We’re still more than half a year away from the debut of the latest instalment in the Star Wars saga, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but that hasn’t stopped one of its new characters from becoming a fan favourite already.
BB-8 was first glimpsed in the first Force Awakens teaser trailer last November. Although the Episode VII production team promised fans that they planned to extensively utilize miniatures and practical puppets in the new trilogy and Mark Hammil confirmed that BB-8 was a puppet/prop and not CGI late last year, many people assumed that this unique-looking spherical droid was computer animated until he rolled out on stage during a panel discussion at the Star Wars Celebration convention last week:
Director J.J. Abrams revealed that BB-8 was a real, practical robot built by a team of UK-based effects artists led by Neal Scanlan and puppeteered live on set. He also explained that the droid(s) – it’s unclear if more than one was built for use in the film – were created using technology developed by a Disney-funded toy company called Sphero.
The similarities between BB-8 and the original Sphero toy were noted back in November, and several enterprising fans have been busily trying to figure out how to make a BB-8 and at least one of them has already managed to built their own:
Of course this is Star Wars, one of the most merchandised franchises of all time, so you won’t have to wait long to get a fully functional BB-8 robot (puppet?) at a toy store near you. After news that Sphero was planning to make a working BB-8 toy leaked online, the company hastily set-up a web page where you can sign-up to be notified when Sphero’s official BB-8 toy is available.
It’s great to see the Star Wars production team making good on their promise to honour the series’ legacy by relying on practical effects and to hear an A-list director like J.J. espousing the benefits of having “real” creatures performing live on set. Perhaps we really are seeing the beginning of a new trend back towards practical effects in big budget movies?
A huge thank you to everyone who has been sharing links and info about BB-8 online!