For Tory Belleci, Star Wars was the beginning of something amazing. “When I was a kid,” Tory said, “after I saw the movie, I said, ‘Okay, I know what my life’s goal is gonna be. I want to be a model builder or do something in special effects for movies! So I would just go to the library and pore through any book on Star Wars or special effects that I could find.”
After graduating from film school in 1994, Tory went on to create amazing models and special effects for M5 Industries and Industrial Light and Magic, before joining the Build Team on Mythbusters. With so many amazing experiences, I knew I was in for a treat when I had the chance to interview Tory. It was arranged thanks to the help of the makers of the Star Wars Force Trainer II, and Tory was more than happy to talk about it, Star Wars, and life as the most accident-prone Mythbuster:
I: How did you get started in the world of special effects?
T: Jamie Hyneman was actually running the model shop at M5 […] it was a fabrication house that mostly did commercials at the time. He hired me as a model maker […] and I was eventually able to meet people who worked at ILM and get hired there. My first movie I worked on there was Starship Troopers (1997) […] but when I finished up, [ILM] asked me if I wanted to work on this new project coming up […] that George Lucas was doing. They were super secretive about it […] so of course we all knew what they were talking about! So I was like, “Uh, yeah! This has been my life goal since I was a little kid!”
So with Episode I, we all just couldn’t believe it. We had all grown up watching the movies, and now we were here, building the models […] and creating the next generation of film geeks, sci-fi geeks. George Lucas would come around […] and check in, every day, to see how we were doing. We were told not to talk to George, because he’s very busy, and everyone wants his attention. But one day he was walking through, and asked me what I was building, and I just froze. So [my boss] said, “It’s okay if he talks to you, you can talk back!” But he was my hero, it was just so intimidating.
I: It really seems like you’re a Star Wars fan for life!
T: Yeah! I was blown away by the new one. I loved it. JJ Abrams was throwing back to our generation, back to basics. And paid homage to it, in a really good way, I thought. I really loved the opening scene where […] Kylo uses the force to stop the laser bolt in midair. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, of course! Why wouldn’t you be able to do that! That’s the magic of the force. [It lets you do] the cool things I want to be able to do.
I: Which sort of brings us around to this Force Trainer. How does it all work?
T: It’s a cool little hologram that connects to your tablet […] and you wear this headgear that actually reads your brainwaves, and you move these holograms […] with your mind. It sounds like science fiction, but the science is there. As your brain warms up, it creates action in the hologram. It really is the ultimate fantasy […] of being a Jedi and moving things with your mind. Kids tend to latch onto it easier because their brains are already [so active]. But when we tested it, we had people of all ages in […] and they had fun. It quickly became a competition to see who can be the best or the fastest.
I: What was your life like going into Mythbusters?
T: Going into it, nobody thought […] it would last 14 years, or however long it [lasted]. We all just thought it would be a fun experience, do it for a year. But when they said, “Okay, guess what, you’re no longer a background builder, you’re gonna be a host,” I kinda freaked out. It took me a good 1 and a half, 2 years, to get used to having a camera on me all the time. I don’t want to hear myself talk, I don’t want to see myself do stuff! Imagine being at work, and you’re messing up, […] and someone’s right there with a camera, catching your every move. And they’re not only okay with it, they’re happy that you’re messing up! I just had to grind it out and get used to it […] over a long time.
I: Was there ever any sense of competition between the Build Team and Jamie and Adam?
T: Well, we did a couple of episodes where I was with Jamie and Kari, and Grant was with Adam, or something like that. But I don’t think we ever did Jamie and Adam vs. Grant, Kari, and myself. But, there was always a competitive edge, for sure. They were always challenging us and [teasing us], saying, you know, “What are you building? Is it any good this time?”
I: People always seem to enjoy when you screw up and get hurt. Do you feel like you attract the punishment, or does the punishment attract you?
T: I think it’s just because I never said “no”. When people would say, “No, that doesn’t sound very safe or fun,” I would say, “Yeah, I’ll try it”. I don’t know if that’s curiosity or stupidity. [The only time I really felt scared] is when our cannonball went loose and made it free of the range. I was just thinking, “Oh my god, what did we do?” But fortunately, no one ever really got hurt.
I: Of course, I’ve gotta ask. What’s your most memorable Mythbusters moment?
T: I think it’s gotta be blowing up the cement truck. That was my first introduction […] to a big blast like that. That moment is forever stuck in my brain. It was the most insane thing I’ve ever experienced.
I: What’s next for Tory Belleci?
T: [Someday] I’d like to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel! But, like, a hyper-designed, industrial, Mythbusters-style barrel. [More realistically] I’ve been having a good time racing. I also just finished shooting a new TV show with Kari and Grant, and I’m really excited. I can’t say much more, but look for news of it. It should be coming later this year.
Many thanks to Tory, for his time and energy, and to Uncle Milton Toys for connecting us.
Featured image credit of Discovery Communications.