Supervising Prop Maker (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi)
Interview: January 2016
You have worked as a prop maker on two Star Wars movies: The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. How did you get hired for these two productions?
Yes, that is true, I was supervising prop maker on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I was working on Alien as a prop maker when the Star Wars prop master Frank Burton came over with some pieces for me to look at and improve. I think Frank was ok with what I had done since he offered me to work on The Empire Strikes Back. After that I did Raiders of the Lost Ark for the same team and I was asked back to do Return of the Jedi.
My personal favourites of all your creations are IG-88 and EV-9D9. Could you tell how the construction of these two droids went? Did you have to create them ‘from scratch’ or were there designs to had to base your work on?
I’m glad you like them. IG-88 was made from scratch using aircraft parts sourced from a Hayes breaker. So I had a free hand to make it how I thought it would be. Not everyone liked it but I did and so IG-88 was born. EV-9D9 started with a sculpted head and chest piece. The rest, it’s arms, legs, body and neck for head movement was built by me. Everything moved so it could be animated as it was in the torture scene. I was quite involved with that scene, it was great fun.
Over 35 years after you created IG-88 he’s still popular. Last year he was released as an expansion pack for a board game (and I proudly admit I immediately bought that). What do you think of this continuing popularity and how does that make you feel?
So, they have a board game with IG-88 in it, that is fantastic! It makes me so proud to think there is still a following for IG-88. I guess that will keep an interest in the original films, wonderful such an honour.
Other really memorable creations of you are the B’omarr droid from Return of the Jedi and the Probe droid and FX-7 from The Empire Strikes Back. First the B’omarr droid: was that a remote controlled machine? How did you make it move and where did you get the inspiration from (besides spiders)?
The B’omarr monk was built from scratch, a gear box housing was the first piece, and to me it looked like a spiders body. What’s wrong with spiders? They are clever and menacing at the same time. They tend to make everyone jump when you first see them so a good start. I made it with six legs as that looked right, it was made with all the legs independent so you could move them easily. The B’omarr was basically a puppet. I had a rig made by Bill Welch and his construction team, there was a hanging boat (box) on the irons (metal girders at the top of the stage) and an endless line to pull it backward and forward. Three men in the boat would operate the legs and it was pulled across the stage, a very big rig for a big droid.
Regarding the Probe droid and FX-7: what can you tell about these two creations?
FX-7 came to me as a sculpted piece like a big post box. I then set to making some 20 arms right round the droid and 2 arms for the front. There were lots and lots of small inserts to give it the feel of a real medical droid. I could do with one now to sort me out! It was operated by wires and I think it looked OK in the film. I was pleased with it.
I only did some cosmetics on the Probe droid. The basic droid was there I just added things to make it look like it would work.
Were there things (constructions, props, droids) made for The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi but later dropped?
Not in my shop. We used everything, even prototypes were used as set dressing. I did build a flying lizard that never was used flying but was dressed in the background on Hoth. I think I am sure some sets must have been dropped as in filming things change, but I can’t remember any and of course things do end up on the editors floor.
Besides many droids you also created the Mynocks! I believe it was you who operated the Mynock that scares C-3PO? Can you share some memories regarding the Mynocks?
Yes, the Mynocks! The main body was built in Stuart Freeborns shop by Nick Maley I believe. I built the wings and the mechanics for the fluid that melts metal and glass. I did operate it on set one day and was told hit the screen as hard as you can without breaking anything, this I did with great relish.
I’d like to ask you what your favourite and your least favourite creations for Star Wars are, and what the specific reason is.
My favourite is IG-88 as I had to stand my corner to get it made. Some people just didn’t think it was right, but I guess history has proven me to be right and to persuade them to use him on set.
I really don’t have a least favourite they are all great in their own way, and how can anything be wrong on a spaceship or on an undiscovered planet, well can it?
Final question: I read that you once taught Harrison Ford how to play darts in your workshop at ILM! Can you tell something more about this fun fact?
No, I didn’t teach him. He was a good dart player, unorthodox, but good. He would come in for a rest from filming and a cup of something. It’s a great thing to tell the grandchildren and showed what a down to earth person he is, and of course a fantastic actor.
He surely is, but you’re a fantastic prop maker! Thanks for this taking your time and this interview!