From Animationsinstitut to FMX, from there to the studio of stop-motion legend Phil Tippett and on to - we can hardly believe it ourselves when we read this - Star Wars. This is the short version of what actually happened to our animation student Arne Hain. The longer version is even more exciting. Read it yourself!
My eight-year-old self wouldn't have believed me if I had told him that I would one day animate a scene for a part of the Star Wars saga. Once you’ve done it, it doesn't feel that special anymore. But as soon as I take a step back and think about it again, it amazes me once more and I wonder how I ended up here.
I am 24 years old and have been studying animation at Filmakademie Baden- Württemberg since 2015. I have been a film enthusiast since early childhood and started making my own films at the age of eight. That's the way it is with most people I know in the industry. I have a particularly great passion for the technique of stop motion animation. Here figures are handmade, moved and photographed frame by frame. An old technique, which nowadays has been largely replaced by computer animation. I am not only connected to this technique by my affinity to build things with my hands, but also by the belief that it gives the viewer a very special magic. The eye always sees the difference between an object that really exists and a computer generated object. It feels real, because it is real.
Many people try out animation in their childhood with clay or Lego figures, I just didn't stop. While most of my fellow students sit at the computer screen, I build figures and sets, light them and move them frame by frame over a period of several days.
Nowadays, stop motion is rarely seen and it is even rarer that a big movie is shot in which the stop motion technique is used. When computers did not exist, many of the effects in big Hollywood movies were created using stop motion. Pioneers of this time were Willis O'Brien, later Ray Harryhausen and Phil Tippett. Phil did the animations for Star Wars in the 70's, later founded his own studio and was part of the transition from stop motion to computer animation. He was also responsible for the animations for Robocop, Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers and won two Oscars for his work. But the change to computer animation has changed his life a lot. Today Tippett Studios still exists, but the employees earn their money with computer animation for big film productions and theme park entertainment.
Phil and a couple of employees have started their own film project called MAD GOD. A dystopian film in which they revived all kinds of old techniques, costumes, practical special effects and stop motion. I heard about the project early on and it fascinated me. For years I followed what was being created on the other side of the world via the internet, while I started studying animation in Germany and had my own animation successes and failures.
Every year the Animation Institute of Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg organizes a big VFX conference, the FMX. Speakers from all over the world come here and present their work. We students have the opportunity to be student guides for these speakers and get to know them better. When I heard that Phil Tippett would be guest this year, I could not believe my luck. Three weeks in advance I went to my coordinator and signed up for Mr. Phil Tippett. When we met, Phil and I got along very well. We drank a beer or two and he was very relieved that I didn't just want to talk about VFX and Star Wars. When I expressed interest in his project "MAD GOD", he invited me to his place in the USA to help out for six weeks. I could not believe my luck. So I packed my things and went to the USA, to Berkeley California.
For that time I was even accommodated in the guest room of Phil and his wife and had the chance to get to know them very well. Phil's wife Jules is CEO of Tippett Studios and does all the tough money business. Working on MAD GOD was great. It was like making my own films, but on a large scale with lots of equipment and space. The six weeks flew by and when I was back in Germany Phil called me. He offered to arrange a visa for me and to hire me for eight months at Tippett Studios. Of course I didn't want to miss out on that.
My eight-year-old self would not have believed me if I had told him that I would one day animate a scene for a part of the Star Wars saga.Arne Hain
In spring I moved back in with Phil and Jules and every day Phil and I went to the studio together to finish MAD GOD. You have to know that Phil has been working on MAD GOD for almost 20 years now. Because there is no constant financing this has not always been easy. Phil is an incredibly focused and impressive person. Every day, except Sunday, he goes to the studio, sits down in his company meetings and then starts tinkering and working. And he does it all. Most of the time it was just Phil and me working side by side, on weekends there were more helpers and every now and then people came along who brought their expertise to the project. I couldn't have had a better teacher than Phil, and after a short period of settling in he just let me do the work and everyone went about their business.
MAD GOD is an unbelievable project unlike anything else I have seen. Most of it comes directly from Phil's head and is not even put on paper. The whole process is very spontaneous and intuitive. The two rules Phil gave me were:
"1. Set up a camera.
2. Don't think!"
MAD GOD is divided into different parts. Parts 1-3 are finished and can be bought online. I worked on the two remaining parts. Together they bbecome a 70 min long film, dark and powerful. Definitely not a mainstream film, but something extraordinary. Every detail is handmade and the pictures are so full and overloaded that you can always discover the film anew.
I have taken Tippett Studios to my heart during my time there. It's a place full of creative outcasts. The whole studio consists of two buildings and is crammed with figures and props from old projects. Upstairs the staff work on the computer while we do our experiments in the studio below. During my time at Tippett Studios I had the pleasure to meet a lot of experienced and lovely people. Among them Jim Aupperle, who has already worked on movies like Ghostbusters and Nightmare before Christmas, as well as Webster Colcord, Chuck Duke and Tom Gibbons, who are incredibly great stop motion animators and taught me a lot, Chris Morley, who plays a big part in MAD GOD as cameraman and Ken Rogersson, who is the editor for the project.
In fact, we had finished MAD GOD after six months and all that’s left is post-production and editing. Shortly before we finished MAD GOD, there was news that the studio would again be creating the hologram chessboard for the new movie Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. This is a scene that already appears in the first Star Wars movie, back in the days stop motion animated by Phil Tippett. Since the more recent movies there has always been a scene with this chessboard integrated, always stop motion. Because I was in the right place at the right time, Phil gave me the chance to animate this scene. Again I could not believe my luck. Together with Chuck Duke and Tom Gibbons I animated the holo chessboard for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
I still can't believe my luck. I will be able to tell my grandchildren that I animated on a Star Wars movie.