Art Director (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi)
Interview: April 2010
How did you got the job to work on the Star Wars movies The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi?
I got a call. I met George Lucas at his house in San Rafael where I failed three questions: “Do you like science fiction books? Do you like science fiction movies? Do you like movies?” He hired me.
For the Star Wars movies the designs were mostly done by Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie and you. Did the three of you had to work close together? If so, how did the cooperation go?
Joe and I shared a building, later an office. Ralph worked from home. George met with us every other week. We were never given assignments per se, just what we felt like doing within the story/outline George gave us.
We cooperated by seeing what each other did and what George responded to. Nothing was formal or said or assigned. It was all by feel.
Can you tell something how you approached the job of art director and costume designer for Star Wars and where you got your inspiration for the fantastic designs and drawings you made?
Inspiration is from George’s story, to come up with something ownable and unique to the property, something simple and easy to remember.
On which specific designs and costumes you created for the Star Wars movies are you most proud of?
They’re all nice in their own way. Princess Leia’s slave girl outfit was the most fun.
And what was the most difficult one? And why was that?
Hardest? The biker was slightly more difficult because of the many stunt requirements.
How did an average work day at ILM look back in the 80s? And how was the atmosphere at ILM?
Atmosphere was close community of like minded people, aware we were doing something special. Average day was all about getting things done as quickly as possible.
How was George Lucas to work with? How did you look at him?
George Lucas is the best person to work for. He inspires you without telling you what to do. He is less specific, doesn’t give reason why he likes certain designs. It’s all non verbal communication. It works because it works.
How do you look back at your work for the Star Wars movies?
Looking back: It was a privilege.
Besides Star Wars, you were also involved with Star Trek. In fact, you are credited as the inventor of the distinctive look of the Klingon Bird of Prey starship. How did you come up with this design?
The Klingon Bird of Prey was inspired by body builders’ shape when they flex their muscles like crab. I had never seen Star Trek before, I didn’t know there was already a bird of prey.
For Raiders of the Lost Ark, another Lucasfilm blockbuster, you also worked as an art director. Can you tell which specific things you were responsible for for that movie?
Whatever needed to get done.
Which artists inspired you to become an art designer?
Robert McCall. Syd Mead.
What was it that you like so much about their work?
McCall and Mead are the real deal. Check out their work. Can any be better?
You worked on Star Wars and Star Trek, the two most popular Sci-Fi franchises ever. Are you a Sci-Fi fan yourself? And which one is your favorite? Star Wars or Star Trek?
I am not a science fiction fan. I like them both, but Star Wars offer more design latitude.
Did not being a Sci-Fi fan make things easier or more difficult for you to work on Star Wars and Star Trek? And why was it easier/more difficult?
Star Trek was more difficult because I had to stay within the established design principle of the franchise and it seems that everyone is an über Star Trek expert.
Looking at the future: what are your upcoming projects and what would be your ‘dream project’?
Dream project is with people you like being with. Magic happens then.