Revenge, Pinoy style

[Printed in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 2005]

“I saw this tall figure dressed in black. I didn’t realize it was the dark lord of the Sith himself…”

No, this isn’t Obi-Wan Kenobi reporting to the Jedi Council in “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” Rather it is 28-year-old Giovanni Nakpil, a Filipino-Canadian who works for George Lucas’ special effects company, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM).

Giovanni, or Gio as his friends call him, is talking about Hayden Christensen, the actor who plays Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in the latest “Star Wars.” He almost ran him over while backing his car out of Skywalker Ranch one morning. Luckily, he saw the actor in time to dodge him.

“I wonder how he would have reacted if I had hit him?” he muses.

Gio, who grew up in the Philippines and Canada, is one of ILM’s hottest 3D computer graphics modelers. The latest “Star Wars” film features much of his digital handiwork. It’s a job he’s simply ecstatic about.

“Not to sound like some gushing fanboy, but working for Lucas and his company is literally a dream come true!” he enthuses.

Little wonder there. ILM, of course, is best known for its ground-breaking “Star Wars” special effects. The company is also responsible for bringing to life the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” as well as pushing the limits of technology in films like “Terminator 2,” “Sky Captain” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” (to name a mere few).

It is the film industry’s most revered special effects company.

Burger flipper

Gio has come a long way in his career. He started out in McDonald’s as a burger flipper, or as he likes to put it, a “sandwich artist.” Yet his true skill was as a digital artist. He soon got out of the culinary arts and into the animation business.

It was, however, a pursuit that almost didn’t happen.

“I initially wanted a career in creative advertising,” he says. “I was in love with the thought of coming up with something creative to sell a product.” That idea soon fizzled after he realized that movie special effects were his true passion. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve always had interest in the world of special effects in moviemaking,” he says.

Gio followed his heart and got into CGI (computer-generated imagery). “Back then [CGI] was still in the midst of gaining popularity after the release of groundbreaking movies such as ‘The Abyss,’ ‘Terminator 2’ and ‘Jurassic Park,'” he explains. Becoming a CG artist was a decision that forever changed his life.

“To this very day I am still thankful I chose the path of CG rather than creative advertising. I do not think I’d be as happy with my career had I chosen the latter.”

He gradually made his way up in the world of 3D computer animation and soon enough wound up working in Texas on the fully CGI film “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.” It was also in Texas that he received an e-mail from a guy claiming to work for ILM.

“This person apparently had seen my website (which is now out of commission) and asked me if I was interested in applying for a position that they were hiring for. I remember thinking that he must have been trying to pull my leg because his e-mail was an AOL account.”

Yet Gio couldn’t help his curiosity and e-mailed back. “And lo and behold,” he recalls, “the next e-mail address he used to reply was indeed his ILM address. Needless to say I suddenly felt a sudden surge of interest from that point on. I sent them a CD containing my portfolio and I was fortunate enough to be hired after that.”

Galaxy is his oyster

Gio was soon at work on a number of projects including 2002’s “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.” He was thrilled, having been weaned on “Star Wars” when he was young and growing up with the films as his main source of inspiration.

Eventually he got the call to work on “Revenge of the Sith,” the third and final chapter. Gio was on the project like fire lapping up an oil spill.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to work on a lot of really exciting and fun things in the movie during the four or five months I was on it. It has always been the ‘Star Wars’ episode that I’ve wanted to work on ever since I was a little kid, so I would have been ecstatic even if they had me just modeling toenails for all the CG monsters or something.”

Luckily, ILM didn’t just relegate Gio to toenails. He contributed much to the film including work on the speeder scene, the trees from the Wookie planet Kashyyyk, the Mustafar dwellers (including the “two big dudes on top of the floating platform skimming through the lava”), as well as the clone troopers in Mygeeto (the purple clad ones who look similar to the storm troopers on the ice world of Hoth in “The Empire Strikes Back”).

Gio is proud of everything he’s created. Not only has he worked on two “Star Wars” films but he’s also contributed extensively to “Dreamcatcher,” “The Matrix 2 and 3,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Van Helsing” and “Pirates of the Caribbean 2.”

“They all hold a special place in my heart,” he says. He’s also excited about his upcoming designs. “My most favorite work so far would probably have to be the art in the upcoming movie ‘War of the Worlds.'”

You’ll have to wait until July 4 to find out what he’s talking about. For now you can enjoy his handiwork in “Revenge of the Sith” which is currently in cinemas across the galaxy.

And if the box office is any indication, Giovanni has certainly helped create one heck of a movie.

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