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Saturday 3 December 2016

luck of the draw

LIVING THE DREAM: From college in Dun Laoghaire to Lucasfilm in San Francisco, Kilian Plunkett tells Chris Wasser of the remarkable journey that brought a young Dubliner to work for George Lucas on Star Wars Rebels

Kilian Plunkett was 22 years old and fresh out of Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design when he decided to move to America.

It was the early '90s, and the Loughlinstown native had managed to pick up work with Dark Horse Comics - not a bad start for an aspiring artist and animator. First stop: Portland, Oregon. Later, New York.

Eventually, he'd make the jump to San Francisco. Well, that's what happens when you get a job over at George Lucas's place.

"It's funny, this year is sort of a scary milestone for me," says Kilian, currently the art director on Lucasfilm and Disney XD's hugely successful animated series, Star Wars Rebels.

"This is the year that I'll have lived in the States as long as I didn't live in the States, so it's sort of half and half, which is really weird.

"I usually get back once a year so, you know, it's a little bit 'stranger in a strange land'."

Indeed, Kilian's path towards a full-time position at Lucasfilm's animation department was paved with various freelance animation gigs.

For almost a decade, he had set up shop in Brooklyn, across the river from two of the biggest publishers in the comic-book world.

STUMBLING

"The whole time, I was drawing comics, so living in New York made a lot of sense," says Kilian, "because at the time, DC and Marvel were both there. I liked comics, I enjoyed it, the one sort of big stumbling block for me was that I was fond of superheroes, but I didn't necessarily want to draw them every day.

"I mean, it was definitely a thrill to get paid to draw Batman, if you drew Batman when you were six. But it was, at the same time, sort of like, 'ah, I don't know if I'd want to do this indefinitely'."

Eventually, a call came in from a friend - TV screenwriter Henry Gilroy. Henry had landed the lead writing job on a new Star Wars animated series, The Clone Wars, and he offered Kilian, who was beginning to make a name for himself with various Star Wars comic titles, the opportunity to contribute character design ideas. He didn't think it would last long.

"That was the summer of 2005," recalls Kilian, "and I honestly expected to do a few bits and bobs, and be done in about two weeks. Ten years later, I'm still working full-time at Lucasfilm."

Hence, the move to San Francisco. These days, The Clone Wars (which ran for six seasons) is a thing of the past; in its place, the aforementioned Star Wars Rebels: a 13-part animated series, on which Kilian serves as art director, featuring the voice talents of Freddie Prinze, Jr, Vanessa Marshall and David Oyelowo.

Season one (set somewhere in the middle of the original film saga) is currently airing on Disney XD, with season two already in production. Of course, these are interesting times for Star Wars fans. In 2012, the aforementioned George Lucas - founder of Lucasfilm and the creator of the Star Wars franchise - sold his company to Disney for a reported $4bn.

A seventh, live-action Star Wars film (The Force Awakens), directed by JJ Abrams, is due for release in December. The plot, however, is currently shrouded in secrecy.

"There's definitely a sort of element of the Manhattan Project going on," says Kilian, "which to me is great because I actually don't want the surprise spoiled. I honestly don't know how Episode VII is going to play out. It's interesting working in the same building that those films are being designed in, and the people that work on it are very friendly and everything, but they're not telling me anything!"

Whatever the case, Kilian's work as part of the Star Wars family can get a little surreal.

"I was designing the Rebels version of C-3PO," he recalls, "and Anthony Daniels - who is C-3PO and always has been - was at Skywalker Ranch, recording dialogue, so he visited the studio. And it was one of the more surreal things, to be finishing the drawings and paintings and have Anthony Daniels standing at your shoulder giving you corrections."

Kilian has also been fortunate enough to work alongside the former head of the operation.

"George was always very genial and affable. There wasn't any sort of entourage or anything. He was very sort of ordinary," says Kilian. "He's a big car fan, so if you saw an expensive car pull in, you'd be like, 'ah, there's George'. Even just being in meetings with him, watching him work, was fascinating."

ACCENT

Spending most of his working life outside of Ireland, Kilian (44) may have somewhat lost his accent over the years, but it's clear that home is still important. Would he ever consider returning full-time?

"I'd never say 'never'," he answers. "It's difficult, given specifically what I'm doing now, that job only exists in San Francisco, but I wouldn't rule it out."

For the time being, it's obvious that the sci-fi and comics fan who turned his childhood hobby into a career is living the dream.

"I don't really think about Star Wars when I'm not at work," he nods, "People, when they sort of come over, are always surprised at how relatively grown-up my house looks. There isn't much in the way of plastic light sabres lying around or anything. The offices where I'm working is a different story - it looks like 10-year-olds have just run riot in the place. It's controlled chaos…"

Star Wars Rebels airs Monday-Friday 7am-8am and Monday-Sunday 5.30pm-7pm on Disney XD until April 12.

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