Frank Ippolito, who has spent his entire adult life working in the movie industry, is a master at building creatures — think Star Wars‘s Mon Calamari characters and Stranger Things‘s Demigorgan — and he has more than a few great stories to tell.
Recently, Ippolito sat down with The Resistance Broadcast podcast team to talk all things The Mandalorian and The Force Awakens, both Star Wars projects he’s been involved with.
For nearly two hours, Ippolito shared set stories from The Mandalorian and tales from the Lucasfilm archives, but he started at the beginning. The hosts asked how he got his big break in Hollywood and Ippolito expressed that he never really had a single make-it or break-it moment.
“It was a long, slow build. I’ve never had a real job. I’ve always done this stuff,” the self-proclaimed “monster maker” shared.
Ippolito has worked in the Star Wars universe on multiple occasions, first, as previously stated, on Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) and then on both seasons of Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni’s hit Star Wars streaming series, The Mandalorian.
Ippolito noted, “I ended up working for McFarland Toys, you know, the action figure company, and then I ended up moving out here to Los Angeles” and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ippolito discussed the level of autonomy he has on Lucasfilm sets, which differs dramatically depending on what project he is tasked with. He shared a couple of specific examples:
“It depends on what the thing is that we’re doing. Like, when we did Gideon’s armor [Moff Gideon, played by Giancarlo Esposito] we had these gorgeous drawings and they said build this. So, you know, we built exactly what the drawings were.”
“Then, there was a time…remember the end of the first season, Greef Karga [played by Carl Weathers] had those three, uh, bounty hunters with him when they came back to the planet? When we were building those armors, the helmets and the armor and stuff, they were kinda like, well, just kinda make it look like this. So, it was a little bit looser…it’s not like they gave us, like, a blueprint.”
Then, Ippolito began sharing stories about his time creating Star Wars props and costumes, beginning with his admiration of Phil Tippett, who paved the way for “monster makers” like Ippolito way back in the original trilogy era, when he created Tauntauns, AT-AT units, and even iconic characters like Jabba the Hutt:
“Phil brought something to being the creature supervisor to these shows that a lot of other people don’t really think about…think of the Demigorgan [Ippolito has also worked on Stranger Things] or anything else, it’s all very sleek and muscular.
“Phil had…everything was, like, kinda sloppy and felt like it was alive. Like, they were all kinda fat and had weird things going on and there was just so much more character in those things. Like, thing about Jabba [Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi (1983)]. Who, like, these days, would have designed Jabba the way he was built? You think about the Tauntauns or the Calamari — that’s direct lineage to Phil [pointing at Mandalorian Mon Calamari sculpture behind him].
“He has a way of bringing out a sort of natural feel to these creatures.”
When Ippolito signed-on for the Star Wars sequel trilogy, he revealed it actually by accident. He first thought he was working on a short film Tippett was creating. Later, he was told what the real project was:
“I molded and cast and painted all of the chess set…there was eight of them. It was like a crazy dream job.”
“So they went [Phil Tibbets and his daughter, Sam] and they took the original four that was on George Lucas’s desk and they brought it over to the archives and we got to take some more photos and I brought a Pantone book…to get the colors just right. Of course we got to go look around the archives, which was awesome and I got a ton, a TON, of pictures of the original Calamari.”
“You can’t imagine it. You’ll go through some of the racks of stuff and it’s like, ‘Oh there’s Indiana Jones and Marion’s costume from Indiana Jones’ and it’s like ‘This is great.’ And then, like, one aisle over it’s like, okay, here’s all of the Boba Fett armor, here’s all of his backpacks and helmets.”
“I knew it was my responsibility to get those colors right. Even on the stuff we’re building now, it’s our responsibility to, like, make the armor nice and shiny or make it look like it’s worn correctly.”
Although Ippolito didn’t specifically say which armor he was talking about, it’s likely that the “shiny” set of armor belongs to none other than title Mandalorian bounty hunter, Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) who is currently gearing up for The Mandalorian Season 3.
The scuffed-up armor on the other hand? Probably Boba Fett’s (Temuera Morrison) iconic green beskar. Morrison is set to reprise his role as the original trilogy bounty hunter in the Mandalorian spinoff The Book of Boba Fett, premiering December 2021.
Ippolito’s commitment to preserving the onward was apparent throughout his interview, but particularly when he spoke about his reverence for the archives. from
Finally, Ippolitio talked about his inadvertent fame as the surprisingly popular dockworker Mon Calamari — yes, the one who ineptly “fixes” the Razor Crest for Djarin and Grogu — in The Mandalorian Season 2, Episode 3 (“Chapter 11: The Heiress”) directed by Bryce Dallas Howard.
He quipped, “No, I was wearing the boots the whole time!” when the podcast hosts asked if he donned slippers on-set since he was shown from the waist up on film.
Ippolito also confirmed that he worked with the first unit on The Mandalorian set:
“It was Bryce, it was first unit, yeah. She was super easy to deal with. I had interacted with her on the first season…when we were building Gina’s [Cara Dune played by Gina Carano] costume, Bryce was there, Jon [Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau] was there…”
This episode, although it wasn’t one of the second season’s longest, introduced Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) and her Nite Owl warriors in live-action for the very first time. This made it a favorite for long-time Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels fans.
The newly-minted Star Wars actor also shared these details about his involvement with The Mandalorian Season 2, which, unfortunately for Ippolito did not seem to include being on-hand the day Mark Hamill made his cameo as iconic Jedi Luke Skywalker:
“We were also tending to the background Calamari [on the planet Trask set], so I would kick the boots off when we were not shooting, but I was in that costume all day long…Like I didn’t have the head on all day, but I had the overalls and everything on, so the ADs [assistant directors] didn’t want me to take the costume off in case they needed me”
Podcast host, Lacey, noted, “Everyone’s favorite part about the character was…you being you…the sassiness, the shaking of the head…that’s all you.”
Ippolito has also worked on creating Tatooine’s Tusken Raiders for The Mandalorian. He did not confirm details about the new season of the popular show, The Mandalorian Season 3, or any of its spinoffs — Ahsoka, Rangers of the New Republic, and The Book of Boba Fett.
After Skywalker’s surprise appearance, some fans have wondered if similar technology will ever be used to recreate Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) circa Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi (1983) in The Mandalorian.
Fisher, of course, approved a CGI cameo of Leia in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) shortly before her untimely passing, so this certainly isn’t out of the question if Favreau and Filoni want to go that route at some point.
Watch the full Frank Ippolito interview below:
What do you think about Ippolito’s behind-the-scenes look at the Star Wars universe?