Visual effects legend Phil Tippett, whose stop-motion horror film “Mad God” was finally released last year, is a special effects Emmy hopeful this season for an episode of “Poker Face” by Rian Johnson on Peacock, written and directed by star Natasha Lione. Not only did he contribute old-school monster puppets, but he also inspired his story about a gruff old stop-motion director (Nick Nolte). The busy Tippett also provided the Hell Cave art for Season 3 of ‘The Mandalorian’ (on Disney+).
Both projects are the result of Tippett’s “Star Wars” fame, which began when he headed ILM’s animation department on “The Empire Strikes Back.” In the sequel to “Star Wars”, he co-developed the animation technique “go motion” (stop-motion with motion blur) and was responsible for the AT-AT Imperial Walkers and alien hybrid Tauntauns. In “Return of the Jedi,” he won his first Oscar for his work on creatures; with “Jurassic Park,” he earned his second
“I’ve known Rian for a while when he was here making ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi,'” Tippett told IndieWire. “He came, we went to our favorite Mexican restaurant, Juan’s, and stayed there for dinner. I’ve known him for a while. So we are fans of each other. It’s just like certain filmmakers, Rian and Guillermo del Toro and Jon Favreau, we’re cut from the same block of cheese.
“The Mandalorian” creator Favreau hired Tippett to help with the design of the giant stop-motion “Scrapwalkers” (a variation of the AT-AT) for the season 2 episode “The Believer” and asked him to return to design part of the scenery for the third season episode “The Mines of Mandalore”.
“Jon wanted to revisit the ‘Empire’ walking machines,” Tippett said, “and they came up with the idea of this trampoline and distributing them in piles of trash. Then Jon had seen ‘Mad God’ and wanted this section ‘Mandalorian goes to hell’, as he called it, to look like (my film).” They built the set in 1/35 scale and Tippett enjoyed to explore locations in VR with glasses.
The “Poker Face” association began when Johnson wanted to make a stop-motion episode as a tribute to Tippett (“The Orpheus Syndrome”). It turns out that Nolte’s casting was physically perfect, with Tippett even acting as a stand-in for the actor’s hands in most of the scenes.
“The Orpheus Syndrome” concerns Nolte’s director haunted by an actress’s accidental drowning on the set 40 years ago while filming her last film. Remember Natalie Wood’s mysterious drowning during the making of “Brainstorm,” directed by visual effects guru Doug Trumbull.
“They sent Nick some documentaries about me so he could get the vibe,” Tippett said. “He watched the documentaries and saw that I had a long beard and he wondered why they had asked him to trim his beard. He wanted to be free to do what he wanted, so I’m quite sensitive to leaving the actors alone. The set was really small and I just wanted to stay away from it. I basically stayed in a video village and watched and talked to other people.
“I bonded with Natasha, though. We spent a good hour at lunch chatting about everything. We have many similar stories about doing things and the damage one suffers psychologically when one goes up to that level or goes down to that level of intensity.
Tippett was granted free artistic reign for the episode and provided a monstrous mash from “Mad God” along with articulated skeleton parts and other macabre creatures, including a creepy Cerberus, a boy with a red light on his head and an exploding head. of an animal. An entire puppet-making team worked on the episode and it was submitted for Emmy consideration along with Tippett. “I sent them close to everything,” he said. “There must have been close to a dozen things that they littered around the set.”
Tippett is excited by the burgeoning state of stop-motion, with Laika and ShadowMachine in Portland, the continued success of Aardman in the UK, the occasional indie forays of Wes Anderson, and del Toro’s Oscar-winning debut with his groundbreaking ‘Pinocchio’.
“It’s gotten a renaissance, kind of a foundation, I guess you’d call it,” she said. “A lot of people are tired of computer graphics and stop motion is much closer to reality in terms of what you’re dealing with… a real object and there are real lights. Puppets hundreds of years ago were the show of the day. But then he enters the sphere where there is an unreality that is just magical. It has a dramatic touch.