“To Me, He Was a Living, Breathing, Drooling Creature”: Sideshow’s Kevin Ellis on Making Jabba the Hutt

The project manager tells StarWars.com how designing the frighteningly realistic gangster and other Star Wars icons makes him feel like a kid again.

You know that laugh. The booming and ominous cackle of the slug-like Jabba the Hutt, chuckling over the latest misfortune to befall whatever scoundrel has gotten sidetracked on the way to paying him back this time.

And gazing upon the new and finely detailed Jabba the Hutt and Throne Deluxe Sixth Scale Figure set from Sideshow Collectibles, you might just expect to hear the gangster begin to chortle. The figure, one of the largest in the Sixth Scale series so far, has been immaculately recreated with some help from diligent movie rewatching, some Return of the Jedi-era behind-the-scenes images, and a team of designers who made sure to include everything from Jabba’s arm tattoo to interchangeable eyes and mouths, so he can nod off on his throne and drool with his tongue hanging out. Even his ever-present pal, Kowakian monkey-lizard Salacious Crumb, is fully poseable, with interchangeable heads to capture his own trademark squawk, among other accessories and features. The display will make you feel like you’ve woken from a carbon freeze and found yourself back on Tatooine.

StarWars.com recently spoke with Sideshow Project Manager Kevin Ellis to get the full story on why Return of the Jedi had an impact on his childhood, and how he and his team brought the nefarious crime lord to life.

StarWars.com: This isn’t the first time Sideshow has made a Jabba the Hutt figure, but it’s certainly the most ambitious Hutt yet. What’s evolved in terms of your sculpting and production methods that allowed you to make this Deluxe Jabba so much more detailed than any previous incarnation?

Kevin Ellis: I’d say the biggest evolution in our Deluxe Jabba was how we sculpted the piece. Back in 2006/2007, when our first Jabba the Hutt was developed, it was all done by hand. Everything from Jabba himself, to the throne, to all of his accessories were done from clay and wax. Our new Deluxe Jabba was sculpted almost entirely digitally by artist Joe Menna, and this allowed us greater freedom in determining how we wanted to approach the piece. It helped us determine which parts we wanted to swap out, and helped us explore some creative engineering.

Over the last decade, the Sixth Scale landscape has advanced significantly, and expectations have evolved along with that. This time around, we wanted the collectors to have as many options to display this piece as they do with their other Sixth Scale Star Wars figures.

StarWars.com: Jabba is the second in a new line of Deluxe 1:6 scale Star Wars figures, after the debut of an epic Jedi Luke. Of all the characters in the vast Star Wars universe, what made you decide to tackle Jabba next? And what makes the Deluxe figures different from the standard 1:6 scale line?

Kevin Ellis: The release of our Deluxe Jedi Luke was a celebration of our first foray into the Star Wars Sixth Scale universe. We started on this journey over 10 years ago, so it seemed only right to revisit this original piece from a fresh perspective. This gave us the opportunity to put new skills and knowledge to work, to build upon the successes of the previous version, and to take this piece to heights that just simply weren’t possible a decade ago.

Regarding Jabba, well, this time around, we’ve made Jabba an all-inclusive figure, which means you not only get Jabba and all of his swap-out options, but you also get the throne, an articulated Salacious Crumb with multiple heads and leg options, fabric pillows and rugs for the throne, and a bunch of other accessories. That, for me, is really what makes this piece a Deluxe offering.

StarWars.com: Take us back to day one on this project. When you first sat down to create a Deluxe Jabba, what was at the top of your wish list for details or accessories to include?

Kevin Ellis: Salacious was always at the top of my list, specifically a version of Salacious that collectors had options with. He is such an expressive character, I felt limiting him to a single pose just wouldn’t do him justice. And the frogs, of course! That has been so many people’s first question: “Does he come with the frogs?” My personal favorite detail is the frog floating in the bowl in his arm rest.

StarWars.com: This is a Return of the Jedi-era Jabba. Did you revisit the film and behind-the-scenes images for ideas or did you feel like you already had his scenes committed to memory? 

Kevin Ellis: Return of the Jedi was the first Star Wars film I saw in theaters, and it made quite an impact. I definitely feel like I’ve got those scenes committed to memory, but memories aren’t always the most accurate, so we watched and re-watched the film many times. We also had access to an archive of set photos and behind-the-scenes photos, and those really helped to flesh out the details.

My favorite image was one of the actual eye mechanisms. These were high-quality images of just the eyes. You could see how they worked, how the pupils dilated. It was fascinating. There was also a great video that our painter, Casey Love, referenced that discussed some of the different layering techniques that went into painting the Jabba puppet.

StarWars.com: Tell me about how you first got introduced to Star Wars. What was it about the galaxy overall that captured your imagination? Do you remember when you first saw Jabba on screen and what you thought of the slug-like crime lord?

Kevin Ellis: The original Kenner toys were probably my first introduction to the Star Wars universe — my older brother had a ton of them. Return of the Jedi was my first introduction to the films, though, and as a kid, Jabba was terrifying! I was used to puppets looking like The Muppets or Sesame Street characters. There was no way you could have convinced me that Jabba wasn’t real. To me, he was a living, breathing, drooling creature, and all of the good guys were his prisoner right out of the gate. He meant business, and that was frightening!

StarWars.com: What would your childhood self think about your job now?

Kevin Ellis: My childhood self wanted to be an ice-cream man, so I think he’d be pretty impressed with where my path has headed! Haha! There is still an honest sense of child-like disbelief and wonderment working here. Those moments when the work is done, the piece is finished, and you get to see the completed project for the first time…in those moments, I feel like that little kid again.

StarWars.com: When you first came to Sideshow, what was the first Star Wars project you worked on? How did it feel to be creating something from the saga?

Kevin Ellis: That’s going way back! I think the first Star Wars figure I had a hand in was our Han Solo figure from A New Hope. At that time, I was responsible for the tailoring on the figure. I was still somewhat new to the company at the time, and so it was definitely a mix of excitement and pressure: excitement to be a part of something that had such an influence on my childhood, and pressure to make sure it was done right!

StarWars.com: I love how dynamic this figure can be because of all the different arms and eyes and mouths — the tongue hanging out, slime dribbling down his chin, is my favorite. But I was also surprised that he had resting arms, and then I thought “Of course! He needs those to sleep!” How did you determine how many of each posable parts you would need to create for this figure and which poses and gestures to incorporate?

Kevin Ellis: The film itself really helps guide those decisions, so we pull our inspiration from iconic moments. We also thought about some of our other figures that collectors might want to display Jabba with and how those characters interact in the film. Whether its including his pipe and a hand to hold it, a pointing arm to taunt Luke, or wide-open eyes to capture his surprise when a weapon is pulled on him, we really wanted collectors to be able to interact with the piece, and give them the most variety in posing, expression and display.

StarWars.com: Jabba’s tattoo is such a great little detail, and it really exemplifies the attention to detail on this piece. When you were overseeing the sculpting and creation of the whole set, what more minute but still incredibly important details were you looking to include?

Kevin Ellis: In this scale, it’s all about the details. It’s great when people are able to get close to a piece and you hear reactions like, “I can’t believe they sculpted that in!” or “They even remembered to include this.”

On the flip side, you don’t ever want to hear the opposite! So it really takes a team of people going through as much reference as possible with a fine-toothed comb. From the intricate filigree on things like his hookah pipe, to the little plate of food on his throne, every tiny detail is important.

StarWars.com: And there are a lot of tiny details to take a figure of this magnitude from concept to creation. Can you walk us through the process? Did you run into any problems that required a creative solution?

Kevin Ellis: A piece like this goes through a few phases, the first of which is design. This is where we determine what we hope to accomplish with the piece, what accessories it should come with, and what materials we consider using. This phase is a lot of fun because we’re able to shoot for the moon and see what sticks! Once we’ve locked in the design, we move onto the development phase. This involves sculpting, engineering, molding, casting, painting, etc.

For Jabba, there were some unique development challenges. In particular, discovering how we wanted to engineer the piece, and nailing the color. Color is always a tricky compromise between how an actual prop (or puppet, in this case) is painted, and how it appeared on screen. I think Casey, our painter really hit the mark on this one.

StarWars.com: Beyond the figure itself, there is such amazing craftsmanship in the setting. There’s the throne, his hookah, the pair of Klatooine paddy frogs, and of course, Salacious Crumb. I was surprised he didn’t have a chain for keeping prisoners captive, but I imagine you have to stop building on at some point or you’ll have created the entire palace. How do you find that line where you have the perfect amount of add-ons for a set? Does the price point dictate some aspects of the size and amount of accessories?

Kevin Ellis: Luckily, in our design phase, we have the chance to throw the most absurd ideas in the mix before we start paring down what will come in the final package: I think a Jawa with a fan, and the spit behind Jabba were two of the larger accessories that came up while we were brainstorming! Ultimately, our most important goal is to really capture the character of Jabba the Hutt himself. As a result, we ended up choosing the accessories that serve to convey that character.

StarWars.com: Measuring a staggering 13.25 inches tall and over 29 inches wide, this is one of the biggest 1:6 scale pieces Sideshow has created so far. Personally, I would love to see a rancor in the future as well. What other Star Wars characters or creatures are on your personal wish list for future projects? 

Kevin Ellis: A Sixth Scale rancor would be impressive! The creatures are such a great part of Star Wars. I’ve had the pleasure to work on Jabba, a tauntaun, and a dewback in my time with Sideshow. Personally, I think the wampa would be a great challenge to tackle. With the progress that’s been made in Sixth Scale, a figure that I would have said was impossible a decade ago feels a little more doable now.

You can preorder The Jabba the Hutt and Throne Deluxe Sixth Scale Figure set now.

Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them!

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