Nilo and Howard. In Over One’s Head.

HOWARD THE DUCK, 1986. (c) Universal Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

I’m sure that many of us have had difficult times at work when we’ve said or done the wrong thing. I myself had a particularly tough week back in the late 90s, when a minor mistake on a someone else’s report led to me taking an action that ultimately caused a tabloid newspaper to threaten to put the story on their front page! It took my boss’s connections with the press to calm things down. The women who’d trained me got it in the neck. As did I, despite it being only my second week on the job.

Now imagine you’ve been asked by the man who created the most financially successful movie of all time to come on board another project to fix an ongoing problem as a matter of urgency…

That’s exactly what faced Nilo Rodis Jamero, the legendary art director of visual effects for The Empire Strikes Back and costume designer for Return of the Jedi. George Lucas asked him to get the puppets for this new film, animatronics and all, ready for the first day of shooting. The film was Howard the Duck. With only 10 weeks to go George had correctly spotted that without this intervention, it was not going to happen for director Willard Huyck.

So, he bought in trusty Nilo, a man of great experience, though none in the area of leading a team nor the building a state of the art animatronics.

“I knew nothing… To this day I really don’t know why George chose me” Nilo exclaimed.

After an awkward period of firing much of the existing team heads (and their subordinates followed in their droves), Nilo was tasked with getting the best people to complete the mission. “I said to George, if you were going to do this yourself, you’d go to Jim Henson. So I did… I got a guy by the name of Tim Rose”, says Nilo proudly. See episode 3 of the podcast for a great chat with Tim.

“But Tim had one condition. He wanted a burnt orange Harley Davidson motorcycle on arrival in the U.S. “I had to buy it for him at the cost of $18,000 dollars”. Says Nilo.

“I had the team work three shifts… And every night I would visit them after supper. One night I went to the workshop to see the first finished head. It was empty. The head was sitting there with a cable coming out of it. There was a big battery next to it. I connected it…and…I blew it up”.

Listen to to how Nilo not only fessed up to his team but also get them all onside after asking George Lucas to turn his hand to a little bit of acting.

All in episode 17 of The Filmumentaries podcast.

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