Visual Art Director (Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith)
Interview: January 2020
What do General Grievous and this music video have in common? The answer is Warren Fu, who during his time as Art Director at ILM designed the famous cyborg and in 2013 directed the clip of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. Fu’s career started at Industrial Light & Magic and in the years after his departure he worked his way up to become a renowned director of music videos. In addition to Daft Punk, he has also worked with The Kooks, Depeche Mode, The Killers and E.L.O.
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.
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.
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.