Neal Scanlan on the Challenges of The Force Awakens Aliens

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens creature shop supervisor Neal Scanlan spoke with IGN about the challenges offered by the numerous creatures from the movie. He discussed Maz Kanata’s puppet origin, the creation of Supreme Leader Snoke and more…



Excerpts from IGN:

IGN: I read in the Art of The Force Awakens book that Maz was originally going to be a puppet. What were some of those designs like before you decided to go full mo-cap?

Scanlan: They were very similar. Maz was a long design process, and I think that it was the first character we started on, way before we started on any others, because it was so important to J.J. But I think the reason we decided to go to CG was that — and it may not be completely evident from the film — but Maz’s development within J.J.’s mind and in the script, her role sort of grew. Certainly emotionally, it grew, and we felt there was a point where, in order for her to fully succeed and to liberate her from any constraints, to go to a CG version would mean that indeed. It also allowed us to continue to think and talk about Maz, even after we shot the scenes that Maz was in.


IGN: With the new characters, how long into production did you continue to tweak their designs?

Scanlan: With things like Snoke and Maz, we continued to tweak them even into the early midsection of post-production. For instance, when the guys were working on that, we would continue to do maybe an expressive version of Maz. What do Maz’s eyes look like when she takes her goggles off, for instance? When we did her first maquette, she had her little goggles on, and she had these quite large eyes. But when she takes her little goggles off, her eyes are much smaller than that.

So we would continue to develop some of her characteristics. The costume was developed a little further down the line. Then working along with CGI, with the guys over at ILM, we would slowly update the model until we got to a point where… she was a locked design — the same with Snoke, yeah.

IGN: What was the most challenging or complex creature to pull off?

Scanlan: In an odd way — it’s an odd thing — “challenge” and “complex” are almost contradictory to each other. What I have learned, and what we certainly felt, was that in the latter part of animatronics, things had been driven to a point where they were very complex. In other words, the idea was how to bring a character to life. It meant making it more complex, more sophisticated and more high-tech, and I honestly don’t believe the result was any better for it.

So what we decided to do was go the other way and throw, in a sense, the technology out the window and say, ‘How do we bring things to life using physical performance, theater. How do we make things less complex but more successful.’ So the real challenge would be, like the large Happabore creature, for instance, at the watering well, and the large blue creature [the Luggabeast] that catches BB-8 at the beginning when Rey first discovers BB-8 — they were very simple creatures that were performed by lots of people. So there were five people in the Happabore and two people inside the blue beast. They were by far the most challenging things to make, because we didn’t know how to make them. We had to invent them as we went along. We had to invent things we’d never made before. However, they are very simple in their execution and very simple in their design.


IGN: And the most complex?

Scanlan: The most complex thing we made was probably BB-8, just by the nature of what BB-8 had to do, the places he had to go, the surfaces he had to run on and the different demands that J.J. wanted of him. You know, how do you bolt together this sphere? How do you make this round thing that can come apart so that you can get inside and do all the things. There’s a lot of architecture inside BB-8 that created him as an entity, which you’ll never see. But he was very complicated. Lots of character work and prototype work to make sure we got him right before we committed to the final build.


The alien creatures have always been one of the most fascinating parts in the Star Wars universe. Neal Scanlan and the creature shop are also involved with Rogue One and Episode VIII. We’ve already seen some new creatures during the filming in Dubrovnik. Actually on one of the photos you can see Scanlan himself closely supervising the creatures on set.


Some of you probably noticed a familiar face from the title image. It’s one of the creatures that we’ve seen on the Episode VIII set in Dubrovnik. Here is the title photo enlarged showing 2 reptilian like creatures:



And here’s the creature seen in Dubrovnik:

Set 05


It’s quite possible to see more of the other episodic creatures from The Force Awakens in Episode VIII as well. It will be a huge waste if they don’t.



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Founder of SWNN, MNN and The Cantina forums.

Born on April 24, 1980.

Val Trichkov (Viral Hide)

Founder of SWNN, MNN and The Cantina forums.Born on April 24, 1980.

41 thoughts on “Neal Scanlan on the Challenges of The Force Awakens Aliens

  • April 3, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    That is the best pic I’ve seen of all the aliens together ! I wish it was a poster , I would certainly by it. But I’ve never seen the alien with the huge green head. That is so excellent.

    • April 3, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      You can see it in the very first shot when Han enters Maz’ Cantina (on the left of the shot). It can be seen standig behind Han when Maz shouts “Han Soloooo!” and he he raises his shoulders like “yep, here I am. You can also see it close to the stairs on the right I think when the creatures of Maz Castle witness the destruction of the New Republic.

  • April 3, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    I hope to see a Twilek or two in the next few movies. Those are my favorite.

    • April 3, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      Or any classic Star Wars aliens for that matter, like Rodians.

      • April 3, 2016 at 9:41 pm

        one of the most perplexing things about Jakku for me was the absence of Jawas. I mean the planet is literally perfect for them with its abundance of junk to scavenge.. then we go to Maz’s and, again, there are no classic aliens which I found both disappointing and confusing. almost as if the new trilogy was happening in a different corner of the galaxy than PT and OT. hope Rian will bring back not only Radians but also Biths etc

        • April 4, 2016 at 3:03 pm

          Wolfman at Maz’s, and I think that bloody tentacle thing as well – two designs from the original cantina I counted anyways.

          • April 5, 2016 at 1:14 am

            The one dude is offshoot of Ithorian although he’s not acually Ithorian, but practices their religion according to the Visual Dictionary.

        • April 5, 2016 at 4:24 am

          It’s an entire galaxy, you realize that right? There are people who live in America who have never laid eyes on a black person before. Just to put that in perspective.

  • April 4, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Did get Ackbar and Nunb back, though.

  • April 4, 2016 at 8:39 am

    How many sentient aliens were in ESB beside Ugnaught, Bossk, & Zuckuss? Not many.

    • April 4, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      Yoda, Chewbacca, Cloud City Guard.

      • April 4, 2016 at 8:11 pm

        Chewie was a given, Yoda was a given. What alien guard? I missed him on screen. Still it was very few aliens.

    • April 5, 2016 at 12:49 am

      Jabba, Bib Fortuna, Ewoks, Tusken Raiders, Nein Nunb, Ackbar, Ponda Baba, etc.

      • April 5, 2016 at 1:12 am

        I said
        (ESB) Empire. Empire Strikes Back alone.

  • April 4, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Luggabeast – was that the thing that little guy who caught BB8 was riding or is it the the guy himself? If the former, the execution of that creature leaves a bit to be desired. Because of the way it’s operated, that has to be the slowest riding creature ever. Seriously, go back and watch that whole sequence again and note how long it takes for that thing to get any appreciable distance away from Rey.

    • April 5, 2016 at 4:22 am

      Luggabeast is the thing being ridden. The guy riding it is Teedo, who is both named Teedo and is of a species named Teedo. In the same vein as Yoshi and Toad from the Mario games.

  • April 4, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    I hope they bring back some old aliens. That was one of my disappointments with episode 7. Not a single rodian, trandoshan, wiphid or twi lek to be found. Yeah I know we got Chewi, Akbar and Nien Numb but they dont really count since they are characters. I hope episode 8 fixes that. The aliens in 7 felt like generic versions of aliens that already existed.

    • April 5, 2016 at 4:22 am

      “Episode VII is a rehash! Be more original!”

      “There aren’t enough rehashed and unoriginal aliens in this movie!”

      • April 5, 2016 at 5:28 am

        KOTOR and other starwars games and novels rehash species that were in starwars movies. That doesn’t make the unoriginal.

        • April 5, 2016 at 6:21 am

          It does, however, make that element of them unoriginal. I just find it interesting that everyone screams about originality (until they don’t).

          • April 5, 2016 at 10:08 pm

            Yeah I dont know what you are trying to say. All I said was I want to see some returning species from the originals and the prequels. And also its not like the prequels, the originals and the Disney trilogy are all different universes. Connect them with the universe from the previous movies but make an original plot. Thats all I meant to say. Also that was just my personal opinion. You dont have to take it so seriously. Its just a suggestion.

          • April 6, 2016 at 4:36 am

            You gave your opinion, I gave mine. It’s all in good fun. Any my point about an expansive galaxy still stands.

          • April 6, 2016 at 7:12 am

            Yeah I think that they should make new aliens too but they can atleast bring back some of the originals.

          • April 6, 2016 at 11:32 pm

            Sure. I wouldn’t hate to see a Rodian or two.

          • April 6, 2016 at 11:47 pm


          • April 7, 2016 at 4:49 am

            And now we can all be happy and get along.

          • April 7, 2016 at 7:24 am

            We were getting along from the beginning. This was just a simple debate.

  • April 5, 2016 at 12:51 am

    My least favorite film in terms of aliens/creatures but the few we seen so far in VIII look pretty awesome and a vast improvement.

    • April 5, 2016 at 2:02 am

      Empire didn’t have very many either. It had even less.

      • April 5, 2016 at 10:37 am

        It did but they were all cool – Bossk, Yoda, Zuckuss, and I even liked the Ugnaughts.

        • April 5, 2016 at 10:51 am

          Coolness wasn’t the issue I was talking about, it was variety and how many were repeated from previous movies (which was just one at the time).

          • April 5, 2016 at 11:01 am

            Probably since they knew the cantina scene could never be topped and Kasdan/Kershner saw no place for them in the story. It wasn’t till Lucas took over that they went crazy again.

            I think they are making a mistake by not having any heroic ones in Rogue One though as part of the main cast. I’d like to something other than the noble savage of Chewbacca, wise sage of Yoda/Maz, or buffonery of Jar Jar for a change. Like a con-artiste/ladies man like Hondo or something unexpected like that.

    • April 5, 2016 at 4:21 am

      A vast improvement? In what way?

      • April 5, 2016 at 10:38 am

        So far. I like that none of the aliens look like they came from other films or past SW ones.

        • April 5, 2016 at 11:50 am

          We’ve seen only like..2 or 3 alien costumes from the set of Ep 8. Maybe 4. ….Compared to the dozens upon dozens we’ve seen from Ep. 7.

          So your use of ‘vast improvement’ is baffling.

          • April 5, 2016 at 12:00 pm

            Not like dozens upon dozens but more like dozens period. And I’ll take the few we seen so far over any of the Scy-Fy movie looking ones of VII to say nothing of the joke which is Snoke.

        • April 6, 2016 at 4:44 am

          Wait, isn’t everyone complaining about how this movie’s aliens DON’T come from past SW films?

          • April 6, 2016 at 8:30 am

            Not me. I never cared for how the PT re-used so many which made the galaxy seem smaller but a lot of people disagree.

          • April 6, 2016 at 3:32 pm

            Okay then. At least you’re not a hypocrite.

          • April 7, 2016 at 9:32 am

            A handful are okay but they overdid it in the PT. The OT had the right amount of ones re-used.

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