By: Dominic Jones
Of all the new characters revealed from Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens one droid has stood out above the rest, BB-8. Ever since we first caught a glimpse of BB-8 in the first trailer, fans have been wondering how the production made the droid work on set. These wonderment only grew when BB-8 rolled out on stage at Star Wars Celebration. Today, StarWars.com offered a peak behind the scenes as to how BB-8 came to be.
On how he came up with the now iconic design, Christian Alzmann told StarWars.com,
J.J. wanted something rolling on a sphere, so I tried a lot of different designs developing that idea. He would give direction on the kinds of shapes to use, and that led to a personality for the droid. Of course, the original sketch had very pleasing, round shapes, so you kind of figured it wasn’t going to be a very serious or angry character. Ultimately, BB-8 developed out of a back-and-forth process with J.J. where he gave feedback on each iteration of the design.
As for how BB-8 was operated on set, it turns out what we saw at Celebration wasn't the prop used in the film. In truth BB-8 was a puppet built by Joshua Lee. Lee told StarWars.com,
“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.”
Operating the puppet were Dave Chapman and Brian Herring. Chapman described the process of learning how to make BB-8 work, saying,
“We had, I guess, two weeks to ourselves on an empty soundstage, just figuring out how this character moved. 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.”
“Matt made the brain, Josh built the body, and, hopefully, Dave and I gave it heart and soul.”
Even though the BB-8 puppet on the set wasn't fully functional on its own, the team still desired to create a version of BB-8 that wouldn't need puppet rods or puppeteers. The team kept working on ideas for a fully funtional BB-8 even after filming had began and were ultimately able to build one, which was shown off to fans at Celebration Anaheim in April. As for the question that has been on fans minds since that morning in April, how did they do that? Lee isn't interested in revealing that secret just yet, telling StarWars.com,
“I’m not sure I want to say. Because where’s the fun in that?”
For more details on the creation of BB-8, be sure to check out the entire blog post over at StarWars.com. Kudos to Dan Brooks for such a great post, and big thanks to the team behind BB-8 not only for sharing their story but for creating such a wonderful new and exciting character!
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