Chipmunk Trooper Whisperer

StarWars.com Team | October 14, 2008


(Photo and Chipmunk Wrangling by Chris McVeigh)

At first glance, Chris McVeigh’s photo of a trooper action figure riding on top of a chimpunk looks like a well-done Photoshop mashup. But remarkably, Chris placed the action figure on a live chipmunk who hangs out in his backyard. He convinced the chipmunk he named Billy, not by use of a simple Jedi mind trick, but with almonds!

Here’s the full story about Billy the Chipmunk and his trooper pal:

How in the heck did you get that chipmunk to stay still long enough for you to place an action figure on him?
Chipmunks are curious little creatures. A number of the little guys live in my backyard, and I guess you could say that I’ve built friendships with them over the past couple of years. It’s not that we share common interests, though — it’s that they can count on me to have almonds. It’s easily their favorite snack. As a chipmunk learns to associate me with almonds, it begins to see me as a friend and not a threat. The bolder chipmunks will even jump into my hands or onto my lap! Once I have earned this level of trust, it’s somewhat easy to coax them in front of the camera.

Billy was the perfect choice for the picture. He’s always been a real character; a very brazen and comical chipmunk. And as he collects up a pile of almonds, he is oblivious to the rest of the world. I can pet him, and even poke him in the belly. He remains undeterred! Earlier in the summer, I made a few trial runs to see how Billy would react to having an action figure on his back. I was stunned at how complacent he was about it. In fact, the only thing that seemed to unnerve him was when the action figure fell off his back — and because his motions were so quick, this happened frequently. The solution was to use to very thin thread to help keep the scout trooper upright.

The only other challenge was choosing a shot where the chipmunk looked slightly unsettled by the scenario. Billy was singularly focused on the almonds, and that is conveyed in most of my outtakes. It took a lot of patience, but finally, I got a shot of him perking up when he detected a nearby chipmunk.


(Photo and Chipmunk Wrangling by Chris McVeigh)

Do you think chipmunks are better animals to ride for troopers as opposed to tauntauns and dewbacks?
Chipmunks are fast and highly focused, and with the right training, they’d surely be a better mount than slow dewback or a cranky tauntaun. A trooper would only need a steady supply of almonds to keep his beast of burden happy. I like to think that’s why Commander Caiin chose the chipmunk!

Are you a Star Wars fan yourself?
I’m a huge fan of Star Wars. I saw The Empire Strikes Back in the summer of 1980, and I was hooked. I’ve always been fascinated with Hoth — I think in part because its climate was so like my home town in Quebec — and as a child I would spend hours putting together elaborate Echo Base dioramas out of discarded Styrofoam. I don’t get a chance to construct dioramas these days, but photography has proven to be an excellent way to pay tribute to the saga I have loved since that unforgettable afternoon in 1980.


Check out more of Chris McVeigh’s creative photography here.

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