If you’ve seen Jurassic Park, Robocop, Starship Troopers or (ahem) Star Wars, then you will be familiar with the work of special effects wizard Phil Tippett, the man whose stop-motion animation raised the bar within the film industry and set a new standard.

In 1980,  Tippett created a new technology called Go-Motion – an evolution of stop-motion – which incorporates motion blur into the animation, giving the images fluidity and a greater augmentation with the live-action surrounding it. The first example of this method was seen in The Empire Strikes Back and it is a technique that has been applied to countless films since.

The advancement of CGI in the 1990s saw Tippett’s career shift from the craft he held close to his heart into a new era of digital animation, with films like Jurassic Park, Tremors, Evolution and The Twilight Saga adding to his long list of credits.

His latest film is Mad God, a labor of love, which arrives on the screen after a long and arduous 30-year production process. It is a nightmarish vision – a stop-motion odyssey devoid of dialogue and abundant in horrors, and what it presents on screen cannot be unseen. Suffice to say it’s a visceral overload, an assault on the senses, and is undeniably Tippett’s magnum opus.

STACK caught up with Tippett via Zoom and picked his brain about Mad God in an attempt to wrap our own feeble minds around his gluttony for the grotesque.

When we offer the compliment that Mad God was brain food to us, his response is swift and puckish: “I think you mean brain-DAMAGED food!”

Casting his mind back to the late ’80s, he explains how the seed of the film first came to him and what led to it being a decades-long endeavour.

“It was 1987 after we finished Robocop 2 that we started, but it all began before that, years earlier, when I was trying to figure out a movie to make. What I ended up with was kind of like a Mobius or Richard Corbin kind of a thing, and at the end of the day, I just didn’t like it. So I started working on this thing that I didn’t know what it was, doing drawings and watercolours. Then eventually, after we shot about three minutes worth, it turned into twenty years.”

From those initial concept drawings to the 20-year evolution, Tippett sheds further light on why it took so long.

“The computer graphic revolution hit and that occupied all of my time. I had to go to production meetings and be on the set and then had lengthy post-production times [on many projects]. But in the evenings or on the weekends, or if I was on location, I would draw storyboards and creature designs.

“I did that for twenty years along with reading Freud, Young and Milton and Dante,” he adds with a wry smile, “and books on archaeology, palaeontology and human evolution.”

Such influences are undeniable, with the world of Mad God being one of hellish fires and brimstone and occupied by mutants and other ghastly creatures. Telling the story of an assassin descending upon a city in a state of decay, Tippett’s fantasy is a tapestry of the macabre. Torture and grotesque alchemy abound at every turn, and in place of a comprehensive narrative is an overall expression.

The film is a mood piece and a series of thoughts, some biblical and others philosophical. On this Tippett is amused at the difference responses the film has garnered from around the world.

“There’s definitely a religious side to it, but it’s definitely not Christian. And many – if not most – of the European interviews were really aware of all of the biblical context. They noticed Dante and Milton, but in the United States that never happens,” he says with a laugh before adding, “We’re not educated over here.”

With the clock ticking on our chat, we ask if any of the countless filmmakers he had worked with over the years had influenced his own work as a director, and he recalls one occasion with the director of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

“My wife worked at the editorial department on Amadeus, so we would go out to dinner with Milos Foreman, and I asked him as a young filmmaker what advice he could give me. He gave me the best advice. He said, ‘If you want to take a good sh–t, you have to eat well. And I thought, ‘Yes, of course.’ The more time you have to develop something, the better the thing’s going to be,” he laughs. “So I had twenty years of eating well.”

“Paul Verhoeven was really a mentor to me and we had the same world view. We would talk philosophically and considered ourselves as existential Buddhists,” he adds, with a touch of whimsy. “I like where Paul’s mind went. He’s an artist and he doesn’t care if his films make money, and they’re all one of a kind. And Starship Troopers, I had the most fun on that, and Robocop.”

At the mention of Starship Troopers, we seized the opportunity to pick his brain about Starship Troopers 2, the direct-to-video sequel he directed, which has earned a moderate cult following while being mostly lambasted by all others.

“Oh well, I had no interest in directing live-action. I mean, I worked around these guys and I saw what it took. It was just exhausting and I just don’t have that mindset. But John Davidson, the producer, was a big stop-motion fan and helped me build my studio, and it was his idea to do Starship Troopers 2 because he thought it could make some money. So it was totally a financial thing. I needed money and Ed Neumeier [writer] needed money, so yeah.”

With the confidence of being the only media outlet to have asked Tippett about Starship Troopers 2, we tip our hat to the great man, thanking him for a generation of incredible cinematic memories, and wishing him the best of luck with Mad God – the film he’s most proud of and the one that will etch itself into the minds of unsuspecting victims (err, viewers) for many years to come.

“It’s been my pleasure,” he replies.

Read STACK‘s Mad God review here.