‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Reveals Secrets Behind the Making of BB-8
Each trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has offered plenty to dissect, and although we don’t know too much about several of the key players, fans are already figuring out which ones will be their favorites. Amid badass new characters like Kylo Ren, Finn, Rey and Captain Phasma, there’s one little co-star that stands out among its larger peers: BB-8. From the very first trailer we’ve been curious not only about who this droid is and what it does, but how J.J. Abrams & Co. brought it to life.
In a great, lengthy article on StarWars.com, the making of everyone’s new favorite droid is detailed, beginning with Abrams’ very first sketch of the character, which then moved on to designer Joshua Lee:
“I made a little puppet version,” says Lee, “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.”
The actual characterization was left up to puppeteers Dave Chapman and Brian Herring, who had to figure out the droid’s personality and movement:
“We had, I guess, two weeks to ourselves on an empty soundstage, just figuring out how this character moved,” Chapman says. “[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.” The personality of a droid — and discovering it — is something that audiences usually don’t even think about. But that was Chapman and Herring’s job, and it meant not only figuring out how to manipulate BB-8 the puppet to convey joy, sadness, curiosity, and fear, but defining how BB-8 the character would convey those emotions consistently.
“BB-8 can cock his head over and look away, he can double take, he can look scared, he can look angry,” says Herring. “We managed to find a whole vocabulary of movement for him, if you will. 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?”
Abrams did not see the first fully-functional and complete BB-8 until a week before shooting, but once the product was finished the team was able to create additional versions for use throughout the filming process.
While fans are thrilled about the mystery surrounding new characters on both the Dark Side and the Light, we can all pretty much agree that there’s no mystery to the fact that BB-8 is the coolest (and cutest) of the bunch.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18.
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