Anthony Breznican
November 20, 2017 AT 11:00 AM EST

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The creature is known as a vulptex. A pack of them would be vulptices. Star Wars fans already know them as the crystal foxes, but they don’t know much else about these secretive beings.

These inhabitants of the mineral-rich world of Crait run across the salt flats and burrow deep within the crevasses of this former hideout for the Rebel Alliance, which in galactic lore dates back to the events of the original trilogy.

In the decades since, they have come to roam free through these abandoned structures. The vulptices stand as proof that even the most inhospitable worlds cans harbor life.

As part of EW’s cover story about The Last Jedi, we spoke with Neal Scanlan, head of the Star Wars creature shop, about the genesis of these translucent survivors.

“The idea is that these wonderful sort of feral creatures had lived on this planet and had consumed the planet’s surface, and as such had become crystalline,” Scanlan says. The designers took inspiration from “crystal glass chandeliers and the sort of luminosity and elements of refraction” they create.

The creatures were designed by Aaron McBride and the name “vulptex” came from Lucasfilm story group member Pablo Hidalgo, who galacticized vulpes, the Latin word for “fox.”

ILM/© 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Foxes that are covered with gems instead of fur is an easy thing to propose, but a lot harder to visualize – and even more difficult to render in real life. For help, they turned to man’s best friend.

“We had a little dog come in and we built a little suit for it, and we covered that suit with clear drinking straws,” Scanlan said. “It was amazing to see him run around. It could run and jump, and it had this wonderful sort of movement to it. It had a great sound to it, as well, because all the little straws moved and flexed with the animal.”

The dog was only a volunteer for test purposes, showing them how a creature covered with long crystals might actually maneuver, and where the spaces between the crystals would be necessary. From there, the creature shop used that information to build animatronic puppets that could perform in scenes with live actors, while separate static models were constructed to be digitally scanned for animators.

More than just serving as interesting fauna for Crait, they will have an important part to play in the story.

More today for EW.com’s Star Wars week:

  • Kelly Marie Tran’s twin suns moment
  • Meet the new boss: Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo

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