What were you working on before Star Wars then? How'd you get your start and what were you wanting to work on in a non-Star Wars era at Lucasfilm?
Also, what was the design briefing like? You mentioned before having a bit of creative freedom, particularly in shaping the bottom of the model. Did Doug Chiang just hand you a bunch of concept art and say go to town? I'm interested in how the review process went about, since, like you pointed out, some of the features like the cockpit and blended wings that show up on the final maquettes aren't present on the wooden model. I would've assumed that wooden model was the master that the maquettes were cast off of.
I started at ILM in the early 90's and was there till they closed down the modelshop in '07. It seemed like ILM had a piece of nearly every movie being made ( a slight exaggeration). The first project I worked on was a commercial - ILM had a commercials division back then in addition to films. The first movie I worked on was Star Trek: First Contact, which was another child fantasy since I was a Trek fan before Star Wars existed. Then I worked on Men in Black and some other films and commercials at ILM before getting the prequel call. Steve Gawley was the one who told me that I had be selected, which was another thrill - I had his bubblegum card! (I didn't tell him that till years later.)
John Goodson and I were given a lot of room to to interpret and add to the designs. Doug was great about telling us what elements were important to him, and trust us to take it and run with it after that. It mostly followed this process: every Friday the Art department had our meeting with George, and he would introduce new story and design ideas, and then take a look at what we'd come up with since the previous meeting.
Let's take the Naboo fighter for instance. George would talk about what it wanted to generally look like, what it did and how it should "feel". Then Doug and/or other artists would draw sketches to flesh out the design. Mostly the drawings were simple sketches, sometimes with close-up sketches of critical detail areas. Once the drawings were approved by George, they were handed off to me to do a quick, rough, small model in foam and cardboard. After the rough models were approved, I would make the finished model. But even then the design might keep evolving.
The wooden model was approved and then got molded, but then Doug wanted the wings and engines blending in with fillets - so I added that to a casting, and then that one was remolded.
It was a very collaborative process. There was a lot of back and forth, asking questions, approvals and changes. The Naboo fighter had a torpedo pod mounted on a fin above the cockpit, and that element had survived through all the drawings. But once George saw it in-the-flesh he didn't like it, and snapped it off the model to see what it looked like without it. As an concept artist, you can't be precious about your work. We were building these toys for him, and if he wanted to break it - well, it was his toy.