Meet Space Monkey, the Newest ‘Star Wars’ Creature from ‘Rogue One’
We all love the human heroes and villains of the Star Wars universe, but the creatures that pop in throughout the films are some of the most imaginative characters the big screen has seen. From fuzzy monsters to bubble-eyed aliens to adorable blinking droids, the galaxy far, far away is full of diverse species, many of which were brought to life by hand.
At Star Wars Celebration Europe, the “Creatures, Droids & Aliens of Star Wars: The Force Awakens” panel explored the many non-human characters from the J.J. Abrams film. Warwick Davis, who we can expect to see in another elaborate Star Wars costume in Rogue One, hosted the panel, which showcased the designers who made the film’s creature costumes with both practical and visual effects. The main highlight of the panel though was when Warwick and Neal Scanlan, head of the Star Wars creature shop, brought a new character from Rogue One on stage.
He’s weirdly cute with a furry, mole-like face and pointy teeth, and his (unofficial) name is Space Monkey. After a live demonstration of animatronic alien heads, Scanlan brought out the new creature on stage, whom he’s temporarily named Space Monkey until his team and Gareth Edwards give him a real name – but I’m forever calling him Space Monkey, sorry. The character has a performer both inside the suit as well as an external person who controls his facial movements.
Space Monkey was also briefly seen in the Rogue One sizzle reel that debuted at Celebration, wearing the same dark green pilot jumpsuit and emphatically firing a gun out of a ship as Edwards directed him off camera. The character embodied that same goofy energy on stage on Saturday when he eagerly bounced across the stage, then threw an Ewok toy at Davis. “He just thew a me at me!” Davis exclaimed.
But the panel was also full of fascinating details about the creatures from The Force Awakens and how they were created and selected for the movie. Scanlan and his team revealed Abrams walked through the creature shop and hand-picked Episode VIII’s creatures one-by-one, placing a Post-It note on his favorites. And those creatures were no simple feat to build. Maria Cork, head of the hair department, revealed that for The Force Awakens she and her team made three Chewbacca costumes, one for each of the actors inside of the seven-foot-six character. Cork added that the hairs in each lycra suit were punched in one at a time, a detailed process she said is similar to making a high-end wig:
You’ve got a tiny little crochet hook and you’re double knotting the hairs so that it lasts a long time, into the lycra all the way up the suit. And then the head is punched in the same way. You put the face hair afterwards so you’ve got all control over the lengths, the color and the direction of the hair.
While most of the panel was focused on The Force Awakens, Scanlan’s briefly spoke about his work on Rogue One, a process that highlight how different the Edwards film will be from the rest of Star Wars movies. Edwards previously told ScreenCrush about the experimental way he shot Rogue One by building a 360 degree set that allowed the actors and cameras to roam around freely. This “organic” style of filmmaking, as Edwards described it, also had an affected on how the creatures and alien character were approached in the new movie. Scanlan said the creatures in Rogue One “have gone in a new direction that’s been led by Gareth Edwards.”
Brian Herring, the puppeteer behind BB-8, added that Edwards’ approach also changed the way the characters were performed, leading him to bring in a team of puppeteers from all different areas of expertise. Since the crew never knew where Edwards’ camera was going to be, his team had to make sure their animatronic characters were styled and operable for the camera from every direction. “Characters like that had to be completely free-roaming and free-running,” Herring said.
A lot of these characters you can set up in a certain position. We know where the rods are going to be removed from, we know where you can hid the performer. But as we moved forward [in Rogue One], a lot of it has been as little removal as possible, so we have to find people who can cover a lot of different disciplines and be able to roll with whatever is thrown at them on the day.
The more we hear about Rogue One, the more it sounds like the tone and visual style isn’t the only thing that will set Edwards’ film a part from the rest of the Star Wars franchise. There’s going to be a ton of new creatures, some of whom where briefly introduced in a montage in the sizzle reel. Let’s just hope they’re as fun and cuddly-looking as Space Monkey, who’s bound to be a new favorite, following BB-8, of course. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens December 16, 2016.
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