Writing Star Wars Stories we often get to hear some terrific tales, definitely not ones you’d simply store away in the cargo hold. Mark Austin’s story of working in very successful commercials lead to a dream job working on the visual effects of the Star Wars Special Editions.
Mark continues to be successful working in film. He’s worked on a few other films you may have heard of such as Avengers Assemble, Oblivion, Thor: The Dark World and a whole lot more. Did I mention this wonderful journey involved one very cool acting role? Mark portrayed everyone’s favourite Bounty Hunter, Boba Fett (You haven’t got the title yet Din Djarin!)
Shall we just get on with the story? As you wish…
Great to speak to you, Mark. The majority of your credits are Visual Effects on some huge films and Star Wars is one of your earliest jobs, so tell us how all of it began for you?
I started off in commercials for five years. I used to make the Tetley Tea Bag commercials for the round bags in the UK and Ribena was the other big one up to the point where I went to America in 1994.
The company I was working for declared bankruptcy and I thought that was the best job I could ever get in the world. I was unemployed for the first time ever. Then I got the offer to head to America. I had never been out of a job before but a friend of mine told me they were looking for animators at ILM. I was a bit apprehensive because I thought that meant computer animation, which wasn’t my strong point, but they wanted traditional animators. Long story short I got an 18-month gig working on Casper and it was on the job for Casper that all the Star Wars stuff started.
Before Casper came out all this stuff with Boba Fett happened. Everyone thinks that it was when I was working on A New Hope Special Edition doing the animation and the effects. I had to go and ask for the day off and I did the blue screen shoot during Casper production. It all came about because of some summits at Skywalker Ranch where I jumped in the Boba Fett suit a few times and I became known as the guy who fit the suit that was on hand, and everything just worked out.
In the morning was the first shot walking on – get to your mark, make sure no one’s going to trouble your boss Jabba the Hutt – and the afternoon was a bit more complicated as I had to look at where Han Solo’s eye line would have been. They put some tape where he would have been on the Millennium Falcon ramp for me to focus on. For the final sweep end of shot I had to look like this [Mark looks diagonally] but the T-Visor on Boba’s helmet is looking straight on. No one said anything to me about that but George Lucas came down and picked the shot where the helmet is facing the camera. I thought well if he likes it then I like it!
People always ask me “Why are you looking at the camera?” and the truth is you can’t see my eyes, but I’m not looking at the camera.
You’d been successful already by this point, made some great commercials, worked on Casper and now you are Boba Fett in the Special Edition. Did you feel like you’d made it at that point?
I was happy at the end of my career in commercials, a whole country knows my work and I thought I’d made it then. When I got to wear the actual suit for the summit I thought that was the highest it could get, then I wore it a second time and then for the blue screen shoot, and I’m constantly thinking it can’t get better than this. I went on to do visual effects on Avengers, X-Men: Days of Future Past happened, then Oblivion happened and it still goes up and up now that I work for Netflix. I could die right now and feel like I had more than my fair share of good fortune in my life.
I’ve read the Ronto and Jawa story on your website (enjoy finding it readers!). Is that a normal day in the life of someone in visual effects?
That whole snowball effect where an idea gets momentum is normal in visual effects. Most of the time it goes off course, you do the shot and it comes full circle. In that case it just went to the extreme and I don’t know how it ended up in the movie. I finished the job, left for Disney, but heard they were still changing stuff.
Personally, what would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars either in front of the camera or behind it?
The time I choked up, I did a shot for A New Hope and very quickly it became like I was just doing the background stuff. George Lucas had this scene he wanted adding in involving a Stormtrooper dismounting from a Dewback and the producer asked if we needed to shoot it with blue screen, but I said no, I can animate that.
I got the producer and I said you can be my stunt man, climb up this step ladder, hang off it and jump off and I’ll make it a Stormtrooper and a Dewback instead of you and a step ladder.
We showed that to Lucas and he asked “How did you get that footage? No way is that animated.” We said it was animated and he was really shocked. That was my crowning achievement.
I thought that your story may be something like that rather than playing Boba Fett. There are an awful lot more people who can say they wear Mandalorian armour now, but for yourself is that something you are quite happy to be known for?
Boba Fett was the one character I could relate to. When I watched the first Star Wars film I was obsessed with Stormtroopers, their uniform and all that. Then I saw The Empire Strikes Back and it was time for the Stormtroopers to move along and it was all about Boba Fett.
The whole reason I got picked to do the summits which lead to the movie part is that the guy who does the archives (Don Bies) knew I was the biggest Boba Fett nerd. His name for Star Wars nutters like me was “Squid Heads” and he said I was a Squid Head for Boba Fett.
With that came an obsession with Jeremy Bulloch, Dickey Beer, John Morton, Jason Wingreen and all the guys who played him. I never met any of them until 2015 where I did an interview with Aaron Proctor for the Boba Fett Fan Club and since then we’ve kept in contact. I was just talking to Daniel Logan [Boba Fett, Attack of the Clones] and Don Bies who ran the archives last week, too. Daniel Logan is terrible for calling at the worst time – he is calling me right now!
Boba Fett’s interesting as he’s got such limited screen time in the films, yet he maintains huge popularity. My brothers are huge fans. What do you make of the development of Boba Fett now and how he’s the catalyst for creating a show like The Mandalorian? How does he captivate so many people?
That’s the fascinating part; everyone’s stories on this are interesting. When Boba came along in 1979 before the film came out with the Palitoy mail-away figure offer, he was a big draw with all his gadgets and armour. The reason Boba doesn’t have much screen time was that this nobody character was stealing all the fandom. He was competing with the major heroes for popularity.
For me personally, I was a big spaghetti western fan. I loved The Man with No Name and the Trinity collection of films. I have always been a big fan of English knights in armour, Spartan helmets and all that stuff, so Boba Fett took all of that and put it together.
When I did the blue screen shoot nobody really knew that I did it. People I worked with did, obviously, but even some of my family didn’t know. Last year I had a friend of my mum’s who asked me what my obsession with Boba Fett is and I hadn’t told her. I didn’t want to be that guy going around telling everyone I played him; I rely on my other friends to tell them.
How did the fan films, No Disintegrations, come about?
Aaron Proctor from the Fan Club was one of the first people to approach me. He did the digging and found out who I was. He was saying about this animated series he had with Boba Fett recording a personal log. He asked if I would be interested in doing a live action version which I agreed to so long as it’s not too serious. Boba Fett is a one sentence guy, you know!
We were originally going to do four and then we ended up making 22. We are thinking of doing a few more for a second series, maybe cater to The Mandalorian audience a bit.
I’ve had a trawl through your Twitter and despite the huge films you’ve worked on and working for Netflix now, Star Wars features heavily. Why is that?
Star Wars came at a time in my life when my life was a bit upside down. A lot was going on at home so I escaped into that galaxy and made it a safe haven. I owe George Lucas big time for that. I never got a chance to tell him as you don’t have the opportunity to say things like that.
I still identify with Rogue One and The Mandalorian as they are set in the same time period. I struggle with the other new films a bit. Stormtroopers for example, had they not changed it for the new movies I would have identified with them a lot more.
I passed up a huge opportunity on the prequels as Animation Director. Disney were making a lot of counter offers and I knew from my friends they were getting “Artistic Development” training and I was talking to ILM and explained I wanted to grow as an artist. I often wondered what would have happened had I not left but I didn’t feel I was strong enough at that point in time.
You mentioned you are working for Netflix now, so what’s next for you?
Netflix had the foresight to see Disney Plus coming so there are probably over 40 movies in development right now. I’m working on an animated movie…that’s about all I can say ha-ha!
Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.
Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of everyone’s favourite medal bearer, Nick Joseph. Read more by clicking here.