By José Luis del Río Fortich
I had the opportunity to chat with Tim Rose, at the CIFIMAD in Madrid, about his career and his job in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Maybe, you don’t remember his name or you have never heard anything about Tim Rose but he was one of the major puppeteers on Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and like many others, gained experience alongside the legendary Jim Henson. I was so excited because, you know how it is, when I was a little boy I had the Akbar Hasbro figure and it was one of my favorites. And I also love to say: “It’s a trap!!!”.
I asked Rose about how he began working with puppets and he said:
I discovered puppetry while I was attending University in New York studying acting and directing. My first paid professional performance was for the student union. I had built a walk-around bag booth and performed The true story of Prince George and the Dragon. I was paid the princely sum of $15 for the show – I still have the receipt I was given with my first check! When I graduated I continued to perform my show at fairgrounds, shopping malls and in parks all across the north east of America.
When I first started work at Jim Henson’s I had to take a pay cut. I had been earning more money from people throwing money into my hat, but I wanted to learn how you become a millionaire doing puppets. My job was to design what would eventually be called animatronics for the Muppet movies.
He told me that when Return of the Jedi was being filmed, Jim Henson and George Lucas were both very interested in what the other person was doing and Tim Rose had the challenge of being offered to Lucasfilm to do Return of the Jedi. In this movie, he played Sy Snootles, Salacious Crumb and Admiral Ackbar.
I was already working in Phil Tippets workshop at ILM designing animatronics for the characters of Jedi. I knew that when pre-production was finished I would be going to England to perform Sy Snootles and Salacious Crumb. We were never given copies of the script for reasons of secrecy, so I had no idea who Admiral Ackbar was. I had done a lot of the design work for his close-up version and when I asked Phil who he was he said, “Oh, he’s just another background character that appears later in the movie”. So I asked if I could perform him, as I was familiar with his controls, and Phil said OK. It was as simple as that.
Rose loves his puppets and one of his favorites was the singer Sy Snootles. When I asked him about the mechanism of the puppet, he told me:
Sy Snootles was the hardest character to do. I designed her as a reverse string marionette which I operated with Mike Quinn. Instead of hanging the figure on strings and pulling her off the ground, the weight was supported on elastic from above and then pulled down so you could get a much more solid positive movement than a classic marionette would give. When Mike and I got the timing just right she was magical, when we didn’t she would fly out of control and loose all sense of life.
Tim Rose also worked with Howard the Duck. He is very proud of his work there, but he thinks that the design of the duck is horrendous. Also he played animatronic characters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dinosaurs, Alf, Labyrinth, Return To Oz, and Fierce Creatures. On TV, he worked on Teletubbies and Walking with Dinosaurs.
*Photos of Tim Rose and Jose Luis del Rio Fortich are courtesy of del Rio Fortich
José Luis del Río Fortich is a child of the seventies who grew up with comics and MSX. Then he moved to the Commodore Amiga, Twin Peaks and finally to Macintosh. In his nearly 40´s he keeps reading comics, playing computer games and reviewing series. He loves Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Zombies, Horror Movies and all those things that are not necessary in an apocalypse but we all love. He is @jldelriofortich and on Facebook.