Lucasfilm creature designer Terryl Whitlach spoke Thursday on characters created for the new Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace. Ms. Whitlach has worked extensively in the film industry, video games, and has illustrated several book jackets. Whitlach is responsible for the birth of virtually all the new characters you see in Episode One, including Jar Jar Binks and the Gungan, Watto, Sebulba and all the other podracers, and the undersea creatures.
During pre-production for the film, Ms. Whitlach met with George Lucas weekly. In order to create Jar Jar, she started with only a personality description from Lucas. His guidance was that Jar Jar should be an amalgam of Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Stewart and Danny Kaye. After that, she was given great leeway to design the character’s physical traits. Jar Jar went through several incarnations, eventually taking about a year and a half to create. Sebulba, on the other hand, was created easily in one day with only two drawings.
All of Whitlach’s creatures are drawn first without costumes, so the animators get a sense of how the characters should move. Their muscular and skeletal systems are sketched and coloration and costumes are added later.
Ms. Whitlach draws heavily on Earthly creatures as an inspiration and starting point for most of her creatures. As a zoology major in college, she then went to art school. Jar Jar is an amphibian, but was given several characteristics of bird-like creatures, specifically an emu. George Lucas was adamant that each planet have a fully developed ecology. For more information on the Gungan ecology, check out the Gungan Frontier CD, currently in stores. Ms. Whitlach will be a guest on several in the Matters of the Force panels. Check your pocket program for more details.