When you watch a Star Wars film, you know you’re going to be taken to a galaxy far, far away that’s filled with amazing, detailed characters. Star Wars is known for the diverse creatures that live within its universe, and that tradition of practical effects and character work continued onto Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Today, at Star Wars Celebration in London, the creatures team behind The Force Awakens shared just what went into making the fascinating creatures, droids, and aliens in the film. Here are some new things we learned during the panel:
1. J.J. Abrams picked his favorite characters via sticky note.
Neal Scanlan, head of the creature shop at Pinewood Studios, told the crowd that the process of choosing the characters for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was kind of like an audition. “We created hundreds of sketches, literally hundreds of sketches, and bit by bit we showed them to him literally between here [in London] and Los Angeles … over a period of three months, by generating these sketches, we began to get a feeling of how J.J. sees this world,” explained Scanlan. “When J.J. came to join us [in London], we began to have a kind of “X-Factor” moment as we called it … we had all of our characters lined up in the workshop and gave J.J. a Post-It note. And he would walk along the line, and place the Post-It note on an any design that he particularly liked.” We like to imagine the creatures were really nervous about this whole endeavor.
2. Each one of Chewbacca’s hairs were added to the suit one at a time.
We all know Chewbacca gives the best hugs, mainly because everyone’s favorite walking carpet is the fuzziest and sweetest character in Star Wars. Maria Cork, hair department supervisor, told the audience that each hair had to be individually punched into the suits that they created for the three 7′ 6″ actors who played Chewbacca. Talk about a hair-raising process.
3. No matter how long they’re on screen, each character is created with the same amount of importance.
The thing about Star Wars is that even if a character is on the screen for two seconds, they can easily become a fan favorite. During production though, the creatures team had to make sure that each character had the same level of attention and detail as some of the stars like BB-8, because they never knew if a background character would be chosen to be a foreground character. The team also mentioned that a new challenge they faced on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was making most of the character free roaming, due to the constant camera movement during takes.
4. The team didn’t show J.J. Abrams the finished BB-8 until two days before filming started.
While the creatures team knew that BB-8 was going to be a huge hit with everyone, they didn’t actually show J.J. Abrams the final product until just two days before filming began! Talk about a time crunch. The team was right about BB-8’s cuteness levels though, because Abrams fell in love with the droid right away, which he envisioned as a sketch on a napkin while he was developing The Force Awakens.
5. The creatures team likes to give all the characters they create different nicknames.
We know the secrecy on a Star Wars set is real, and those rules even apply to the creatures team. Most of the time, the character is just given a number, so they give them nicknames. For example, the droid that you see walking into Maz Kanata’s palace was called “Big Red.” To bring the character to life, the team found circus performers to walk on stilts, and built Big Red around them.
Another creature with a great nickname that we were introduced to for the first time was “Space Monkey” from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The space monkey was a huge hit with fans, and we can’t wait to see more of them in Rogue One.
6. It took just two weeks to figure out BB-8’s entire vocabulary of movements.
When you see BB-8 on screen, it’s hard to imagine that a whole team of people worked on designing each exact head movement and beep to give BB-8 his personality. Brian Herring, puppeteer consultant, explained that this process is key in defining a character’s personality.”The more I played with [the model BB-8 puppet], the more I realized we could make him look down, look scared, look up, looked frightened, back off, come forwards. And we went away when we finally got the big puppet and we spent two weeks … with a video camera and a soundstage and we worked out an entire vocabulary of movement for BB-8,” said Herring.
Did you learn something new about the creatures, droids, and aliens of The Force Awakens? Tell us in the comments!