Updated late Jan 98..... Nick Maley tells the inside story of the background to the creation of the STARWARS creatures.........Ergo
Star Wars Creature Design...
It might surprise you to know that when we did STAR WARS Episode IV we had very little direction as to what the characters should look like. We were pretty well allowed to do whatever we wanted within the directions of our head of department, (HOD), Stuart Freeborn. Stuart would give us a breakdown of what he saw as a good starting point, but it didn't seem as though that direction came from George Lucas , even indirectly. I'm sure they must have discussed the creatures in general, but in the final analysis, it seemed like whatever we chose to do.......we did. As we finished one project, we'd start another........ grab a lump of clay ....... squeeze it into some kind of shapely thing......... and Stu would come along and say, "Oh I think that's going fine," or, "I don't like that....!", but there wasn't any indication that told us that this was a particular creature that George had specifically asked for. When it came to the Cantina sequence, we were basically making it up as we went along. The only characters that had names at that time were those refered to in the script so we refered to them with nicknames of our own. Some of them stuck.... like the Snuggletooths.
The characters can be broken down as follows.
The Uglies prosthetics, were modeled by Charlie Parker. The Uglies were the mutant humans like the barman, Wuher, applied by Charlie, Dr. Evazan, the guy who quarrels with Luke, (applied by Graham Freeborn), and Dannik Jerriko, the guy at the end of the bar with the bubble pipe, ( my first on screen prosthetic make-up).
The Snaggletooths (Takeel & Zutton), Crockers (Hrchek Kal Fas & Sai'torr Kal Fas), the Rat Alien (Snitch Garindan), the Bat Alien (Kabe) and Walrus creatures (Mosep) were modeled by Graham Freeborn. He was a great person to have on your team. A no nonsense kind of guy. He wanted to model something today, mold it tomorrow, artwork it the morning after that...... and play squash in the afternoon. We were close friends.
The Fly Alien (Tzizvvt) was a joint effort conceived by Stuart, executed by Graham and myself.
The Chewbacca mask was built by our boss Stuart Freeborn. It was based upon a photo of George Lucas' dog and will be the subject of the Chewbacca page, at a later date. It was without doubt the most advanced creature design of the movie and it was a privilege for me to assist Stu with it from time to time. Once on the set Kay Freeborn looked after Peter Mayhew who played the part. Click here for photos. By a twist of fate I had a hand in Peter being cast as Chewie. To find out how you will have to wait for my inside story.... Chewbacca, Chinese soup and the Minotaur's shoes
Greedo was already modeled when I joined the movie. The final construction of him and others of his species was done by several team members including Graham, Kay and myself. Getting the mask on and off was particularly tricky and, as with many of the other masks, there was quite a build-up of carbon dioxide inside. Straws were regularly used to assure that the actors were getting enough oxygen. The straws also doubled for much needed fluid intake. Not so many STAR WARS fans realize that Greedo was played by a woman, Diana Sadley Way who was uncredited (as were many contributors). This rather amusing photo shows George Lucas wondering what to do about Diana's high healed shoes.........
All the creatures I have mentioned so far (and more) were part of the main unit shoot. It's perhaps appropriate at this point to give credit to the high screen value of Rick Baker's second unit inserts. They added richness and variety to the scene and he not only created the Cantina band, but played in it as well. I don't know for sure how much time Stuart had to prepare for the main unit shoot...certainly a few things were started when I joined the crew, but that was only 10 weeks from shooting. None of us felt that the full potential of the scene was fulfilled when the main unit shoot was completed and many popular characters were created by Rick months later in post production.
Throughout the movie there were many two dimensional make-ups and costumed characters that were created "on the day" or during wardrobe "fittings". These were a collaboration between The Wardrobe Department, The Art Department and Props Department. Boba Fett the Jawa and the Sand people are good examples but there were many in the Cantina as well.
I don't know the full inside story behind the creation of C-3PO, Lord Darth Vader, and the Storm troopers costumes because I was not involved. I hope that someone who was will email me with solid information. I can tell you that they were constructed from panels that were modelled and molded, vacuum formed and artworked.
R2-D2 will be the subject of a separate page in due course.
When Episode IV was finished the toy manufacturers discovered how difficult it was to make plastic toys out of all of these crazy things in the Cantina. The awkward shapes that were devised probably doubled the manufacturing costs.... I am sure reducing our stuff to 2" high plastic toys was a real nightmare. Perhaps there is no connection....but Lucasfilm approached the creatures for EMPIRE STRIKES BACK very differently.
Ralph McQuarrie, the Production Illustrator, did drawings of all the new characters. We had drawings for the Wampa, which smacked Luke in the face, plus the Tauntauns, (which Luke and Han ride on Hoth, (a cross between a Tyrannosaurus and a camel really), and, of course, Yoda. Ralph is an exceptional illustrator and has enjoyed a long association with George, but his designs, though imaginative, showed little concern for how these things would work. It was obvious right from the beginning that we would need to make a few adaptations to some of the figures.
The Tauntauns' proportions were pretty good. There were several versions, stop motion miniatures for the long shots and animatronic puppets for close-ups. Neither required the proportions to be altered appreciably. The life-size figures were modeled by Roger (I forget the surname) in the Art Department and the final result was very close to Ralph's design. Bob Keen assisted Stuart in building the mechanism for one animatronic puppet and I believe Special Effects built another. (They also made the full figure that Han cuts open.) It was Bob's first movie and he became a close associate of mine over the years. I molded the heads and made the foam latex skins which were stretched onto articulated fiberglass skulls. Stuart and Graham did the artwork.
The Wampa had to be adjusted to enable us to put a human operator inside. That affected the position of the knees and elbows particularly. I am not sure if the body was modeled by Graham Freeborn or the Art Department, it had already been molded when I joined the movie. I suspect it was Graham because Stuart modeled the head. Graham and I constructed the suit and artworked it. The arm mechanism was based upon a design I concieved which Graham adapted and I think Bob Keen may have constructed. Bob also helped me convert the suit into a nine foot marionette for the close-up puppet version. For more details of how it worked, and why the Wampa was built you'll have to wait for the "Wampa suit & marionette". Click here for more Wampa images.
The Yoda drawings were a long way off what was finally built. I haven't seen all the STARWARS art books but none I've seen include those early drawings. They didn't look much like the Yoda that we all know and love. He looked like a cross between Yoda and Jimminy Cricket as I recall, the proportion of Jimminy with Yoda's round face and pointy ears. He seemed younger and rather impish. If Yoda had been a cartoon or computer animation he could have been just as Ralph drew him, bright and very sprightly, but as Stuart discussed the character with George, they came to the conclusion that this should be a glove puppet and that it should be operated by Frank Oz, (Jim Henson's close associate and senior puppeteer). Consequently his proportions changed dramatically and so did his character. I have a lot to tell about Yoda, too much to jam into the middle of this section. For more information See The making of Yoda Part 1 (released in March 98)
There were three creatures that I didn't see any drawings for. The first was the swamp monster which appeared on Dagobah, swallowed R2-D2 and spat him back again. It was modeled by the Art Department. Once again I made the molds and the skins. A fiberglass substructure was produced by our plasterers. Because it was seen so little, articulation was limited to the jaw and eyes. It was artworked by Graham. The Special Effects Department built an underwater track that it ran on that was similar to a roller coaster, bring it up to the water's surface and then back to the depths.
The second creatures without drawings were the Ugnaughts a race of short ugly hog like creatures on Bespin which were modeled by Graham Freeborn and artworked by him with help from Kay and myself. These were perfect examples of Grahams forthright approach, swiftly modeled and assembled on the actors. They were the complete opposite of the painstaking approach of Yoda. (Of course they weren't as good either!)
The third set of creatures without drawings were the Mynocks that Han and Leia encounter whilst hiding in the asteroid belt. I modeled the head and neck for the close-up version not realizing that it would also be used for background flying mynocks too (which were built in the Props Department). I was rebelling against the earthbound designs (such as the Crockers and Bat Alien) that had been common in the Cantina sequence and what I modeled was pretty weird. The mouth was reminiscent of a sucker fish but the extended eyes and melting skin were pretty unique. Of course, I also made the molds, assisted by Bob Keen, and I artworked it too. There's an amusing story about this creature. Check out "the Minock's spittle" (not yet available).
You should also check out (when available) the creatures that for one reason or another were built but didn't make it to the big screen..... the Praying Mantis (Kitik Keed'kak), the multi-eyed blob, and my favorite..... the Nogard.
Click here if you want to know who played what....... the people inside those suits, masks and puppets.
By the time RETURN OF THE JEDI was due for production many of the new creatures had been designed. ILM had been created after A NEW HOPE and had little impact on the creatures for EMPIRE STRIKES BACK beyond the stop motion inserts (mainly the Tauntauns) and making Admiral Ackbar. With RETURN OF THE JEDI they became more involved in the creatures.
In some cases, such as the Ewocks, prototype stuffed toys had been produced before the creature effects team was even assembled.
I was asked to design the make-up for Columbia TV's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME with Sir Anthony Hopkins (for which I was later nominated for an EMMY). It was time for me to break away and do my own movies and Stuart encouraged me in that direction. So it was that our seven year association and my involvement with the STAR WARS movies ended. Nick Dudman and Bob Keen who had both been trainees on EMPIRE continued as fully fledged technicians on RETURN. Nick created the Bib Fortuna prosthetics, the Emperor prosthetics (I believe) and of course he recently Headed the Creature Effects crew for Episode I due for release in May 1999.
If you were looking for unique stuff.........You found it!
text © CineSecrets 97/98
This link is for "No Frames" users only Index of indexes Don't try it with frames.