How did a mega-mammal inspire Star Wars?

When Phil Tippett was designing the special effects for Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, he needed a reference model for the giant mechanical AT-AT walkers that assault the rebel base on Hoth. Initially, his team studied elephants to animate the leg movements, but the final design is much taller and more menacing. That’s because they are based on the Paraceratherium, a relative of the rhino from the Oligocene era thought to be the largest ever land mammal. The AT-ATs portrayed in the film are three times as tall as the prehistoric mammal – which stood some 5.5 metres (18 feet) tall and nine metres (30 feet) long – but the lumbering gait and joint articulation is probably very close to the way the real Paraceratherium would have moved around.


An artist’s impression of what the Paraceratherium may have looked like