Star Wars Yoda & Jabba Puppeteer David Barclay at Niagara Falls Comic Con 2019

Star Wars master puppeteer David Barclay — renown for portraying Yoda in “Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and Jabba the Hutt in “Return of the Jedi” (1983) — reminisces about his storied career, shares behind-the-scenes anecdotes and answers fan questions at his 2019 Niagara Falls Comic Con Q&A panel.

David Alan Barclay is a British master puppeteer, animatronic designer and supervisor, a CG key frame animator, and director and producer of animatronic and animation projects for film and television who has worked on many Jim Henson Company projects. He has been at the cutting edge of animatronic puppetry since July 1979 when he was offered the position of make up assistant working for Stuart Freeborn — the ‘grandfather of modern make-up design’ — on the second “Star Wars” film, “The Empire Strikes Back.” The main challenge was a state-of-the-art hand puppet named ‘Yoda,’ so Barclay assisted by building duplicate parts, seaming the foam latex head skins, etc., and was later drafted in as a puppeteer. He performed cable-controlled facial movements for ‘Muppet master’ Frank Oz, the chief puppeteer, but when Oz had to return to New York City to shoot Sesame Street, he nominated Barclay become chief puppeteer for Yoda. His superb performance as Yoda led to his invitation to become the first British puppet maker on an adventurous project by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, “The Dark Crystal.” In November 1979, he joined a handful of Henson’s American puppet makers to develop puppets that would eventually become the entire cast of the movie. And so began the long term relationship and desire to push the envelope in animatronic performance art.

David has been involved in many film, television and stage productions over time, including Labyrinth (1986), Little Shop of Horrors (1986), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Jim Henson Hour (1989), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Neverending Story III: Return to Fantasia (1994), Lost in Space (1998), Alice in Wonderland (1999), The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000), Cats & Dogs (2001), Snow Dogs (2002), Stuart Little 2 (2002), Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003), Team America: World Police (2004), Are We There Yet? (2005), Studio DC: Almost Live! (2008), Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins (2009), Where the Wild Things Are (2009), Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010), The Muppets (2011), Muppets Most Wanted (2014), The Muppets Take the O2 (2018) and “Unbelievable!!!!!” (2018)

Ryan Yeager

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