The Story Behind Star Wars’ Newest Astromech Droid: BB-8


Remember the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Remember how one of the most talked about moments was BB-8, the new astromech droid?

Now, StarWars.com has shared the story behind this droid, which has already created differing opinion among fans.

Like all new film creations, wanting to make it both original and with the same aesthetic as previous films, designs started as doodles and vague ideas.

Lucasfilm concept designer Christian Alzmann shares his original conversations with director JJ Abrams:

“J.J. wanted something rolling on a sphere, so I tried a lot of different designs developing that idea. He would give direction on the kinds of shapes to use, and that led to a personality for the droid. Of course, the original sketch had very pleasing, round shapes, so you kind of figured it wasn’t going to be a very serious or angry character. Ultimately, BB-8 developed out of a back-and-forth process with J.J. where he gave feedback on each iteration of the design.”

They’ve definitely succeeded with making BB-8 come across as a friendly and adorable droid.

Do you still think he looks like a soccer ball? You’re not far off, because Alzmann says he “looked at a lot of soccer balls.”

The wonder behind BB-8 doesn’t end there. As plenty of fans will recall, he’s also a practical effect and with a design already finished (that consisted of a sphere and hovering hemisphere), it wasn’t an easy task for the creature shop.


One of the earliest versions of BB-8 was a puppet by senior animatronic designer Joshua Lee:

“I made a little puppet version. There was a lot of talk about how this thing could move and whether it needed extra parts, like an extending neck, to allow for greater movement. I had this feeling that it didn’t need anything else, and so to prove that, I built, in half a day, a little polystyrene puppet with the main movements. All the head movements and the ball rolling around, and handles on the back. I remember as soon as I picked that up, it was just so expressive. You could see that there weren’t any other fancy movements needed, that there’s so much expression and character actually in the shapes and in the way the head sort of arched over the sphere. Neal was working in a different office at the time, in another part of the studio, and I excitedly ran down and showed him this thing. We both thought, that’s it, there’s really something there, and a puppet version would be one way of achieving it on set.”

The team had two weeks on an empty soundstage getting to know the droid. Seriously, how delightful does that sound? Puppeteer Brian Herring reveals BB-8 can even cock his head and do a double take!


The official puppet for BB-8 wasn’t shown to Abrams until a week before shooting, which must have been daunting. Neal Scanlan, head of The Force Awakens creature shop, remembers the pivotal moment:

“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. Everybody started to engage with BB-8 not as a practical effect anymore, but as a little character. They started to view it much more as that, and we sort of built it all from there. The use of BB-8 was built on that first initial impression we left J.J. and Kathy with.”

All the teams began creating several different versions of BB-8 that would work for different types of shots.

Then they pulled out all the stops and brought BB-8 to Star Wars Celebration back in April, thus proving to fans that he was, indeed, real. The crowd roared and they knew it was a success. Scanlan even says that it “stands almost singularly as a technical achievement that no one has yet matched.”


Various team members then go on to say how great it’s been working on the film and creating BB-8 and how they hope he’ll be a lasting Star Wars character.

I think it’s time R2-D2 had some company as the most famous droid from the Star Wars universe and BB-8 is certainly a strong candidate. I’m excited to see his role in the film(s), especially now that I know the passion and hard work that went in to creating him.

What do you think of BB-8 and his creation? Are you excited to see him in the film? Let us know in the comments!



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