How effects legend Phil Tippett went from Star Wars and Jurassic Park to Mad God

Anyone concerned with science fiction, fantasy, or action movies from the 1970s to the 1990s grew up with the work of animator and special effects guru Phil Tippett, whether they know it or not. He is a legend in the industry, launched to prominence with his stop-motion work on the original Star Wars trilogy, from the design and filming of Chewbacca’s holographic chess set in Star Wars to cheer on the Tauntauns and AT-ATs in The Empire Strikes Back. His pioneering work on the practical and digital effects of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park won him an Oscar and gave him the freedom to launch your own study. It also made him a long lasting meme: The movie labeled him “Dinosaur Supervisor”, prompting internet pranksters to notice that he did not do his only job, since the dinosaurs escaped and began to eat people.

But the people who know his work for the aliens that look like insects Starship troopers or the effects of the creatures on Willow or the dragon in Dragon heart I have never seen your work as you will see it in Mad god, his 30-year stop-motion labor of love. Tippett began shooting the film as a personal project in 1990, then abandoned it when he started working on Jurassic Park, because of the time commitment that the film demanded. But he finally revived it at the urging of some friends who came across his first pictures and the puppets he had created for the project.

Ultimately, he crowdfunded the project on Kickstarter, releasing chapters of the film for subscribers as the work was completed and working on it with volunteers and friends from the industry behind the scenes. The finished 82-minute film is a series of nightmare vignettes without dialogue. An unnamed, gas-masked character (nicknamed “the Assassin” in film festival notes) descends into what appears to be hell and navigates a series of haunting horrors in search of a mad scientist, played live by Man repo and Sid and Nancy director Alex Cox. Tippett has said that the images came in part from his studio of artists Hieronymus Bosch and Peter Bruegel, but the nervous and anxious sequences, with humanoid and demonic creatures torturing and destroying each other, had more contemporary influences.

“It inspired me to stay on top of the news,” Tippett told Polygon in an interview shortly before. Mad godScreenings at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. “Wow, there are a lot of Bosch and Bruegel in the news every day. That’s what artists do: there is no way you can move around the environment, the mill that surrounds you and of which you are not even aware. We live in a tremendous state of anxiety, all of us, through all this shit that is going on. And it’s a great topic. “

Tippett says that the original 12-page treatment for the 1990 iteration of Mad god it was not so much a script as a description of the tone. “There were seasons in it. He knew where the stop signs were. “He says that friends and industry helpers who worked with him on the project didn’t really discuss the meaning of the film’s haunting and haunting sequences, but that they had“ kind of a mythological connection. of Joseph Campbell among all of us as we worked. “Some of the more elaborate ensembles, such as a battlefield the Assassin travels through, where the half-melted corpses of soldiers are piled up in tall, staggering piles, his team of helpers took a long time. three years building them, working weekends and nights.

“I got several volunteers, some of whom are very skilled artists who worked for me, and they donated their time,” says Tippett. “And then I would have college students, high school students, who would see me come in to give talks locally, and volunteer. So I found ways to use all of these people to do the heavy lifting, the complicated work that would have taken me forever. If I had to do it alone, I wouldn’t have done it, because it would just have irritated me. I have no time “.

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Despite massive changes in effects technology over the course of 30 years, Tippett says his techniques in Mad god they weren’t much different from the way he animated the holographic Star Wars chess set in the 1970s. “I don’t like reinventing the wheel, which I’ve had to do multiple times,” he says. “Whenever technology changes, everything changes, so you have to relearn things, but they were all very old techniques that digital technology allowed us to use more economically.”

A miserable-looking stop-motion jumpsuit tied to a surgical table looks sadly at the camera in Mad God

Image: Phil Tippett Studios

He used digital characters in one case. “There was a shot in Mad god that I filmed more than 30 years ago, and I needed to have some tiny characters like ants, ”he says. “And I couldn’t do them practically, due to the scale. It was a great miniature set, but it needed characters that were [indicates ant size] that big. So we made them digitally for that one take. Do whatever it takes. I treated it like a collage, just mixed and blended things. “

In terms of exactly how his anxiety for the world was manifested in the film, Tippett shrugs. “Well, nothing is intentional,” he says. “You know, it all comes from the zeitgeist. You don’t even think about it, it’s like breathing. It is the world you live in. I have practically made my peace with the world and the people who inhabit it. I am very misanthropic. I have no hope for humanity at all, so that’s a pretty big component of the movie too. I just don’t see us lasting forever. I think we will be lucky to survive for the next thousand years. “

He says that while he feels the film was heavily influenced by anxiety in the Donald Trump era – “I live in Berkeley, so you know where my politics is” – trying to convey any kind of specific political message would be “fascist cinema.” While he loves older political movies: “I was rewatching Fail safe and Dr. Strangelove, and they have great political moments ”- he thinks that most films that attempt to communicate a specific agenda are boring and pointless.

“Usually, all is too saccharine for me, ”he laughs. “Too much Hollywood, you know? It is too inbred and does not interest me at all. The cinema has gotten incredibly boring. […] It’s only about money. It’s not about skill. It’s not about craftsmanship, it’s about greed and American flair. It’s Coca Cola, you know, and just getting as much money as possible from your massive resources, to make more money and make more trash. “

Despite his long resume, Tippett describes himself as “completely fed up” with working on modern films. “Starship troopers It was the last one I had fun or enjoyed. I mean, the rest were [raspberry noise]. It just went downhill after that, for everyone. “

But you still look back on your Star Wars days with enthusiasm and affection. “Oh my, we were in pig heaven, kids in a candy store!” he says. “We were all in our early 20s. Almost none of us were 30 years old. [Cinematographer] Richard Edlund was the oldest guy in the store. It was exactly what we had dreamed of doing since we were children.

“I connected to my early Hollywood jobs doing television commercials, which was a great learning field. It was like a graduate review, you just have to read all of this really fast. We had great mentors and it was a really fun time.

“And then Dennis Muren and Ken Ralston got a job on the Star Wars night crew, and they introduced me and I helped work on the canteen scene and the chess game, and the chess game took off. Then then there was The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and [giddy speeding-up effect noise]. I never cared at all about work, because there was no competition. Usually I could see the projects piling up, because there was a lot of demand. When there was a big pause, it was only a matter of time before someone called. None of that caused me anxiety. “

He says that’s the main reason he’s no longer involved in their studio, in terms of taking on major effects supervisor roles. “I just can’t take it anymore. Too many micromanagers. It wasn’t like that when I did it Soldiers or Robocop, or was he working with George [Lucas] or Steven [Spielberg]. It was more or less one on one. You’re just working with the filmmaker and trying to translate what’s on the page and their address. That’s the job. I couldn’t do my own stuff, but the things that I was working on for all of these other guys’ projects were really exciting, because they were all different, you know? Aliens for one, robots for another and giant bugs for another. What the heck you know What a great job! “

Mad god It certainly shows that hunger for variety. Virtually every scene presents a new creator or setting or setting, in a dizzying confusion of horror, destruction, and consumption. When asked who the movie is for besides him, Tippett laughs.

“I have many different ways of avoiding that question!” He laughs. “But I think the best, the most accurate, is that Mad god it is an experience. It is not like a movie. It really comes from the same place that biblical visions come from. “

That approach explains a lot about Mad godThe sense of carefree, stream of consciousness, and the way so much of his images seem to come straight from the darkest places on id. “That movie is about visions that I had, that I could see in my mind,” says Tippett. “I can see things in my mind as three-dimensional objects and rotate around them. It is very easy for me to do things. I was very talented when I was younger. Now I am 70 years old and I have acquired a lot of skill. I just do everything intuitively. I don’t even think about what I’m cheering for. I just basically know what to do. ”

Mad god It is currently featured on a number of dates at film festivals around the world. Stay up-to-date with the film’s distribution plans at