Bridging the gap between Madison Avenue and Marin County is Brook Temple, artist par excellence, who leaped into the fray as a storyboard artist on Return of the Jedi.
Interview by J. W. Rinzler
While at work on Star Wars Storyboards: The Original Trilogy I came across a series of boards that were clearly not by Joe Johnston, Nilo Rodis-Jamero, or anyone else I could place. The style was completely different from anything on the first two films. I showed a few to Joe and he remembered that the artist was someone who liked to work with markers that were almost out of ink, and who was perhaps was named “Brock.” Brook hadn’t worked for long on the film—it had been a temporary gig—so Joe couldn’t remember more. I asked around and eventually movie historian Brandon Alinger reminded me that there was a storyboard artist named Brook Temple who had worked on Return of the Jedi. I emailed him a few samples and Brook confirmed that the boards in question were his. So… for the first time, here is his Star Wars story.
J. W. Rinzler (JWR): You once told me that the interesting part was how you got the job storyboarding at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM)—so how did you get the job?
Brook Temple (BT): I had been teaching at City College part-time and was dissatisfied, but I had been out of work for 10 years because of teaching. I thought that ILM would be a great fit, skill-wise, because of my past experience in advertising in New York. But I had no contacts at ILM and I knew that getting through the front door would be like going at barbed wire. Every kid in America wanted to work for ILM, so I knew that the facility would be inundated with calls and portfolios. Perspective had always been one of my strengths in illustration, so I took a roll of butcher paper and cut a piece three feet by six feet and did a drawing of an intergalactic space battle cruiser. Again, past experience helped: I had worked for Northrop and Douglas aircraft and had a real feel for aeronautical technology. I don’t remember who I talked to, but it was difficult to connect through all the secretaries, to find out who was responsible for hiring, which is what I mean about the “barbed wire.” Finally, someone on the phone said, “Oh, you’re a professional; you need to talk to Joe.” So I dropped off the drawing with the receptionist. I knew the drawing would have to be rolled out on Joe’s desk—and that would be the wow factor—because it was so big. I knew a drawing that big would get attention. That’s how I got the job.
JWR: What was your first day like?
BT: My first day was hectic, with orientation, and I was overwhelmed with all the characters, the technology, but I had to get up to speed very quickly. You need to remember that I hadn’t been doing any commercial work for years, since I had been painting and teaching. Everyone else was up to speed, so it was like jumping on a moving bus.
JWR: Was this the first film you’d worked on?
BT: I had worked in advertising on television doing storyboards, and storyboards are always about speed, but, yes, this was the first film I had worked on.
JWR: Who were your influences, what was your education?
BT: My first life drawing, a private class, was in the fifth grade. I had three years at Art Center in Los Angeles. Having graduated a year early from high school, I entered when I was 17 years old, and Art Center gave me a solid drawing background. In the army I worked as an illustrator for Star and Stripes in the psychological warfare unit in Japan. I also studied with Jack Potter at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He could draw like God and taught like a disciple. While in New York, I took off a few years and went back to school at Yale, studying with Josef Albers [groundbreaking modern artist], graduating with a degree in fine arts. I spent 13 years as an illustrator in New York, both on staff at several large advertising agencies and freelancing. I remember that when I left Art Center to go to New York, I was living in a garage apartment in Los Angeles. I left my toolbox, which everyone had at Art Center, a green metal box, in the apartment, because I didn’t need it anymore. Years later, here in Marin County, I had a mutual friend and we went to lunch with Ralph McQuarrie, who I had never met. In the course of reminiscing, it turned out that he had taken my old apartment, and had found and used the toolbox when he went to Art Center. My friend had a phrase, “No coincidences, just appointments.” Obviously, it was the magic toolbox.
JWR: Had you seen the other Star Wars films and what did you think of them?
BT: Loved them all, still do.
JWR: What were you asked to do specifically for Return of the Jedi?
BT: I was asked to supplement and help finish the storyboard. I remember that it was the last third of the film and anything else that was not completed. It was the chase scene on the [speeder] bikes through the woods, battle scenes with the Ewoks and the chicken walkers. I remember that George Lucas was coming in every other day to check on progress; he was passionate about following the script directly, no changes. The work itself was challenging, lots of pressure, because I was hired in the middle of production. They needed speed and facility. I was under the gun because they were under the gun. I was forced at this point in production to get up to speed with technology, character, everything that was new to me. My experience was about time and money. They had to get it done and save money; they were up against a budget.
JWR: What was it like working with Joe Johnston and George Lucas?
BT: Joe was very hands-on and very supportive. I think Lucas knew me as the new guy. Remember, I was there for only a short time, six to eight weeks, though I had hoped I would break in and get a permanent job. I was hoping this job would be the dream job and I would be working full time at ILM, but I was just a gypsy and that was never going to be on the cards. Also, the more competent I was, the shorter my employment. I was being paid on an hourly basis; they just had to get the work done and the producer was under pressure not to spend any more money, so the faster I worked, the more money they were saving and the less I was going to make. My confidence meant I would be there a shorter time.
JWR: What was it like in the art department?
BT: It was a thrill being part of the team, but there were security measures and the work was secretive. The room wasn’t a large room, there were no windows; the door was locked (from the outside; we could leave), so basically no one was allowed into the art department to look over our shoulders and see what was happening on the development of the storyline. I believe there were about three of us, including Joe.
JWR: What materials did you prefer to use? Joe mentioned that you liked to use almost empty pens/markers.
BT: I absolutely do not remember the answer to this question exactly, but I used Pentel pens.
JWR: What did you think of Return of the Jedi when you saw the completed film?
BT: The most important thing was that my young daughters were very impressed and proud of me that I had worked at Lucasfilm. They loved the film and so did I.
The Influences of Brook Temple
Illustrators: Austin Briggs, Al Parker, Robert Fawcett, Bob McCall, Bob Peak, Jack Potter
Films: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Triumph of the Will, Wages of Fear, Paths of Glory, all Akira Kurosawa: Rashomon, Seven Samurai, etc.
Comic strip artists: Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Hal Foster