Locarno Film Festival
He has been drawing, tinkering and animating since he was a child and would like to be surprised again in the cinema. Unfortunately, all of his dreams have already come true. By himself. We met him for a chat.
He’s wearing a denim vest over bare arms, tight black pants, comfortable shoes, he’s 67 and actually looks like he’s not quite among us. Phil Tippett has animated countless fantastic films with special effects and creatures in Hollywood. “Jurassic Park”, “Indiana Jones”, “Star Wars”, “Starship Troopers”, “Robocop” and the “Twilight” films are his playgrounds. His first directorial work, which he is now showing at festivals, is called “Mad God »And could be something like a self-portrait of the artist as completely crazy.
Mr. Tippett, I just saw you smoke – what brand?
American Spirits. But I’m actually not a smoker, Locarno makes me one. Because I don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s like standing in front of a firing squad and they offer me one last cigarette.
Do you see the public and the press as firing squad?
Yes. I recently saw Jean Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet. Enrique Rivero is tied to a stake, the firing squad aim their rifle barrels at him, but then everyone shoots in the air. I always hope that everyone just shoots in the air with me.
That sounds amazingly fearful to a master of fear like you. You have the ability to make fantastic things seem so deceptively real that they inevitably nestle in the subconscious of the audience. For example, I cannot walk past an empty restaurant kitchen without thinking of dinosaurs. And since I looked at your arachnids from Starship Troopers again this morning, I know why I’m so afraid of spiders. What do you think when you see a spider? Do you have visions there?
It depends on the job. I just do what the script and direction want. My imagination stops working as soon as I have what I need. I am the man for the organic. That inspires me. Technology, on the other hand, is not at all. It has always been like that. I think my drawing style stopped when I was around twenty years old. I haven’t developed any further since then.
At the moment it is teeming with fantastic series and films. Does this arise from some particularly heightened, childish public need for escapism?
Oh no, that just stems from the need for lots and lots of money from Netflix and HBO and a few others. Everyone is screaming for content. And produce nothing but hot air. But I saw that coming. Everything works cyclically.
They freed themselves with their own directorial work, with the stop-motion film “Mad God”, on which they worked for a good thirty years, a slaughterhouse of monsters and crazy scientists. How happy was this work for you?
Not at all! She kind of promoted me to psychiatry. Seriously.
Trailer for «Mad God» (2021)
Okay, that was your choice.
No not true. I had no idea what was happening to me. The project ate me up. For the past couple of years I’ve hated it, it was too much, I fell apart. My clothes were in tatters, my hands were scarred from injuring myself so often, I stopped showering and cutting my hair and beard – I didn’t notice any of this, but those around me did.
So you really identified yourself with the title. In essence, film directors are nothing more than crazy gods.
Yes. «Mad Dog» was like a vision that I had to implement, I had no strength to defend myself against it.
You mentioned that your early years were the most formative of your art. Do you remember the first monster you drew?
I started drawing dinosaurs and spaceships when I was about five, always with lots of blood and lots of red. I was totally obsessed even then. And haven’t done anything else since then. I draw and create. Then nothing. Others take care of everything else, I don’t want to waste time. My wife runs my studio.
You are a builder of the fantastic. How would you describe that?
I just want to create things that I’ve never seen before. I am not interested in anything else.
In other words, a huge project like “Jurassic Park” was a mere fulfillment of duty for you?
No! That was a fun! As a child I had done my homework and had done several decades of paleontological research. I knew everything about dinosaurs.
Were you Spielberg’s sour advisor?
Exactly. I could say, okay, if you need dinosaurs that live in the herd, you need this and that variety. If you need dinosaurs that can run fast, there is really only one that can do 50 kilometers per hour. And when a tyrannosaurus eats a man, you have to see it! The studio wet its pants.
After all, “Jurassic Park” was also a family film.
But Spielberg thought, of course we will show that!
Are there still films that can surprise you?
Hardly, because I’ve already seen everything. All of my childhood dreams have come true. Scorsese said in an interview the other day that the last film that blew him away was “Gravity” by Alfonso Cuarón. That was spectacular! But it was eight years ago. Since? Nothing!
We’ll still find something. How about “Interstellar”?
No. I’m not a fan of Christopher Nolan.
Or “Blade Runner 2049” by Denis Villeneuve?
That was pretty. Not bad. But not great either.
Or “Arrival”, also from Villeneuve?
That’s right, I liked it, although …
The story meandered too much for me. That reminded me of Terence Malick. I don’t like that at all.
May I ask you, as a Swiss, what you think of HR Giger and his alien? After all, it is remarkable that someone wins an Oscar with his first attempt for Hollywood.
Because his creature was awesome! Because we had never seen anything like this before. Giger’s alien was amazing. However, it wasn’t his creature that made the movie good, it was actually pretty bad, so everything around them had to be so much the better.
It was the same problem as with “The White Shark”, technically you just weren’t that far and had to distract you with a good story. The great white shark, for example, was a huge rubber monster that was difficult to move and could not stand the salt water in which it was swimming. There weren’t too many settings in which the alien or shark looked good. And you had to work with abstraction. So show only a small part of it first, a nightmarish premonition, not the whole monster. Because the whole monster just wasn’t too much.
Abstraction is a good keyword: apart from Spielberg’s dinosaurs, your creatures are never naturalistic, but abstractions from nature.
Oh, I don’t think about it that much. I make small, simple concepts and carry them out. When I was designing the sandpit monster for Star Wars, for example, I wanted to cross a bear with a potato. Not more. Incidentally, I think Giger’s art is really bad. It’s redundant and nihilistic and …
… also a bit sexist …
… just real old-man art. To me, Giger was always an old man.
Do you actually take care of offspring? Do you teach young people?
Hmmmm, yes, but I prefer to call myself a mentor rather than a teacher.
And did you notice one or the other talent?
Yes, a few. But nobody was really interesting.
Do you actually think of an audience when you work?
Not a bit. I live from visions and energies. From inspiration. If you asked Mozart and Bach how they composed their music, they would say: “I don’t think, I just translate what comes over me. What God sends me. ” I feel the same way.
And your inspiration? Does it come from God too?
No, I believe more in things like old souls. For example, I feel connected to the Cro-Magnon people and their cave paintings. Fantastic art! And nobody knows what they believed in and what they thought. Basically, there is a constant white noise in my head from which something emerges from time to time, and then I know what to do. I’ve gotten used to it, even if it’s a nuisance.