Star Wars: The Force Awakens Prop Designers Reveal the Making of BB-8

Wednesday, 26 August 2015 - 4:22PM
Star Wars
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Wednesday, 26 August 2015 - 4:22PM
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Prop Designers Reveal the Making of BB-8

Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn't come out for another four months, but the new droid for the film, an endearing roly-poly robot named BB-8, has already made a huge impact on Star Wars fans. Other than the crossguard lightsaber, BB-8 made the biggest impression in the action-packed first trailer, and the world has been falling in love with him ever since. Now, in an extensive interview on StarWars.com, the creators of the lovable droid have revealed exactly how they brought him to life.



Before we knew his name, many fans called BB-8 the "soccer ball droid," as a result of his spherical shape and the geometric patterns. As it turns out, that observation was very astute, as Lucasfilm concept designer Christian Alzmann confirmed that a soccer ball did, in fact, serve as inspiration in the initial design. J.J. Abrams gave him a sketch on a napkin of two balls, one on top of the other, with a dot for an eye, and it was all downhill from there.

Opening quote
"J.J. wanted something rolling on a sphere, so I tried a lot of different designs developing that idea... I looked at a lot of soccer balls," Alzmann said, laughing. "When you're on a project like that, you start looking at everything spherical for inspiration. I think I ran across a soccer ball, and I was just like, 'Oh, it's kind of perfect.'"
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From the start, Abrams wanted BB-8 to be a practical effect (and with good reason), so there was an enormous amount of pressure to find a suitable design for a puppet. If the team hadn't been able to build a prototype that worked, they would have been forced to create a digital version. But luckily, they unveiled the puppet a week before shooting, and it was a rousing success.

Opening quote
"After we showed it to him, the mood in the room lifted immediately," said the head of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens creature shop Neal Scanlan. "Everybody started to engage with BB-8 not as a practical effect anymore, but as a little character."
Closing quote

Senior animatronic designer Joshua Lee recalled making a miniature puppet version of the robot in the early phases of the design, and explains that the design itself makes the droid as expressive as an R2-D2 follow-up needs to be:

Opening quote
"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."
Closing quote


Opening quote
"BB-8 can cock his head over and look away, he can double take, he can look scared, he can look angry," said puppeteer Brian 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?"
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BB-8 was finally unveiled in all of his tangible glory at Star Wars Celebration, and the reception was glowing. The creators were humbled by all the love for the character, but they insist that fans haven't seen anything yet:

Opening quote
"What I think is the excitement for me comes from the fact that the world, at the moment, has only seen two shots of BB-8 in the movie and the Anaheim stuff, which is all great," said puppeteer Dave Chapman. "But in the film, there's so much going on and so much more for them to see. I'm excited for them to see the character's journey in the movie."
Closing quote



We still don't know exactly how BB-8 works on a technological level, as they want to keep some of the mystery alive, but it's already clear that the droid has the potential to become an iconic Star Wars character:

Opening quote
"I hope that he can sit with the really great, memorable Star Wars characters," said Herring. "You know, you can look at him and R2-D2 and Chewbacca and go, 'Oh, they're all from the same place, and they all took part in the same story.'"
Closing quote

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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