Interview: John Celestri, Animator of Boba Fett in the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ #MayThe4th

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It’s May the 4th, and to celebrate we’re bringing you an exclusive interview with veteran animator John Celestri.

Celestri animated Boba Fett in the Star Wars Holiday Special, marking the now iconic bounty hunter’s first official appearance in media.

While many Star Wars fans pan the Star Wars Holiday Special, the Nelvana animated segment is often cited as a bright spot, and it paved the way for the Droids and Ewoks cartoon series years later.

PNP: What was your involvement in the Star Wars Holiday Special?

JC: My responsibility was to animate Boba Fett the Bounty Hunter. Villains are ALWAYS the most fun to animate.

I was originally cast to animate the Devil in Nelvana Studios’ The Devil & Daniel Mouse and had animated several scenes of that character (but I had to switch over to Daniel Mouse because the animator drawing him dropped out of the production); so, I made sure the Nelvana producers made up for it.

I jumped at the chance to animate what we at the studio thought would be a major villain in the sequel. At that time, we pretty much animated all the characters in a scene. For example, if Boba is talking to Chewie in a scene, I also animated Chewie reacting. After finishing up with my Boba scenes, I handled a couple of Luke Skywalker scenes.

PNP: Had you seen Star Wars before you began work on the animated sequence?

JC: I very much enjoyed seeing the first Star Wars film when it came out in the summer of 1977. I had watched reruns of the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials on TV back in the early 1960s, and knew first-hand Lucas’ movie references.

It was a ton of fun watching cutting-edge effects being layered over a classic storyline. So, I was excited to get a chance to work on a non-Saturday morning animated adventure. I knew we didn’t have the budget to produce the quality of the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, but we could give it our best shot!

PNP: What did Lucasfilm give you to work with in regards to Boba Fett? Was he already completely designed or did Nelvana have input?

JC: It was George Lucas who requested that Nelvana design the look of the cartoon in the style of French artist Jean “Moebius” Geraud, whose work could be seen in Heavy Metal magazine.

That direction and a black and white home movie showing a person wearing Boba Fett’s white prototype costume were basically all the cues Nelvana had to work with. So, all the colors for the production came from following Moebius’ sense of color…in Boba’s case blue was the base color. All the color models and basic designs had to be okayed by Lucas before production of the cartoon proceeded.

Boba Fett was originally designed to have a white costume. Here is George Lucas working on a test shot. (Source: reddit)

Frank Nissen, who was in charge of design and layout at Nelvana, drew a basic flat-style model sheet consisting of head-on, 3/4 front, profile, and rear views. As the only animator handling Boba, I ran that design through my pencil as I rough animated it, giving the design a more solid, 3-dimensional feel.

PNP: Have you seen The Mandalorian yet? There are some nods to the Star Wars Holiday Special in there!

JC: I’ve seen some scenes, but I don’t subscribe to any of the Disney channels.

“No disintegrations!” Boba Fett (above) and The Mandalorian (below) using an Amban Sniper Rifle, which made its debut in the Star Wars Holiday Special.

PNP: Do you have any original cels or artwork from your time on that project?

JC: I held on to my first rough animation pencil sketches of Boba Fett, which would normally have been tossed into the trash. I liked them and wanted to keep them as mementos of working on the project.

All other production artwork was gathered and returned to Lucas. I’ve included some of my “un-trashed” drawings in my Ruff Sketch animation and comic book portfolio, which is still InDemand as an active crowdfunding campaign.

PNP: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to become an animator?

JC: The best advice I can give to anyone wanting to develop as an animator is to observe the world around you. Study what makes living creatures act and what moves inanimate objects. Understand the principles of motion and acting; study film making. Don’t rely on motion capture or rotoscoping old cartoons or live action film…other than to study particular movements.

Check our John Celestri’s blog here. You can hear more about John Celestri’s animation career in a video interview on our sister pop culture YouTube channel, Clownfish TV.

 

A Disney fan, but never a "pixie duster." As a former newspaper editor, web developer, and Disney comics freelancer, I'm able to combine that experience into writing about Disney objectively. I previously built The Kingdom Insider website from the ground up, and was Managing Editor for years. Current co-host of the Clownfish TV YouTube channel. Opinions my own. Yes, they're STRONG ones. Deal with it.