cannot say. Plus I’ve learned that until you see a film in the cinema you never know if you’re going to make the final cut.

Also, technically, you will never see me because I work in creature suits for a living. Perhaps I might get my cameo one day, you can dream.


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

Star Wars Interviews

Geboren toen de opnames van A New Hope van start gingen. 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 Michael Pennington (Moff Jerjerrod)

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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.

In deze deleted scene uit Return of the Jedi zien we Moff Jerjerrod aan den lijve ervaren wat een ‘Force choke’ van Darth Vader is.

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.


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Exclusief interview met John Celestri (animator – Star Wars Holiday Special)

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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.

Click here to go to John’s Indiegogo page!


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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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