Is it a 'he' or a 'she'? It's creators had the same question.
Credit: Lucasfilm

He bowled us over immediately.

From the moment Star Wars fans laid eyes on the droid with the roly-poly body and the babyface, it was love. Neal Scanlan, the head of The Force Awakens creature shop, reveals what went into his (her?) creation and hints at the sly personality of this beeping, bumping robot.


BB-8 was born from a drawing by J.J. Abrams. “Much like Picasso and the famous serviette drawing,” says Scanlan. “It was a very simple sketch, beautiful in its simplicity of a ball with this little dome on top.”


The base was designed with differently shaped panels on each side to help the viewer’s eye track movement. “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,” Scanlan says.


During the design phase, it was up for debate whether this character would have a male or female personality. “I’m still not sure, dare I say, whether BB-8 is male or female,” Scanlan says. “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.” (It’s not clear a gender-type has ever been specified, but as of now everyone working on the movie calls BB-8 a “he.”)


BB-8’s lenses, aerials, and frames went through many facial arrangements. “You could move one component and the face would start to have a slight sad look about it or slightly aggressive,” Scanlan says. “You want them to be able to talk to you before they move. And if they can do that, then the movement adds extra on top.”


“We always imagined BB-8 as being quite manipulative,” says Scanlan. “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. In this film, he has a very important mission that he has to accomplish and so he uses his personality, his coyness, and all of those things.”


BB-8 has retained some secrets for future films. “We haven’t absolutely defined what each panel does,” Scanlan says. “Each has a specific purpose, whether it be a data port, or a docking station, or a welding torch. He might have his own self-defense mechanism.” At least one has a Taser-like probe, and he also ejects grappling hooks for climbing vertically. In other words, he’s a Swiss Army Knife. “He is indeed,” Scanlan says. “A Swiss Army Knife that shouldn’t be trusted.”

For more on Star Wars, follow @Breznican.

To continue reading more on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, or buy it here.

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Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens
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