Ten Things You May Not Know About BB-8
1. After his appearances in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi,BB-8 has quickly become one of the most popular characters in the Star Wars universe, following in the footsteps of his droid forerunners R2-D2 and C-3P0.
2. The original design of BB-8 came from director J.J. Abrams, who made a simple sketch on a napkin: two circles atop one another, with a tiny dot for an eye. BB-8’s different shaped panels were purposely added to allow the viewer to tell the direction in which BB-8 was going. Creative Effects Supervisor Neal Scanlan noted that “If you had parallel patterns that ran around the circumference, they would be less informative as to the direction BB-8 was traveling than a slightly more chaotic pattern.”
3. But what do all those panels do? While Scanlan describes BB-8 as a “Swiss Army Knife that shouldn’t be trusted,” he acknowledged that many of the panels don’t have a specific purpose…yet. That allows the designers to give BB-8 more functions in future films if necessary.
4. If your first reaction upon seeing BB-8 was that he looked like a big soccer ball, you were closer to the truth than you may have realized. Concept Designer Christian Alzmann confessed “I looked at a lot of soccer balls [when designing BB-8]…you start looking at everything spherical for inspiration. I think I ran across a soccer ball, and I was just like, ‘Oh, it’s kind of perfect.’”
5. So how did BB-8 get his name? According to Abrams, “I named him BB-8 because it was almost onomatopoeia. It was sort of how he looked to me, with the 8, obviously, and then the two B’s.” The droid’s name was actually one of the few character names that remained the same throughout the film’s development and production
6. Viewers might think that BB-8 is a stunning example of CGI animation at it’s finest, but surprisingly, the BB-8 you see on screen is a real prop, created by Scanlan and operated live on set with the actors. Several BB-8 models were constructed, the most prominent being a puppet. There were also several radiocontrolled units, as well as simple props that didn’t move. Most of the “walking” scenes were done with the puppet version, with rods removed in post-production. Even among the remote controlled units, there were several varieties. The “Wiggler” could twist and turn on the spot and was used for close-ups, the “Trike” had stabilizer wheels which allowed it to be driven without a puppeteer, there was lighter version that could be picked up by actors, and a “Bowling Ball” version which could literally be thrown into a shot and remain upright (much like a Weeble toy; “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down!”).
7. Just like R2-D2 and C-3P0, B-8’s personality was vitally important. Scanlan elaborates, “We always imagined BB-8 as being quite manipulative. I think he knows he’s cute. He knows that he can win people over. And he uses that like children do to get his own way.”
8. BB-8 made his public debut at the Star Wars Celebration Anaheim event held in April 2015 during Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel. BB-8 rolled out onstage with his dome twisting all around, beeping and booping the entire time. He peered out at the audience and circled around R2-D2, much to the astro-mech droid’s dismay.
9. The voice of BB-8 was created by Abrams, who manipulated the voices of comedians Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz (both credited as “BB-8 vocal consultants” in the film), through a talkbox attached to an iPad that was running a sound effects app.
10. Everyone refers to BB-8 as a “he,” but was that always the case? Scanlan reflects, “I’m still not sure, dare I say, whether BB-8 is male or female…BB-8 was female in our eyes. And then he or she became male. And that’s all part of the evolution, not only visually, but in the way they move, how they hold themselves.”