All of us at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Lucasfilm mourn the loss of our former colleague Richard Miller, who recently passed away at the age of 80.
Before he was hired at ILM in 1981, Miller worked as a freelance sculptor and jeweler, developing a unique style of sculpting characters that fused modern flair and classical elegance. Yet another in a succession of Long Beach State University alumni to join ILM, his first task was to sculpt an elaborate metal bikini worn by Princess Leia in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983). The almost inflexible piece had to carefully fit actress Carrie Fisher. That unique assignment grew into an ILM career spanning nearly 30 years.
“I worked with Richard on a great many projects over the years,” says visual effects supervisor and executive creative director John Knoll, “and his warm and gentle disposition combined with his terrific talent and artistry made him always a joy to work with. I’ll miss that easy smile.”
Miller found his place in the company’s hallowed model shop, where some of the world’s most devoted artisans plied their craft on hundreds of visual effects projects. As sculptor, he contributed to dozens of films, helping make countless figures and characters.
Just some examples are serene whales in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), the Statue of Liberty for Ghostbusters 2 (1989), the iconic helmet in The Rocketeer (1990), a rhinoceros and elephant in Jumanji (1995), and Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006). Among many Star Wars creations, Miller sculpted towering statues for the Jedi Temple and a frieze depicting an ancient battle between the Jedi and Sith visible in Chancellor Palpatine’s office.
“Richard was the ultimate collaborator,” says creative director David Nakabayashi. “Every day on AI: Artificial Intelligence he would say, ‘What are we doing today!’ You would have very little to say as his work spoke for itself. He always made things better than you imagined. He was a true artist and loved to teach others. His workshops were always full of students who loved to learn from him and hear his stories.”
As revered as he was for his artistry, Miller was also beloved as a teacher and mentor. For years he led workshops and classes at ILM, sharing his knowledge and experience with new generations of artists. A number of Miller’s works remain in ILM’s collection, and have been admired by countless visitors to Letterman Digital Arts Center.
With an ILM career paralleling changes in visual effects as practical techniques evolved into digital ones, Miller is a shining example of how timeless artistic principles remain at the core of any artist’s work, no matter the tools or the medium.
“Richard was one of my closest coworkers, my teacher and an endearing and unique part of the model shop family,” says texture supervisor Jean Bolte. “He taught me a lot, about sculpting, about living well, and occasionally about patience, as good friends do. Farewell Richard. I’ll miss you.”