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Eric Baker: Out of This World

Eric Baker

Eric Baker (ABJ ’90) is an Imagineer for The Walt Disney Company, with credits including just-opened Galaxy’s Edge.

*In honor of Galaxy’s Edge officially opening in Disneyland on May 31, UGA is highlighting Eric Baker (ABJ ’90), a Grady graduate and creative director with Walt Disney Imagineering.

This story originally ran in the Summer 2019 issue of Georgia Magazine.

A long time ago in a galaxy not so far, far away …

A young Eric Baker ABJ ’90 was making his own Star Wars playsets because store-bought versions weren’t good enough. The son of an art teacher and a building contractor, Baker made his own Yoda masks from forms he sculpted, molded, and casted with help from his mom.

Now, he’s a creative director with Walt Disney Imagineering, working on the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge-themed lands opening in Disneyland this summer and Walt Disney World this fall.

“I love taking these worlds and bringing them from film to something people can actually go see and touch and really be a part of,” he says.

Baker attended the University of Georgia where he studied telecommunications and theatrical design. He knew he wanted to make films, so he learned model building, special effects, and set design through his course work. As a student, his first job in the industry was at Cable 13 doing Larry Munson’s makeup for his Tuesday night show.

TV Career
From the Earth to the Moon

Baker’s work on the Tom Hank’s mini-series “From the Earth to the Moon” earned him an Emmy nomination.

After graduation, Baker found work at Nickelodeon doing props on the hit show Clarissa Explains it All, coming up with games to gross people out for Double Dare, and testing pool games for Nickelodeon Guts.

That led to other film and TV work including The Mickey Mouse ClubSesame Street 3D MovieBad Boys 2, and the Tom Hanks mini-series From the Earth to the Moon  (which earned Baker an Emmy nomination).

But after 20 years in film production, the industry was changing, so Baker took an entry level model-building job with Universal Studios’ creative department.

 

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Baker built concept models for Universal’s Harry Potter theme parks in Florida, California, and Japan.

They asked him to build a castle—which turned out to be Hogwarts. For the next two years, Baker built concept models for Universal’s Harry Potter theme parks in Orlando, California, and Japan.

The worlds are fully immersive, from taking the Hogwarts Express train from Platform 9 ¾ to drinking a cold butterbeer on the giant benches of the Leaky Cauldron. The worlds are layer upon layer, from haunted portraits to fountains that come alive with a souvenir wand.

The work Baker did for Diagon Alley in Orlando (which has 106,000 props) was such a game changer that the Themed Entertainment Association created a new award for it: the Paragon award, which won’t be awarded again until someone tops the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

And Baker is up to the challenge.

Star Wars
Galaxy's Edge

Galaxy’s Edge opened in Disneyland on May 30, and Disney World’s version will open August 29.

Disney took notice of Baker’s work and offered him the job he’d dreamed of since he was a young Padawan: Star Wars. Now he’s overseeing construction of thousands of pieces of props and set dressing for the immersive Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which means a lot of flying between Florida and California (commercial, not on an X-wing).

He’s visited the Star Wars film sets and Skywalker Ranch where he photographed some of the original props from the film, which was another dream come true for him. “Star Wars changed my life,” he says.

But ultimately, his job comes down to using the Force for good.

“I love going to work in the morning to see the look on kids’ faces the first time they come into the park. That’s the most rewarding thing I do: making people happy.”

 

May the Fourth Be With You: Star Wars and the Dawgs

Throughout generations, one firm thing has remained a cornerstone in nerd culture: Star Wars. Whether you love or hate the prequels, no matter your opinion on Solo, and whether or not you think Han shot first, fans have remained passionate about and loyal to the Star Wars universe.

A similar passion can be found among Georgia Bulldog fans. And when the two combine, it only leads to greatness.

On May the Fourth, we’re proud to bring you five ways the Dawgs and Star Wars are connected – enjoy you will: 

1. Former Georgia football player Chris Conley (ABJ ’14) makes viral Star Wars fan film.

In 2014, then junior wide receiver Conley wrote and starred in a Star Wars fan film called “Retribution.” The 26-minute film has over half a million views, and led to plenty of interviews asking for Conley’s Star Wars opinions. Now playing professionally for the Jacksonville Jaguars, fans just have to wait until December for Conley to share his thoughts on the upcoming Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. 

Former UGA wide receiver Conley created a Star Wars fan video.

Former UGA wide receiver Conley created a Star Wars fan video.

2. Kemp Remillard (BFA ’04) illustrates Star Wars books.

After studying graphic design at UGA, Remillard established a sucessful career as a concept artist, designer and professional illustrator. In particular, Remillard illustrated all of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens Incredible Cross-Sections” and “Star Wars:  The Last Jedi Incredible Cross-Sections”  and illustrated cross-sections in “Star Wars: Complete Locations” and “Star Wars: Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide.” Remillard now works for Massive Black Inc., and has done work for other well-known companies such as Hasbro, DK and Cartoon Network. 

 

Baker speaks to UGA students during a guest presentation in April 2018.

Baker speaks to UGA students during a guest presentation in April 2018. Photo courtesy of Sarah Freeman/Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication

3. Grady grad turned Imagineer designs Disney’s Star Wars land.

Once he had completed working on the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” for Universal Studios, Eric Baker (ABJ ’90) was offered a job he couldn’t refuse: designing “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” for The Walt Disney Company. Imagineer Baker had been sworn to secrecy about most things at the time of his meeting with UGA students in 2018. Still, he gushed about his time visiting Skywalker Ranch, stopping by the set of Solo: A Star Wars Story and seeing original film props. When “Galaxy’s Edge” opens May 31, 2019, don’t forget that there was a Dawg behind it all. 

 

 

4. Caitlin Plesher (AB ’15, AB ’15) co-hosts Star Wars podcast.

With nearly 4,000 Twitter followers, Skytalkers is a bi-weekly podcast covering all things Star Wars. Plesher and her co-host, Charlotte Errity, were invited to the recent Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, and featured on the Podcast Stage. They recently celebrated 100 episodes of Skytalkers. Be sure to check out this podcast for a Dawg’s view on the Star Wars universe. 

Plesher and co-host Errity discuss Star Wars in their "Skytalkers" podcast.

Plesher and co-host Errity discuss Star Wars in their “Skytalkers” podcast. Photo courtesy of Skytalkers.

5. Marshall Shepherd explains weather in the Star Wars universe.

Prior to the release of The Force Awakens, Marshall Shepherd, professor and director of UGA’s atmosphere sciences department, wrote an article for Forbes on the science of the weather on the different Star Wars planets. Shepherd compares the environments on Earth to the desert planet of Tatooine and the ice planet of Hoth. This article combines the world of Star Wars and atmospheric sciences, a combination that not many people can say they are experts in. Thanks, Dr. Shepherd! 

No matter what walk of life we are from, Bulldogs can agree: Star Wars is one of the most storied science fiction universes of all time. Have a great May the Fourth, and may the Force be with you, always!