Artist Interview with Terryl Whitlatch, Star Wars Creature Designer

Posted On: 11/05/14

Terryl Whitlatch We're thrilled to announce a very exciting relationship with famed creature designer Terryl Whitlatch. Terryl and Copic Marker are teaming up to bring you an online art education experience unlike any other!

Be on the lookout for a preview of the program, and join us at Anime Expo in Los Angeles for demonstrations July 2nd -4th at the Copic booth (#501).

Terryl will also be on hand Friday, July 1st in our booth at Anime.Music.Manga in Anaheim. Also be sure to check out The Jedi Path, a new collector's item for Jedi enthusiasts featuring Terryl's illustrations. What was it like to work for Lucasfilms and the Star Wars Universe?

Working for the Lucasfilms companies, in my case, Industrial Light and Magic, LucasArts, LucasBooks, LucasLearning, as well as Lucasfilms itself, was a blast. We worked long hours, but the time went quickly, it was quite a roller coaster, with lots of deadlines, and lots of fun. Regarding Star Wars itself, those films are under the jurisdiction of Lucasfilms. 

For Star Wars—The Phantom Menace, I was the principal creature designer, and invented most of the creatures, as well as reinterpreting preexisting characters, in that film.  I  designed Jar Jar Binx, Sebulba, the majority of the pod racers, and most of the animals that swam, crawled, flew, and galloped in that film.  I also worked on Star Wars—The Special Edition, and Star Wars, Episode 2.

Working for George Lucas was a great experience.  He met with us at least once a week, but you never knew when he might pop in.  He was a very gentle, genuinely nice person, and had quite a pithy, funny sense of humor.  I really liked him, and he treated us very well.

This might sound like a silly question, but were you a Star Wars fan before working on the films? I saw the first films in the theater when I was a teenager, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and was blown away by the amazing special effects that had never been seen before, and which changed the face of movie making forever.  I had fallen in love with the wonderful stop action animation and creatures of  Ray Harryhausen when I was a child, and this was the next natural step.  I really liked the way George Lucas took what he saw in real life, and just put a little spin on it.  For example, we can believe in banthas because we know about elephants and woolly mammoths. Or, likewise, Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder because we’ve seen Ford Galaxies and Chevy Impalas.  So, yes, I have a great fondness and appreciation for the Star Wars films.

When you were asked to contribute to The Jedi Path, how did you feel? I was very happy to be asked, first of all.  I’d been working on many other projects since the last films, and it was great to be doing some Star Wars work again.

What is The Jedi Path, and what is it about? The Jedi Path is basically a long lost training manual for young Jedi apprentices, called Padowans.  Due to the long wars of Federation vs the Empire, all the other Jedi documents have either been lost or destroyed.  This is the only surviving Jedi literature.  It contains all sorts of secret information on becoming a Jedi, such as fighting techniques, survival methods, histories of the Jedi Order, handwritten notes from various Jedi knights such as, Luke Skywalker, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and yes, even Yoda.  There are other goodies, like tokens and badges tucked in its pages.  The book itself is protected in a special hi-tech mechanical vault.  The Jedi Path is a must-have for any true Star Wars fan.

Certainly documenting in great detail the Jedi Knight creed is not a small undertaking. Did you meet the author, and what was it like to collaborate with him? Daniel Wallace, the author of The Jedi Path, was delightful to work with.  It’s not easy to trace and tie together all the lore and information concerning this subject that has accumulated over the last thirty-four years since the original Star Wars film was released in the theaters.  Rosanna Brockley, the hard working designer of the book, was equally as wonderful to work with.

What were your favorite Creatures of the Force that you designed?  Were there already pre-existing designs of them that you reinterpreted? I illustrated 6 different creatures, which already had various interpretations by various artists over the years.  I tried to do a definitive interpretation for each one, and looked to nature for inspiration, such as salamanders,  caterpillars, and sabertooth cats.  My favorite three are the Jakobeast, Nighthunter, and Beck-tori.  While these creatures are all different species, and not biologically related to one another, what they do have in common is their ability to use the Force, for survival and defense.

We're told you used Copic markers to illustrate these creatures. Is that correct? Yes. I chose to do these in traditional media, to give a more authentic look given the history and archaeological nature of The Jedi Path.  However, the creatures had to look highly realistic and contemporary at the same time.  Copic markers, which are Industry standards, with their fresh appeal, color variety, and easy blendibility, were the perfect choice for the project.

Is there anything else are you currently doing in the Star Wars Universe? Yes, definitely, and I will be able to tell you about it shortly—but what I can say is that this time it has a great deal to do with the dark side of the Force!

Tags: Artists, Creature design, Illustration, Inspire, Interview, Showcase, Star Wars, Terryl Whitlatch, Edited,