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Meet master props maker David Hyde, designer of Disney’s Darth Vader marionette and more

by Seth Kubersky

For many of us who grew up playing with Star Wars toys, the opportunity to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and take home an exclusive souvenir is like a dream come true. But what would it be like to not only help create the largest-ever expansions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but also have the designs you crafted transformed into toys that guests can purchase in the theme parks? To find out, we talked with master props designer David Hyde, a veteran of the theme park industry who has worked for both Disney and Universal, about becoming an accidental designer of collectible toys like the Darth Vader marionette now offered inside Galaxy’s Edge.

Props designer David Hyde with Darth Vader Marionette toy from Star Wars Galaxy's Edge
Galaxy’s Edge props designer David Hyde poses with a toy replica of one of his theme park creations.
Photos by Seth Kubersky

David Hyde grew up in a small Michigan farm town, and was inspired by making-of specials about the original Star Wars film to teach himself model making and prop building. He moved to Orlando in 1981 on the advice of an aunt who worked at Disney, and soon became an attraction operator on Magic Kingdom’s now-extinct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride.

Darth Vader Marionette

“About the second or third year I was there, it went down for rehab, and they pulled some of us from a crew and stuck us there to work with the art staff,” recalls Hyde. “I guess it worked out really well with them, because they started calling me for different rehabs to work with the staff there. I didn’t appreciate it for what it was then, because apparently you just didn’t do that. But it was it was a really good experience to learn from that level, so that was probably my formal training.”

When Universal Studios Florida opened, Hyde went to work there “because they had nobody who had built anything anywhere, and it seemed to be a natural place to kind of find my way,” founding the entertainment division’s prop department. Over the next two decades, Hyde designed everything from the kitchen sink gag in the former Sindbad stunt show, to the enormous telescopes inside Wiseacre’s shop at Diagon Alley, before returning to Disney in mid-2016 to work on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

For Galaxy’s Edge, Hyde crafted themed props and other decorative objects that appear throughout the lands on both coasts, from K2-SEW (the embroidery droid inside the clothing stall) to the kid-sized speeder bikes displayed in Black Spire Outpost’s bazaar.

“The ‘Little Mynock Airspeed’ [outside the Toydarian shop] says LMA in Aurebesh because Lights, Motors, Action used to be right there. This is a tribute to Lights, Motors, Action, and all the pieces of this speeder are made up from car parts from LMA.

Notably, several of Hyde’s most memorable creations, which were originally intended only for display in the parks, have been reproduced and sold in Galaxy’s Edge shops. The first such prop to get this treatment are replicas of the “upcycled” droid statues Hyde created for the Droid Depot, which have been available since the lands debuted. “I’m waiting to do a second set of those droids,” reveals Hyde. “I already kind of have them in mind what I would do. They sort of let me choose the ones for the first set; I wanted to pick ones that were different enough, and scale them right.”

More recently, items Hyde made for the ceiling of the Toydarian toy store have been turned into take-home playthings, starting with 3/4-size plastic copies of the hand-crafted Darth Vader marionette seen hanging behind the shop’s checkout register, locked in mortal combat with an Obi-Wan puppet (currently not available for purchase).

Darth Vader Marionette

According to Hyde, the helmet of his original Darth Vader marionette was sculpted out of epoxy putty, and the body was made from a broken shipping pallet. “He was one of the first props we made when we got our site off-property,” explained Hyde.

“I wanted to start in right away, and the only scrap wood we had was a handful of broken pallets that was left over. We took pride in actually repurposing as much garbage as we could, because the whole idea behind our work — especially in the toy store and with the droids — is that the owners of the shops are repurposing from around town. The toys are going to be made from garbage that they find just laying about, so all of these things are electronic parts and pieces of wood and stuff that you’d find, with the only craftsmanship probably being in the helmet made by the toymaker himself.”

Darth Vader Marionette

As for the stylized likeness of the Dark Lord of the Sith, Hyde says, “Darth Vader was a little bit exaggerated, because we’re working in universe, and in-universe, their Star Wars stories aren’t as cool as as our Star Wars toys. You always see kids toys in Star Wars presented as simplistic, probably because it’s different from the high-tech world they live in. Maybe that’s the charm of it. So, most everything for Galaxy’s Edge was made repurposed from bits of wood, cans, brass, copper, just what you would find laying around.”

In addition, iconic ships from the Toydarian’s massive metalic mobile are now available as replicas, including the Millennium Falcon. “We decided to approach everything from an exaggerated ‘Tall Tales’ [perspective] and we tried to represent as many of the movies as we could with some kind of set,” remembers Hyde.

“The big patchwork Star Destroyer and the Millennium Falcon mobile with all the asteroids and TIE Fighters represents the ‘Empire Strikes Back.’ There’s a playset with a Sand Crawler, and you open the front, and all the Jawa action figures and the droid auction is there; that’s the ‘Star Wars’ playset. And then there’s another one with the sail barge [from ‘Return of the Jedi’], and you open up the barge and there’s the band playing, and there’s the little skiff. With that one, everybody in the shop made at least one figure for it, so it’s kind of a conglomeration of everybody’s love.”

Of course, Hyde had no idea his props would be mass produced when he originally made them; nor does he get royalties from the merchandise. Asked how he feels seeing his work being collected by guests, he admits “It’s crazy, it really is. I wouldn’t have known about it if [fellow theme park prop maker] Eric [Baker] hadn’t told me; once you sign your contract away, they don’t have to tell you anything, but I’m flattered nonetheless.”

Even so, he’s not surprised that the transformation of his Darth Vader marionette from one-of-a-kind prop into popular plaything has been successful. “A lot of people would say, ‘we should market those, but who plays with marionettes anymore?'” said Hyde. “Well, when you when you hang a set of them from the ceiling, people get interested in them.”

Darth Vader Marionette

Although semi-retired, Hyde continues working freelance for both Universal and Disney, including helping with the recent Jungle Cruise refurbishment. “I’m eternally grateful to my team, and to everybody I’ve been privileged enough to work for and with,” he says in conclusion. “And I hope to see more stuff!”

Look for our full Q&A with Hyde in a future issue of “Attractions Magazine”. Subscribe now so you won’t miss it.

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