Getting Practical with Star Wars: The Force Awakens

In keeping with J.J. Abrams’ mandate for getting practical with Oscar-nominated The Force Awakens effects, Neal Scanlan (Oscar winner for Babe) helped bring to life the adorable BB-8 droid and the semi-mechanical Luggabeast, while special effects coordinator extraordinaire Chris Corbould (Oscar winner for Inception)brought his usual sense of style to the explosive action.

“There were two great things about BB-8. The design is absolutely J.J.’s and he nailed it with his charismatic drawing of a ball with a dome on the head,” explained Scanlan, who came out of retirement to set up the creature shop in London. ”But not to take anything away from that, Ralph McQuarrie [the original Star Wars concept designer] had done similar ideas of a ball, and the ball is also very current in today’s thinking of droids or helpers of how the future may go.

“Really, taking BB-8 from there was all about the personality of the face. And it was really interesting how you could move things around. If the eye moved a little to the left or the right, he looked a little too sorrowful, too aggressive. So it was about trying to find that neutral yet endearing look to this technology that sat on top. And the body was very much about translating the motion because parallel patterns didn’t translate so well on a globe, whereas a geometric pattern could move in different ways.”

In fact, Scanlan admitted that not only was BB-8 originally female but also that her movement was patterned after Marilyn Monroe’s walk (“jello on springs,” as Jack Lemmon described her in Some Like It Hot).

“Getting that swagger, getting that roll was important,” he added. “Then he became male and back to a female. It’s a testimony to the design that you can put whatever gender you want.” So BB-8′s the first transgender drone.

In terms of the beast of burden Luggabeast, which looks like a rhino with metal armor and roams the desert planet Jakku, Abrams was inspired by the puppetry of The War Horse theatrical production. “It was based on the same piece of theater,” Scanlan continued. “Essentially two puppeteer performers—one in the front and one in the back—who take the weight of the beast on their shoulders. They have ski poles going down to the feet. And Kiran Shaw, who’s the little character on the top [Teedo], performs the head.

“It’s a very light-weight model made mostly of polystyrene, painted and textured to look like it was heavy metal or an organic cyber cross character. And then in post-production they got rid of the performance legs, which in a sense, joined the circle of illusion.”

Meanwhile, Corbould, the master of James Bond special effects, embraced the vibe of the first Star Wars trilogy. “We looked at blaster hits on the wall and thought about making it more modern and did lots of tests and used about 50 different hits with different colors and different shapes, put them all in front of J.J. and we both said we should stick with the ones from A New Hope. They look good, they’re familiar, people know them, why change it?

Read the rest at TOH/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Below the Line, Crafts, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production

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