Empire Online has a new article up today on BB-8. It confirms something we have known for a while but only from quotes by Bob Iger: BB-8 was still just a puppet on set and not the one we saw revealed at Star Wars Celebration:
Various BB-8s were created for shooting to perform different functions: one for close-ups; a couple with stabiliser wheels; one that could be picked up and interacted with by actors; one that could be thrown into shot without tipping over; and even an old-school rod-puppet version. But while a single fully-functioning, all-purpose BB-8 remained impractical for filming, it was a challenge the design team couldn’t leave alone.
Months ago we were discussing concepts for how they were doing various versions of BB-8.
The design team could not let it go though and made a real BB-8:
It had been sort of burning a hole in me,” says Senior Animatronic Designer Joshua Lee. “I started to design this crazy idea of one that would roam around and that we would show to the fans as well. We couldn’t do it for filming, but it had to be done! There are several ways of doing a ball robot, but there was nothing that included an articulated head or anything that could spin on the spot – and that’s one of BB-8’s signature moves. So, I started to design the prototype while Matt [Denton] adapted his existing software to make control of this new BB-8 possible.”
Seeing BB-8 roll out on stage was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life. The little dude is a rockstar.
This piece is of particular interest and very fun and cool:
“We did show and tells [with Abrams],” Scanlan explains. “All credit to the man, he didn’t actually see his version of the puppeteered BB-8 until about a week before we began shooting. He never put pressure on us, he never made us feel bad. I remember the day that we showed it to him, his first initial response really hit home with me, because he looked at [Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy and said, ‘What a relief.’ And I could see the weight of the world lift off his shoulders. I think that was the point at which, I suppose, the decision was made that we could go practical, and we didn’t have to go digital. I think up until that point, it was sitting in everybody’s mind that unless we were able to deliver something that was actually believable and usable and directorially friendly, the only other option was to go digital. He put his faith and trust in us and, as such, apparently we didn’t disappoint. Then, after we showed it to him, the mood in the room lifted immediately.
It really shows how to-the-line things were with BB-8. Abrams was lucky to have a great crew he could rely on to make the little guy work.