The Starry Universe of Nilo Rodis

Nilo Rodis Jamero's storyboard work in the Empire Strikes Back (Source: The Empire Strikes Back Sketchbook)

What do the “Star Wars” and Star Trek movies “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Johnny Mnemonic,” “Virtuosity” and other sci-fi classics have in common?

The answer, I am proud to announce, is my cousin, Nilo Rodis, the art director or costume designer of all those famous sci-fi movie classics.

Nilo is the son of my uncle, Eric Rodis, from Cebu where Nilo was born and raised. Uncle Eric wanted Nilo to be a priest and enrolled him at a seminary high school but when he graduated, Nilo wanted no part of the priesthood. Fortunately, his mother, who had divorced his father and married a US citizen (Jamero), rescued him by petitioning him to immigrate to the US.

Nilo, by then known as Nilo Rodis-Jamero after his stepfather, enrolled at San Jose State University to pursue a career in designing cars, his childhood dream. After graduating from college with a degree in industrial design, Nilo was hired by General Motors to work on car design for Chevrolet.

What happened next was described by Thomas Smith, the former general manager of ILM, in his coffee table book, Industrial Light & Magic, The Art of Special Effects:

"At the newly reestablished ILM, art director Joe Johnston was looking for a creative partner in the art department. When he contacted San Jose State and asked for leads on new talent, they referred him to their star student who was then working for General Motors. By the time Joe caught up with him, Nilo was designing tanks.”

Nilo Rodis-Jamero (Source: Star Trek V Bonus DVD features)

When asked by an interviewer how he got to work for George Lucas, creator and producer of Star Wars, Nilo replied simply: “I got a call. I met George Lucas at his house in San Rafael where I failed three questions: Do you like science fiction books? Do you like science fiction movies? Do you like movies? He hired me.”

And that’s how Nilo was transported from a high school seminary student in Cebu to a galaxy far, far away in Marin County, USA.

The galaxy of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) was a factory of creative miniaturized models before the era of computer graphics and digital special effects.
“George Lucas is the best person to work for,” Nilo says. “He inspires you without telling you what to do. He is less specific, doesn't give a reason why he likes certain designs. It's all non-verbal communication. It works because it works.”

George Lucas is the best person to work for,” Nilo says. “He inspires you without telling you what to do.

After he was hired, Nilo immediately started working as an art director on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with Steven Spielberg and on George Lucas’ sequels to “Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Many of his designs, like the Imperial snow trooper white uniforms, which is a favorite during Halloween, are icons of the Star Wars empire.

Nilo received the 1984 Saturn Award for Best Costume Designer for his work in “The Return of the Jedi” from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, USA.

Among the dozens of creative weapons, equipment, vehicles and costumes that Nilo designed, he considers Princess Leia’s slave girl outfit as the one that was most fun. The most difficult was the Empire Bikers’ outfit because of the stunt requirements.

(Left) George Lucas examining a Scout biker costume designed by Nilo Rodis-Jamero. (Right) George Lucas reviewing sketches prepared by Nilo Rodis-Jamero for The Return of the Jedi. (Source: Making Magic)

Nilo’s creative work quickly spread to the far reaches of the Klingon Empire where he designed the Bird of Prey vessel which initially appeared in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and in numerous sequels of the franchise. He also designed the Space dock model that is a regular feature of all Star Trek films.

Nilo received full credit as art director (with his name and title on the screen all to itself) of “Star Trek III (The Search for Spock),” “Star Trek IV (The Voyage Home),” “Star Trek V (The Final Frontier),” and “Star Trek VI (The Undiscovered Country).” In Star Trek V, Nilo is also given additional credit as costume designer.

But Nilo did not confine himself to the Star Wars and Star Trek films. Aside from working with Spielberg on the Harrison Ford classic, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” he also worked with him on “Poltergeist” as special effects art director.

Princess Leia’s slave girl costume (Source: The Art of Return of the Jedi)

Nilo also worked as production designer of two 1995 movies, the Russel Crowe/Denzel Washington film, “Virtuosity,” and the Keanu Reeves starrer, “Johnny Mnemonic.” In the same year, Nilo also worked as a concept artist on Pixar Animation Studio’s first movie, “Toy Story.” In 1997 he served as associate producer of the Robin Williams film, “Flubber,” the Macauley Caulkin film, “Home Alone 3” and the alien abduction film, “Fire in the Sky” with D.B. Sweeney and Robert Patrick.

Nilo received a Genie Award nomination for Best Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design for his work in “Johnny Mnemonic.”

After working on films from his home in Marin County where Industrial Light & Magic is based, Nilo moved to Vancouver, Canada, to work as creative director for Electronic Arts Canada where he designed video games.

Nilo Rodis-Jamero's Scout biker design (Source:

Nilo joined Electronics Arts Canada CEO Rory Arms in forming a new company, Conversion Works, where Nilo is chief creative officer of what the website describes as “the only company to deliver True Stereo 3DX conversion with real time iteration of all 3D stereo parameters serving the entertainment industry in Hollywood and beyond.”

Nilo somehow found time to work as art director in Tim Burton’s 2010 film, “Alice in Wonderland” with Johnny Depp.

So, how can young designers get into the business? Nilo recommends a broad academic background as “education develops an individual’s character and it is character that is ultimately expressed in the work of the artist.”

To read more about Nilo Rodis-Jamero, log on:


The Empire Strikes Back Sketchbook (Photo courtesy of Rodel Rodis)

Nilo also wrote back stories for certain characters like this:

"The Return of the Jedi, The Gamorrean Guards From the Expanded Universe" by Nilo Rodis

A Rodisar from the battlefields of Rodis, Nilo was once a general in the winter wars of that primitive world. He and his command staff were kidnapped in a Zygerrian slaver run, and most of his followers were killed trying to protect their general. The slavers sold Nilo to Rattataki war barons, impressing them with tales of Nilo's military exploits. Though strong and a capable brawler, in truth, Nilo was a lackluster military leader. He had climbed the corrupt military ranks of Rodis by bribing politicians. Most of the military experience came from his staff. General Nilo only experienced one fight in the Cauldron gladiator pit, and he did not emerge alive.

Rodel Rodis

Rodel Rodis

Rodel Rodis is a California attorney who is the General Counsel of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and previously served for 18 years as an elected member of the San Francisco Community College Board. He taught Philippine History and the History of Pilipinos in America at San Francisco State University and currently writes a syndicated weekly column in the Philippine News and in