How did you get started in the movie business and at ILM?
By accident really.
I was in search of a job since the animation company I’d worked for had just gone belly up. An out of work traditional animator with 5 years experience in commercials.
A friend of mine had attended a lecture in London, UK on the making of Jurassic Park hosted by three delegates from ILM. After the lecture he ended up hanging out with the ILM group and thought I might want their hotel info so as to take them a reel and perhaps show them my portfolio. A long shot right? Well, I guess I am living proof that sometimes long shots work out.
Three weeks later, December 16th 1993 I got a call from ILM asking if I wanted a job in California. You were a creature animator at ILM at the time of the Star Wars special editions. What did you exactly had to animate for these movies?
I was THE creature animator. They had two animators slated for that show, but when the time came and I rolled off of Casper I got offered the task of animating everything that was not a spaceship. John Knoll had dibs on the spaceships and was working remote from London I believe. We never crossed paths. He did spacecrafts, I did creatures. I was given six months to do everything, so my days were divided between several shots and I had to fill out a timecard for how long I spent on each as each had its own budget. Hectic days and multiple TDs to feed.
You played the part of Boba Fett in the special edition of A New Hope. How did you manage to get this part?
This all happened long before I ever got asked to do the creature animation. I was working on Spielberg’s Casper when I read an email asking for volunteers to be Stormtroopers in some planned Star Wars summit at the ranch. Of course I emailed my soul away in approximately 5 seconds flat. Soon after I received a call from a recent acquaintance of mine, Don Bies (the operator of R2-D2). He told me that the response had been so huge that they had decided to broaden the summit plans to such a degree that it now encompassed a certain character I had a strong affinity for. No prizes for guessing who that might be. But he made it very clear that he couldn’t make any promises since I would have to try on the flight suit. If the suit didn’t fit, I couldn’t be Boba. Since all the armor, the most separate pieces of any Star Wars character at the time, layered onto the flight suit.
We arranged a lunchtime visit to the archives and I was nervous I’d be returning crushed. That was my introduction to the costume.
I did two summits as Boba. I was Boba. They needed someone, they called me. Life was sweeter than sweet.
Then one evening I received a call from a colleague telling me of a rumor that they were going to revive the original Jabba footage and add Boba. I emailed the producer, Tom Kennedy and offered my services. A month later in November of 1994 we shot the “Docking Bay 94” footage. Can you tell something about the shooting of your scenes?
Well I was thrilled to have wardrobe assistant Annie…. cannot remember her name. Turns out she also dressed Jeremy on set. Lovely lady in the background of my blue screen shoot photo. I remember the gun had to be held at an awkward angle to look good in camera, but it felt really unnatural. Also I was told to scan the docking bay before my big exit. Thing is the T-visor “looks” like I’m looking at camera, when really I’m craning my neck around looking screen right. George liked that take and that’s what you see in the movie. But I swear I was not looking at camera.
I bet you saw The Empire Strikes Back back in 1980. 17 years later, in 1997, you actually played a character that was in that movie. That must have been something you would have never, ever expected? It must have been surrealistic I guess?
I became a Fett-fan with the mail order Kenner figure. It was the bio that sold me since I was a huge spaghetti western fan and this seemed the Star Wars equivalent. So there I was, a young kid with a passion for this new character and only the first movie as a backdrop to imagine him in. There was no hoping I’d BE this character in the movie I’d seen. There was no such thing as a directors cut or an extended edition so dreaming this was just that, a dream. And anyway I was a million light years from Hollywood or ILM. Funny how things turn out.
If I’m correct, you left ILM for the Walt Disney animation studios to work on Dinosaur.
What made you decide to do this? Was Disney more attracting than ILM?
I left ILM because I wanted to grow as an animator and an artist. And at that time Disney offered far more in the way of “artist development” training. At ILM we had a collection for the hiring of a life model one evening after hours. ILM didn’t provide classes or life drawing or anything. It was THE most difficult choice I have ever made and one I still ponder some 15 years later…
You have worked for years with CGI. I bet you know that some people think that the old effects with models, mattes, stop-motion etc were more realistic than CGI. This was said for instance about the Star Wars prequels. What is your view?
Absolutely. The original Jabba was – for all intents and purposes – “real”. He was physically on set. There’s no substitute.
About the old effects: who were your heroes regarding visual effects? Did you look up to people like Ray Harryhausen?
Of course Ray. I had the privilege to meet him and have him sign his book for me. I was a Ray fan with the Sinbad movies. But I was pretty naive when I joined ILM. I didn’t know who Steve Williams was, much to the horror of my colleagues. Dennis who? I treated both Steve and Dennis Muren like ordinary guys that happened to work there. And I think they appreciated that. I became buddies with Steve. I miss that guy.
Of all the things you have done so far, you will probably remembered the most for the fact you played Boba Fett in one scene. What do you think of this?
Two scenes. Or two shots. And nobody that passes me would ever know. Some people know me for years as “the guy who likes Boba Fett” never knowing the truth. Others know me for years and then find out and cannot believe why I have not told them. I’m kind of invisible. Perhaps I should display my picture and so break the spell. That’s the life of an animator, the invisible actor.
Regarding working on/for Star Wars and ILM: how do you look back at both?
I loved my time there. I’d like to return one day. But then again it’s all changed and all different. It definitely was a privilege and an honor.
Of all the movies you have worked on: which one are you most proud of?
I really don’t know. I guess I should say Star Wars shouldn’t I…..
What are your current projects?
I jumped ship and left final animation, taking a new career in previsualization. Basically taking on new movie/game concepts and scripts, and developing them. This year alone I have worked on Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron, Conan, Lobo, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Diablo 3 and Battleship to name just a few. check out our demo reel on the website: thethirdfloorinc.com
Thanks for the interview!
…and thank you for including me.
Star Wars isn’t just a movie, it’s something that happened to me, and changed me forever. Boba Fett II.