Monster-maker rises to ‘New Moon’ challenge

Phil Tippett talks 'Twilight' werewolves

Master creature-maker Phil Tippett has been hard at work on the “Twilight” franchise, especially the werewolves for the upcoming “New Moon,” which have proven especially challenging.

“A lot of the stuff we’re shooting is in the worst conditions possible for computer graphics,” he says. “The skies are overcast, so the lighting is very flat. Unlike something like ‘Transformers’ or ‘District 9’ where you have a lot of light kicking off hard-shell candy surfaces, we have … wolves (with) fur, and fur soaks up light.”

The “Twilight” pics are being made at a breakneck pace, with post on one overlapping shooting on the next. But even scrambling with the second unit to make their daily quota, says Tippett, “We just have a blast. We call it doing the Vulcan mind-meld thing, where we’re reading each others’ minds because we’re working so fast.”

Tippett gained fame among “Star Wars” fans for his “go-motion” animation for “The Empire Strikes Back” (Remember the Imperial Walkers?), then won an Oscar for “Return of the Jedi.”

In 1984, he opened his own shop, Tippett Studios. He switched to digital vfx, won a second Oscar for his digital dinosaurs on “Jurassic Park,” and is still going strong as he celebrates his studio’s 25th anniversary.

“I never imagined I’d be around this long,” Tippett says, “but I did imagine, as a kid growing up in Southern California, that I would have my own visual effects studio in Berkeley, because that’s where I was born and that’s where my extended family was.”

As for his work on “Twilight,” Tippett can only smile. “Everybody tries to have fun,” he says. “I hope that leaks out on the shots.”