VFX: Tippett employs stop motion for <I>The Book of Boba Fett</I>
Issue: March/April 2022

VFX: Tippett employs stop motion for The Book of Boba Fett

BERKELEY, CA — Tippett Studio (www.tippett.com) continued its collaboration with Lucasfilm, producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, and director Robert Rodriguez, creating an iconic call back to the Return of the Jedi with new stop-motion animation featured in Disney+’s The Book fo Boba Fett. In Season 1, Episode 3 of The Book of Boba Fett, an establishing shot brings viewers to the desert environment of Tatooine, where Jabba's Palace can be seen in the distance. In the foreground, a spider-like droid, known as a B’omarr Monk, crosses the screen. These creatures were first seen in the background of Return of the Jedi (1983). Here, it was recreated using stop-motion animation, moving much like a spider with a human brain in a fluid-filled jar.

Tippett Studio was given a CG model from ILM of the creature and had to reverse engineer it to go from a digital figure to a physical puppet. This involved small design changes to make its joints work as desired. The puppett was designed digitally and then 3D printed. Brett Foxwell, a machinist who has worked with Tippett for years, collaborated with art director Mark Dubeau and 3D printing/digital engineering Sean Charlesworth, who modified the model. Together, they sculpted the back end and 3D printed it. Then, the physical model got painted, textured and given its rusty appearance.

"Often, the least expensive thing to do is often the best thing to do," explains Mark Dubeau. "We 3D printed his butt and could have put a ton of time into figuring out the perfect paint, but instead just bought eight types of women's nylons, stretched them over the back end, and got the satin look we were going for that created the perfect look. Would have gone nuts trying to paint it to get a multilayered satin feeling."

The set was built based on a digital animatic. The crew pushed and pulled the ground plane until the filmmakers liked its overall contour. The digital model was then sliced up at intervals and exported as outlines, which were re-constructed out of foam core, with sculptor’s mesh laid across the top and fiberglass with an epoxy resin, which was textured using a variety of things, including a mix of dirt with putties, troweled on to get rock texture. This was then sprayed with paints and splatters to get the look to feel of Tatooine’s sand surface. It had to be done in a way that couldn't be disturbed. If the animator brushed against real sand, it would have rubbed it off, so the challenge was to have it look like sand and rock without the delicacy of real sand.  

"In the end, we basically created a giant piece of sand paper,” he explains.

Tom Gibbons animated the shot. VFX supervisor Chris Morley and Ken Rogerson built a motion-control rig for the moving camera, lit and shot it with assistance and supervision by Phil Tippett. The piece was internally produced by VFX producer and head of production Dale Taylor. The sequence proved to be a good testing ground for the studio’s new motion-control system for future projects with dynamic camera moves.  

For the brain, the studio was prepared to manufacture it, but ILM decided they wanted it to slosh around in fluid. Tippett put a post with a ball on it, which stuck out and was used as a matchmove point for the final composite. ILM finished the shot, adding the brain and matte painting in the background, though Tippett put together a precomp, which indicated where and how everything would fit together.

The shot was tough because it was backlit. Doug Chiang, ILM VP and executive creative director, approved a paint master for the character that was very dark - dark brown and rusty - to match the way it was seen in the movie - a silhouette in the background. Now that it was to be seen in daylight, it had to have more detail added to make it interesting in that lighting. Tippett Studio shifted from black to a dark silver that would contrast with the rust.  

The legs of the spider were 3D printed in metal, relieving Brett Foxwell from having to machine the parts.