Plo Koon (Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith), ILM – Animatronics (Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith)
Interview: May 2010
How did you get started in the movie business?
I jumped off a tourist trolley at Warner Bros Movie World in Australia. I amazingly got employed in Special Effects on Fortress.
How did you get the job for Episode II: Attack of the Clones and III: Revenge of the Sith?
I was working with Jason Baird, the creatures supervisor on Episode II previously. Rick McCallum contacted Jason; Jason dragged me along for the ride.
For Episode III, I had met Don Bies during Episode II and did a little R2 driving. He bought me back onto the droid team for Episode III.
You were the lead animatronics foreman for Episode II and were the droid unit technician for Episode III. Can you tell what you exactly had to do on both movies?
On Episode II I was responsible for all the robotic creatures we used on set. Neimoidians etcetera. I think we had 14 creatures ready to go at any time. It was
a bit crazy. Episode III was a bit easier. I had to maintain R2, mostly. It was cool.
You went from being an animatronics technician and the special effects department to the visual effects department. What made you decide to make this change?
Episode II really made me realize the way the wind was blowing there. More and more creatures were going VFX. It just seemed like that should be the way to go.
At ILM during the making of the prequels there were ‘veterans’ like Dennis Muren, Don Bies and Lorne Peterson and ‘the next generation’ like Amy Allen, Matt Wood and you. Did you have to work with the older crewmembers a lot? How was the relation between the young and the older crewmembers? What did you learn from them?
We all worked together very well. It was great to hear stories from the original films and to be included in the new ones. I still keep in touch with a lot of them.
There has been criticism on the prequels; some people say that there is too many CGI in the movie. Since you’re someone who’s in the visual effects business I’d like to hear your opinion.
Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, especially in sci-fi. Huge sweeping epic shots can be awesome, but if they are too constant, you soon become jaded by them. It’s definitely a balance.
You portrayed the Jedi Master Plo Koon in Episode II and III. How did you get this part?
I was the right height! Alan Ruscoe played Plo in Episode I. As we were getting performers cast, many of the creatures department stepped into minor roles, just because we could (who wouldn’t). Not having some of the original actors back was because we were shooting Episode II and III in Australia, and the expense and problems created visa-wise made it impractical.
You were in some scenes with the entire Jedi council, including Samuel L. Jackson and you also did scenes with Ian McDiarmid.
Can you tell something about the filming of your scenes?
Under that serious, weird looking mask I am just grinning, thinking “Awwweeeesome”. It was fun. A heap of fun. The mask was thick rubber. I could not really see or hear and I sounded like Kenny from South Park. God it was fun.
In Revenge of the Sith we see you get shot down and die in your fighter. Were you happy with the way we see your character come to his end?
To die flying a Starfighter? With the sparks and the bang? It was the coolest thing ever. Better than just being cut down or shot in the back, in my opinion. Yes, I have to say I was incredibly happy with that.
Plo Koon became a cult-figure. Clone Wars director Dave Filoni loves the character. How do you look at Plo Koon?
It’s weird how many people know him. It’s cool. I look at him as very calm and stoic. It’s actually because he can’t see where he’s going and its really hard to run in a dress. You will note that all the other Jedi ditched the robes to fight, but not Plo Koon. And the more observant might have noticed that he is left handed!
You recently did the visual effects for the blockbuster Avatar. What do you think of all the attention this movie gets? And did you expect it was going to be so big?
It’s amazing. I’m glad the movie is doing so well. A lot of people threw their hearts and souls into it. I’m glad their hard work has paid off.
Of all the effects of all the movies you have done; which effect and which movie are you most proud of?
Hmmmmmm…. Probably some of the tricky stuff we did on the Matrix movies. It was a nice combo of practical shooting and CG.
Looking at the future: what are your current and upcoming projects?
Having a bit of a break after Avatar. One thing in this business, you can’t look too far ahead.
Is there a chance you’ll return to Star Wars to do the visual effects for the upcoming live action TV series? Has George Lucas or Rick McCallum contacted you yet?
Not to my knowledge! But really, Plo was a bundle of fun and an awesome experience. But I think my dress-up days are over. Hopefully someone new can take his big brown wobbly head to the new heights it deserves.
Final question: please finish the following sentence:
When I look back at my work on the Star Wars prequels…
as an indelible experience in my life. I grew up with the original trilogy. I got to be a Jedi Master, have a lightsaber and fly a starfighter. When pressure on set or at work is mounting, I can think of that and smile.