This past weekend at GeekGirlCon’s Star Wars panel, one idea that I mentioned for helping the franchise gain the confidence of female fans is for Lucasfilm to actively promote the women working in Star Wars. That has been a mission of Teresa’s and mine ever since we began co-hosting Fangirls Going Rogue podcast for the RebelForce Radio network. Recently we had the wonderful opportunity to interview Amy Beth Christenson about her amazing geek girl career, including her stellar work for Star Wars and her passion as a Star Wars fangirl.
Amy Beth Christenson has worked as an artist on some of Lucasfilm’s highest-profile projects, including The Force Unleashed, The Clone Wars, and Star Wars Rebels – which has its regular-season debut, the episode “Droids in Distress,” tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on DisneyXD. This summer, she won the Judge’s Choice award in the Her Universe fashion show at San Diego Comic-Con.
FGGR: Your résumé in Star Wars is quite impressive. Can you tell fans how you started working in the franchise and where that journey has taken you along the way?
ABC: It was my Aunt Dana that was responsible for getting me into drawing, as well as Star Wars. I remember very vividly that once when I was six years old, she showed me a drawing of Luke Skywalker that she had made. From that moment on, my one goal in life was to be able to draw Luke Skywalker as well as her.
I started working at LucasArts after graduating from art school in the summer of 2000. Since I had spent most of my life fighting my brother over Star Wars figures and NES games, I was beyond excited about the opportunity. I was hired as a 3D modeler originally, but I would chip in and help with concept art work when it came up, and I gradually moved over into doing it full time. I worked on several Star Wars titles over my 11 years at LucasArts, but nearest and dearest to my heart is the Force Unleashed series. I was on both TFU1 and TFU2 from beginning to end as a senior/lead concept artist– doing key art for the pitches, designing most of the main characters, and even doing some actual lighting and VFX work once all of the concept art was done. In 2011, I went to work on The Clone Wars animated television series, which was another amazing experience, with an extremely talented team. I was already a huge fan of the series and it was great to be a small part of it; I was one of the concept artists for seasons 5 and 6. And now I’m doing the same for Rebels, which really hits home with me as a lifelong Star Wars and Ralph McQuarrie fan.
FGGR: When was your passion for Star Wars sparked?
ABC: A New Hope was the first movie that my parents took me to see at a theater, although I was too young to remember. I do remember seeing Empire, though. In fact, I think that my first actual memory as a human being is of being in a theater, watching AT-ATs walk out of the fog on Hoth for the first time. I watched all of the movies countless times as a kid, and my younger brother and I scooped up as many figures, comics, and trading cards as we could, and still have them. Through the years, we kept up with all of the Star Wars novels and games as soon as they were released. It was something that the whole family really got into, including aunts, uncles, and cousins. I even have the Star Wars LP recordings that we used to listen to, every time the whole family got together.
FGGR: We have two questions we ask every guest on our show Fangirls Going Rogue. First, what does being a fangirl mean to you?
ABC: I’ve loved Star Wars ever since I can remember, most of my life has revolved around it, and I still can’t get enough of it. The best part about my job is meeting and working with people that are as influenced by it as I am – guys and gals of all ages, of all walks of life, from all over the planet. Having that common ground brings all sorts of people together in a positive way and creates an instant bond. It’s pretty amazing.
FGGR: Second, what do you think is something underappreciated about Star Wars?
ABC: I seem to have a better opinion of Ewoks than most people.
FGGR: Quite a bit of your artwork was featured in the early roll out of Star Wars Rebels. What is your role in the show’s production cycle now?
ABC: I was fortunate to be one of the artists that worked on the visual development for Rebels, under the art direction of Kilian Plunkett and Dave Filoni. During that time, the main focus was coming up with the look of the main characters, ships, and locations. Now that the show is in production, we’re focused on designs that are specific to each episode.
FGGR: We have seen the Star Wars Rebels team in some of the character short videos on StarWars.com. It appears you’re all working as a big unit. Are you sharing ideas throughout the day or studiously creating? Tell us a little about how the creative process works.
ABC: The entire crew is really dedicated and top-notch, so all of the major points are ironed out well before the design phase. By the time we start sketching, we’ve already got an excellent idea about what direction to go in. In addition to that, we’re highly inspired by the original production artwork from the original trilogy. So I’ll always have a slideshow running of artwork by Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston, and Nilo Rodis-Jamero while I’m working on a design. And I usually have the movies playing in the background, too.
FGGR: What is one thing you are most excited about for Star Wars Rebels?
ABC: There’s at least one or two moments in every episode where I feel like I’m a kid again, watching Star Wars for the first time. But it’s also incredibly exciting, (and nerve-wracking), to get to work on designs that are wholly inspired by my art heroes, like Ralph McQuarrie.
FGGR: What advice would you give to a fan who is trying to find her way into a paying job with a company like Lucasfilm?
ABC: Be yourself! Being a fan is a great thing, but it’s important that it’s not 100% of who you are. Have your own ideas and solutions. Never stop being a student, in that you are always looking for things to learn and ways in which to improve.
FGGR: The Fangirls Going Rogue are big fans of Her Universe. You won Judge’s Choice for your design “Great Skirt, Marty!” at the company’s San Diego Comic-Con Fashion Show. Can you talk about that whole experience?
ABC: I would have been first in line to see the show, had I not entered. I never miss SDCC, and am also a big fan of Her Universe. I didn’t hold out much hope for getting picked to be in the show, and am an amateur seamstress, at best. So it was a pretty stressful couple of months for me trying to get the outfit done, especially the jacket – which I finished just minutes before getting on the plane to San Diego, with help from my mom doing some hand-stitching while I packed. My amazing friend Annika agreed to be my model, and another very talented friend of mine, Johnna Joy Murch, made most of the accessories for the outfit.
The night of the show was the first time any of us, even fellow designers, had seen anyone else’s entries, and I felt really outclassed by the amazing creations that everyone brought to the table. There was a strong camaraderie among all of the designers and models within a really short time, and it was great to see everyone helping each other out backstage, and then cheering each other on during the show. The whole thing went by in a blur, but Annika and I had a great time. At the end, I was starting to pack up our things while they were announcing the winners, when Annika grabbed me by the arm and ran up on stage. It took a while to sink in, I was in a daze for quite a while. But I’m very happy and humbled to have been chosen by the judges panel, and big congrats to Andrew MacLaine for winning the audience vote. Everyone working on the show was very professional and friendly, the crowd was amazing, the visuals, the music, everything. It was an unforgettable experience from beginning to end!
FGGR: The Back to the Future inspired dress indicates you are more than just a Star Wars fan. What other things geek you out?
ABC: Star Trek was huge for me growing up, as well, and it has as big a place in my heart as Star Wars. We’d watch all of the original series re-runs as a family, until we had them memorized. I still have my MEGO Kirk from when I was a kid, and my first lunch box was of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. My brother and I had a more-than-respectable G.I. Joe and Transformers collection growing up, as well as Star Wars. We’d pool our allowance money to buy new figures every week, and watch every after-school and Saturday morning cartoon known to man. But most of all, I just loved movies. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Tron, Back to the Future, and Goonies all had the biggest impact on me growing up. And video games! I still have my original Atari 2600, 8-bit Nintendo, SNES, and all of the games to go with them. Including a Nintendo Power Glove. I’m very much a product of the 80’s.
FGGR: Where can fans find you?
ABC: I will be at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. I’m also working with some fellow artists on a collective art book we’ve published called PUNCH DRUNK MOUSTACHE. We’ll be at San Diego Comic-Con with the release of a second book in 2015. And to follow up the SDCC Her Universe Fashion Show, Andrew and I are working on some designs right now with Her Universe for Hot Topic, and I’m very excited about that. And while I don’t update very often, you can find me on Twitter and my blog.
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Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.