The cinema of Phil Tippett


The stop-motion effects guru who animated the Tauntauns and AT-ATs in the Star Wars films and was later demoted to Dinosaur Supervisor on Jurassic Park when ILM showed Spielberg a computer graphics reel. Not only was he prolific, but once you’re aware of it the visual style of his work it is instantly recognizable, and seems to have been borne out of strategies to get around the limits and conventions of stop-motion – long shots are intercut with unusually intimate close-ups, the camera is moving (or made to seem to be moving through the use of foreground elements) as often as it is standing still, and he makes extensive use of motion blur. It’s a signature style that is more expressive than illusory; I remember when I saw Howard the Duck for the first time when I was 7 or so being really confused by the monster at the end because the initial close-up is so visually perplexing, though in the end I may have ended up being more frightened of it because I had such a hard time figuring it out what exactly it was; the blurry close-ups and its ease of moment made it an especially threatening nightmare creature.

In 1984 Phil made a short film in his garage called Prehistoric Beast that was so impressive he was later asked to expand into a full-length documentary, Dinosaur!, for which he won an Emmy for best visual effects. When the book Jurassic Park was released 5 years later it probably looked like kismet, which is what makes the fact that he lost out to computer effects particularly tragic. But Prehistoric Beast is beautiful and worth your time; he recently made a digital remaster available on YouTube, embedded below. All 48 minutes of Dinosaur! can also be found on YouTube.


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