The engineering team that created The Force Awakens’ BB-8 droid has given a sneak peek into their famous free-moving ‘red carpet’ sphere for the first time ever.
“It’s like a magic trick – this is the trade secrets,” laughed Josh Lee at this year’s Star Wars Celebration as we got treated to a look at the kit inside the ball. Joined by Matt Denton with whom he led the engineering team, this gives us an idea of how the technology allows it to move around in real life the same way we see it in the film.
Indeed, they’ve never been able to talk about this free-moving droid before, which – unlike most of the shots of BB-8 used in the film – doesn’t need wheels attached or a puppeteer to physically move it (when used these are later removed by clever editing).
Creating an independent BB-8 was no small feat. Josh admits they were 3D printing up to the wire as the LA premiere loomed. But come the event, BB-8 took pride of place, rolling along with the other actors.
Whether this fully mobile droid will be used in Episode VIII remains to be seen. In terms of editing, it’s the optimum choice because nothing needs to be sliced out later. But with tricky terrains and space ships to sit in, it’s not the ideal ball. Indeed, there’s no such thing as ‘the’ BB-8 ball. There’s many. In fact, the team comes with a full house of BB-8 droids, with seven made for The Force Awakens alone. This included BB-8s more suited to rolling on the hot sand, one that could be screwed to the base of the Falcon (‘the wiggler’ as it’s fondly referred to) and those whose wheels were on alternate sides to make clean camera shots easier.
From ensuring the glue wouldn’t melt in the Abu Dhabi heat, to checking its orange colouring was layered enough to deal with it rubbing off throughout the many weeks of filming, the engineers give a fascinating account of the tricks, triumphs and tests of keeping BB-8 rolling…