Inside the Creation of BB-8 from STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
C-3PO and R2-D2, perennial droid sidekicks of the Star Wars universe, are two of the franchise’s most iconic characters. A new droid sidekick, BB-8 – the cute, little soccer ball rolling around in the trailers – will make his debut in the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December, and StarWars.com has posted an article that takes viewers inside BB-8’s creation!
BB-8’s origin is a modest one: it began when J.J. Abrams, director and co-writer of the new Star Wars installment, sketched out “two circles atop one another, with a tiny dot for an eye.” Next, that ‘design’ was passed on to senior animatronic designer Joshua Lee. Said Lee:
“I made a little puppet version, because there was a lot of talk about how this thing could move and whether it needed extra parts, like an extending neck, to allow for greater movement. I had this feeling that it didn’t need anything else, and so to prove that, I built, in half a day, a little polystyrene puppet with the main movements. All the head movements and the ball rolling around, and handles on the back. I remember as soon as I picked that up, it was just so expressive. You could see that there weren’t any other fancy movements needed, that there’s so much expression and character actually in the shapes and in the way the head sort of arched over the sphere. Neal was working in a different office at the time, in another part of the studio, and I excitedly ran down and showed him this thing. We both thought, that’s it, there’s really something there, and a puppet version would be one way of achieving it on set.”
Not only is BB-8 more than just a CGI creation, the animatronic is like a real character; magic brought to us in part by puppeteers Brian Herring and Dave Chapman:
“We had, I guess, two weeks to ourselves on an empty soundstage, just figuring out how this character moved,” said Chapman. “[Head of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens creature shop] Neal Scanlan came in and advised and directed us. We did camera tests and recorded it for ourselves, and just found every parameter of this character’s movement.”
Chapman and Herring were tasked with creating and developing not only a personality for the droid, but ways to actively portray that personality and those emotions with their highly-advanced puppet.
“BB-8 can cock his head over and look away, he can double take, he can look scared, he can look angry. We managed to find a whole vocabulary of movement for him, if you will,” said Herring. “We worked out a whole bunch of stuff. What would he do if you turned him off? What happens to his head if you power him down? Does he go down stairs? Does he go up stairs?”
Like most film props, multiple versions of BB-8 were created: a “wiggler” BB-8, embedded with the ability to twist and turn, was utilized for close-up shots. A “trike” BB-8, given stabilizer wheels, could be operated via remote control. A “bowling ball” BB-8 could be tossed into a shot and, literally, not fall down. Lastly, a rod-puppet BB-8 prop: operated by Chapman and Herring, who would be erased via computer.
Fascinating stuff! Hopefully, we can look forward to extensive special features about all the hard work – practical and digital – that went into the creation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the Blu-ray release. But first, the movie releases on December 18, 2015.
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