Creature designer, Terryl Whitlatch has spoken with Digital Arts about her career, working style, and also her time working on Star Wars with ILM.
Here is an extract from the article, specifically relating to Star Wars.
How can artists ensure their creatures are real whilst conveying a certain personality? For example, the cheekiness of Jar Jar Binks, or the character of a shifty tyrannosaur?
“If we look at the physical design of Jar Jar Binks, he’s kind of round, and he has this nice swan-like neck. He’s got very open, round eyes. He’s an appealing, good-natured character. When I was designing him, I was actually more imagining him as a combination of Charles Chaplin and Addy Kay, so I was trying to channel those actors into this character. I’m not responsible for anything that happened later, of course, but that was my initial concept.
“When you’re designing characters, you’re actually getting to see body language because you’re preparing this creature for animation, so you need to kind of get into it, too.
“Also from Star Wars you have Sebulba, which is this really self-centered, mean, little pinched creature who just wants to win at any cost at the races, and he doesn’t care who dies in the meantime.
“I kind of wanted him to be this little shrively, spidery, little pipsqueak of a being. When I was thinking about that, even before I started drawing him, I was actually at a zoo that was nearby, and there’s this very, very large paddock where they had these dromedary camels. Dromedary camels are huge animals; they’re very proud, very arrogant. They look at you like, ‘Well, who are you?’ I thought, ‘Yes!’
“So, with Sebulba, I focused on the face and head of a camel and just shrank him down to this three-foot tall character, so he had this very proud expression and attitude. He’s always frowning, so he’s the opposite type of design mentality as Jar Jar Binks. Plus, I thought, ‘Let’s just colour him kind of funny, purple with orange spots.’ So, he’s like an Easter egg, but he’s not too happy about that.
You created new creatures for A New Hope’s Cantina Scene as part of the remastered editions. How did it feel to add your own touch to such a legendary scene in cinema?
“For the cantina scene, George (Lucas) was never too happy with some of the original characters, some of which were Halloween masks because their budget was limited back then. He wanted me to design some characters to replace some of those.
“I designed a character called Ket Wong, who looks sort of like a taper. He’s got a long, little trunk, and he’s all wrinkly. They only shot the head, but I actually designed the whole body for him, too.
“It was quite an honour to be able to have that character in this classic scene that I saw in 1977 when it first was shown in theaters. I was in high school, and I had no idea they were wearing Halloween masks!
“I also worked on the scene in Jabba’s Palace; I designed quite a few of the dancing girls. We called them ‘Jabba’s cuties’. There were so many characters, it starts to become a blur after a while. I also did some storyboarding for some of the new scenes that were added, especially the Ewoks.
“There was no more than seven people at anyone time working on those films as far as the previous ones, and that’s one thing I always want to also warn students is that those type of Avatar-level, Star Wars-level films, their art departments are always small. You get more artists working in down-the-line production, but as far as pre-vis goes, it’s always relatively small.”
What have been your favourite creatures to design?
“I guess one of my favourite characters is also from Star Wars, the Sando Aqua Monster.
“The way it moves, it’s a tiger. It’s at the top of the food chain; it stalks things; it grabs things. It’s very confident and has a little bit of laziness to it, like a big cat. Again, those are aspects of going beyond anatomy into personality, creating an actor, basically.”
For the full fascinating article, take the link to the interview.