Tuesday 20 March 2018

Star Wars animator Phil Tippet: ‘I took LSD when I was working on Return of the Jedi’

Tippet is the man behind the Star Wars Cantina masks, the AT-ATs and Jabba's palace - not to mention the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park

Return of the Jedi
Return of the Jedi

Rebecca Hawkes

Let’s be honest: some the Return of the Jedi scenes set in Jabba’s palace are more than a little trippy – and so it's perhaps not too surprising that the man behind them now admits to experimenting with drugs during filming.

“I took LSD when I was working on return of the Jedi,” said the Star Wars animator Phil Tippet, in a new video profile with Vice. “And it was fine.”

“Then I decided to go back to work, and I walked into the blue screen stage, and it was like ‘ahhh…’” he adds. “I’d taken way too much.”

Either way, the LSD certainly didn’t have a negative impact on the quality of Tippet’s work. The 64-year-old visual effects artist and designer is something of a legend in the film world. After creating the masks for the Cantina aliens in the original 1977 Star Wars films, he animated the distinctive, dinosaur-like Imperial Walkers of 1980’s The Empires Strikes Back, and won an Oscar for his Return of the Jedi aliens (including the grotesquely obese Jabba and his strangely endearing, albeit carnivorous Rancor) in 1984.

He then went on to wow the world by creating “real” dinosaurs for Steven Spielberg’s 1991 Jurassic Park.

His work on the latter film, for which he was credited as “dinosaur supervisor”, also led to the “You had one job, Phil” meme – something Tippet himself doesn’t appear to find too amusing.

“The castigation I get for being a lousy supervisor. I mean, don’t people have more interesting things to think about? It’s so silly,” he grumpily told Mashable last year.

As a child, Tippet explains in the Vice video, he was first inspired by the work of stop motion animator  Ray Harryhausen, in the 1958 film The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.

“It was like a bolt of lightening struck me,” he says. “That was the first really big leap, where something started to turn in my brain. It kind of sent me down this path of loving monsters and dinosaurs.”

After “mowing a bunch of lawns” and saving up to buy an 8mm camera, he began creating amateur animations in his bedroom, using clay and his GI Joe dolls – an early hobby that would go on to determine his career.

But despite working on an impressive array of films (Star Wars and Jurassic Park aside, his credits include Starship Troopers, Willow and  the Twilight movies, as well as his self-directed, crowd-funded Stop Motion epic Mad God), Tippet is no gushing fanboy.

Instead, he’s realistic about how gruelling his job can be, especially towards the end of a project.

“Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience.,” he says at the end of the Vice interview, quoting the US author Mark Z. Danielewski.

“It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.”


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