How did you get involved with the Star Wars franchise?
The first time I worked on a Star Wars film was in 2001, I was living and working in Sydney at the time and was asked if I would like to join the costume props department on Ep II , Attack of the Clones, I worked on Zam Wesell’s outfit, Jango Fett’s armour, and various jewellery and head dresses for Amidala .Then, a couple of years later I was hired again to work on Ep III, Revenge of the Sith, as a part of the team who recreated Darth Vader’s outfit , and I sculpted Mon Mothma’s head dress and other items of jewellery amongst other things. In 2013, after having moved to the UK in 2005, I received a call from Neal Scanlan asking me if I would like to join his team on The Force Awakens, I had previously worked for Neal Scanlan on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, It didn’t take me long to give him a positive answer…
How long have you been a sculptor and concept artist?
I started working in the early 90s as a sculptor/prop maker/puppet maker mainly on theatre productions, then in the late 90s and early 2000 I moved on to television shows and feature films, I worked on Farscape, The Matrix, and various films and commercials before progressing into concept design, but I have never stopped being hired as a sculptor. So it’s coming up to close to 30 years now.
For those who are unaware, what do your job roles entail?
At the moment my job will range from designing creatures and characters, based on a script or a brief, I design by sketching, or using Zbrush and photoshop or sculpting maquettes. Once the design has been approved, I would then sculpt the character, in water-based clay if it’s a suit, a puppet or a large animatronic head, or in plasticine if it is to come to life as a prosthetic makeup. After that, I will follow up with the various people doing the moulding process, casting process, art working etc, and if it is a prosthetic make up, I might get involved with the application process if the schedules allows it.
What creatures/aliens in the Star Wars movies are you responsible for?
On The Force Awakens, I sculpted Admiral Ackbar, Nien Nunb, Quiggold, Wollivan, and Crusher Roodown. I designed and sculpted Bollie Prindel and Praster Ommlen and designed the Dengue sisters and Sarko Plank.
On Rogue One, I designed and sculpted Admiral Raddus, designed, sculpted and applied the makeup for Beezer Fortuna, sculpted the face and mask of Moroff, sculpted the tentacular faced alien Oolin Musters, who is in jail with Jyn at the start of the film, and a lot of other things that didn’t appear in the film.
On The Last Jedi, I sculpted a whole bunch of Caretakers, and Stur Ganna, a big sluggish alien lying down on his stomach in a massage parlour. I designed, sculpted and applied the makeup for Ubialla Gheal who appears on a yacht on Canto Bight.
On Solo, I designed and sculpted the Corellian hounds, and Argus ”Six Eyes” Panos, And I sculpted Moloch’s face, Margo’s makeup and the Mimbanese. I was also part of the team who applied Darth Maul’s makeup.
Are there any creatures/aliens from the films that you wished you had worked on?
I would have loved to recreate the Rancor or Jabba, but it’s not over yet…
Of all the characters you have worked on, which has been your favourite and why?
Raddus is one of my favourites, because he is a new original character and he had quite a bit of dialogue and screen time, a lot of the creatures we create are only used as extras, appearing briefly in the background, so when one of our characters happens to be featured, even a little, that’s always a bonus!! Six eyes, from solo was also an amazing animatronic character, mechanised by Gustav Hoegen and programmed by Matt Denton, just like Raddus was, it’s one thing to see the character come up through the sculpt, but to see it come to life on set through the work of the puppeteers and interact with the actors, it feels like magic…
What are some of the most difficult challenges you have encountered whilst doing work for the franchise?
It’s probably coming up with a design sense that fits within the confines of what is expected of a Star Wars character, while bringing something fresh to the table, it’s not as easy as it looks…
Who are some of your favourite characters from the films and why?
As a kid I guess I wanted to be like Han, he had the best friends, and the best spaceship. And I always have been fascinated by the creatures, to realise that it was someone’s job to come up with those looks and bring them into reality by any mean possible, when I discovered that, it was a big revelation for me.
What does Star Wars mean to you?
It has now obviously become a very large part of my life, from taking me to faraway places as a kid, to inspiring me to develop and create my own creatures, to making me part of the creating process, it has been with me since my childhood and is still with me today. And I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to witness the making of such films from the inside as part of my daily work. In a way, Star Wars now means being able to work with and learn from the best people in the movie industry today.
Do you have a specific creative process you stick to when designing creatures/aliens, or does it vary with the project?
It usually begins with gathering as much relevant reference as possible, either from books or online, based on the brief, the script or the conversations I had with the director, art director etc.
Then I try to be as loose as possible in the first presentations, as I learned that delivering a very finished looking design straight from the start can be limiting and counterproductive.
Then it’s a question of refining what could be a successful design into a more defined and detailed character, going back and forth and following the director’s input.
How would you describe your experiences working with Neal Scanlan and his team?
Working for Neal Scanlan is incredibly challenging but equally rewarding as it’s a constant search for new or better ways to achieve the best results. Everybody on board is super talented in their own field and totally professional, which gives you a serious incentive to push yourself beyond your safety zone, and you do learn a lot in the process. And Neal always makes sure that the people he hires will get along well, it makes the creative and building process a lot more fluid if there are no big egos or divas pulling their weight around.
You’ve worked on some of my favourite aliens/creatures, one of whom is Moroff, how did this character come about?
Moroff was designed by Luke Fisher for Rogue One, Justin Pitketly sculpted a maquette based on Luke’s drawings I then sculpted the head and face mask, the body was fabricated by Vanessa Bastyan’s fabrication team and the hair work was created by Maria Cork’s hair team.
When it comes to creating/designing aliens/creatures, how much work goes into creating them?
If you want a realistic answer to that question, you would need to go through a couple of books about drawing techniques, Zbrush modelling, photoshop composition, sculpting techniques, moulding techniques, running foam latex, running silicone skins, seaming, art working, painting foam latex and silicone, hair punching , wig making, prosthetic makeup application techniques, plus your regular sewing techniques through various materials and fabrication tricks, then you would have to have an understanding of various puppeteering principles and then explore engineering, animatronics, electronics, pneumatics and hydraulics systems, programming, radio control interface etc….
A lot of various art forms are used into creating creatures, puppets, aliens and fantasy characters, and then add a full can of movie magic on top.
Have there been any creatures/aliens that have been extremely difficult to work on, if so, who was it and why?
When the goal post keeps changing, if the designing process takes too long because of various possible reasons, then it is possible to lose a bit of the original flow and enthusiasm. But it very rarely happens.
How many designs do you roughly make per film?
It’s hard to put a figure on it really, there is no definitive rule of thumbs, there were 4 creature designers working for Neal Scanlan, Luke Fisher, Ivan Manzella, Jake Lunt-Davies and myself, we obviously produced a lot of designs over the course of each film, and only a very few of them are actually picked up and brought to life, the unused ones might get a second chance later on or they just remain in reject folders forever…
How does it feel seeing some of your creations coming to life? I can imagine it’s quite a satisfying feeling.
It’s the greatest feeling, when you can see a character or creature progress from a design to a physical sculpt to being mechanised and to see a performer infuse life into it, it feels like we did a good job.
How does working on Star Wars compare to other projects you’ve worked on?
A bit more time than usual, a bit more money in the budget, amazing people all around, and whenever you get a chance to visit a set or discover that you can actually walk right inside the millennium falcon, that is a very special feeling…
How did Beezer Fortuna come about?
Beezer Fortuna was a request by director Gareth Edwards to create a Twi’ek like character based on the original maquette sculpted for the return of the Jedi which was quite different from the final make up as it appears in the film.
We had an amazing performer, Peter Lidell who has a very particular body shape, he is very tall, very thin yet muscular and has a very long neck, which made him a perfect candidate to impersonate that particular character.
I did a couple of sculpted variations on his head cast until Gareth was happy with the way it looked, then proceeded to break down the sculpt in separate parts for moulding.
The foam pieces where pre-painted by Katie Hood and the makeup was applied by either Heather McMullen or Paul Spateri and me.