I’ve been covering BB-8 for a long time now. I’ve talked about the special abilities the droid has and even how it is operated. But looking at the design, there was always a question of “are they really going to do this practically?” After I got several designs for mechanisms, it became clearer the droid was going to be practically built and there were lots of clever designs how to do that. Mark Hamill has confirmed the little critter is something tangible :
[Laughs] I’m sure he loved the new little droid that’s a rolling ball. I’m sure he wants it under the tree this Christmas. They never cease to amaze me with what they’re able to come up with, you know? I said, “How are you ever gonna top R2-D2, the most adorable droid in movie history?” And then they have this new one. I can’t even tell you his name, but you saw it in the trailer. [Editor’s note: the name of the droid has been revealed as BB-8.] And when they were demonstrating how they did this thing, live on set — because it’s not CGI, that’s a live prop — I was just amazed. They let me play around with it. [Laughs] I was running it all around at the creature shop up in Pinewood. I’m telling you, it’s an absolute delight. And not having thought that I’d ever go back there, to go back into that world, is just – I get the chills. It’s just so much fun.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but in that one shot, I was sold on BB-8. When the droids are working, the appeal to us on the level a pet does. When you’re a kid and you walk into the shelter, you see a kitten or a puppy and you want one instantly. That’s how I felt about BB-8 since I first saw the little droid. For me, the droid is an instant success. Now, topping Artoo? Lets not even have the discussion.
I love CGI. The initial ground work Star Wars: The Phantom Menace did with the technique was a delicacy. We had never seen that level of articulation and ability on completely made up creatures. But in the following digital revolution ILM kicked off, CGI is not a delicacy anymore. Strangely, we’ve come full circle and seeing classic puppetry techniques, new and old, is the new delicacy for special effects and creatures.