Brilliant Effects Master Phil Tippett Sheds Some Light on George Lucas' 'Star Wars'-Tinkering Mind

Brilliant Effects Master Phil Tippett Sheds Some Light on George Lucas' 'Star Wars'-Tinkering Mind

Sep 01, 2011

Phil TippettLast night the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX held a very special screening of Jurassic Park and flew in Phil Tippett, one of the visual effects masterminds behind the film, for a Q&A, which ended up being the surprise highlight of the night.  Unlike a certain, recent Q&A subject, Tippett's candid answers weren't fueled by alcohol, they were simply the honest responses from a very smart man who has been in this business for decades, who has already proven his worth and who isn't bothered with studio politics.

We spoke with Tippett this morning about the film and his career, but we'll be saving that longer interview for when the Jurassic Park trilogy hits on Blu-ray on October 25th.  But since it's on everyone's minds this week, we did want to share some of Tippett's thoughts about what George Lucas is doing to Star Wars.  It's one thing for all us nerds to complain, but how does someone who created the visual effects for the original Star Wars trilogy feel about George's needless tinkering?

Surprise: He hates it too.  It didn't take long before the topic came up last night in the Q&A, and Tippett's response was a simple, "They're sh-t."  He doesn't think they're necessary at all, citing as one example how he loved Lucas' original, Sergio Leone-like approach to shooting Mos Eisley as this minimal, barren place and how now it's just "filled with a bunch of... CGI sh-t."

In fact, there's a lot about modern Hollywood spectacle films that the very affable Tippett isn't too fond of.  He thinks Avatar was a total missed opportunity; to paraphrase, "Who cares about blue aliens and people walking around in mechs?  We've seen those designs before.  Do something crazy and new."  

In regards to some of Hollywood's latest trends, he thinks "3D is sh-t" and, and this is a direct quote, "Robert Zemeckis is the Devil incarnate ... the motion capture stage is where good directors go to die."  Ouch.  Though, just to be clear, Tippett never took on a bitter tone about the state of the industry, there's just a sense of disappointment that the artist is dying and we're entering the age of factory-churned special effects.

Phil Tippett Star Wars models

And that's just a small amount of the Q&A.  In our interview, Tippett elaborated about the new Hollywood mindset (he's got some good anecdotes about how Tristar execs first reacted to seeing what he and Paul Verhoeven did with Starship Troopers), Lucas' mindset in particular and specifically about what motivates these kind of decisions: Us fans bitch and moan and gripe whenever George Lucas starts messing with Star Wars again, but is that something effects people who actually worked on the film feel? Are we the only ones who think he's a crazy person?

Phil Tippett: No, not really. At a certain point, even going back to Return of the Jedi at ILM...they had a little room where you could get chips and drinks and I was getting something. George and Richard Marquand, the director, came in and Richard was saying, "George, I don't totally get where we need to go with this picture." And George said, "Well, did you see Benji?" "No George, I didn't see Benji." "Well, what we're doing now is kind of like a cross between Benji and what we did on Empire Strikes Back."

So even then he was thinking about keeping his company alive and merchandising toys and stuff like that. It's really hard with franchises. It's really hard to keep things going. It's really hard to think of a third movie in a franchise that's better than the first two, ya know? Whoever it was, Pepsi Cola or whatever, paid him $3 billion to do the next three movies as long as he worked and directed it, so... Was there ever any talk at Universal or with Spielberg of going back and making alterations to Jurassic Park or any of its sequels?

Tippett: No. No, no. But, for a while...I went down and had a meeting with Steven and Melissa Mathison to talk about doing a sequel to E.T. And we went down the road of all the things we could do and at one point Steven just said, "You know what? Just leave it alone. Just let it stand, let's not rake it over the coals."

Look for our full chat with Tippett in late October.  In the meantime, we're going to go try and convince Mondo to print up some "Team Tippett" t-shirts.

Categories: Features, Interviews, Sci-Fi
Tags: Phil Tippett
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