Neal Scanlan and key members of his crew were on hand at Celebration today to take Star Wars fans through a deep dive of the hard work and artistry that goes into designing and realizing the many creatures of the Star Wars universe. Wicket himself, Warwick Davis hosted the panel bringing some of his unique personal experience in being inside some of those creatures to the table. The discussion concentrated mostly on the design and implementation process for the creatures of The Force Awakens, but fans in attendance were also treated to surprise close up look at one of the new creatures from Rogue One.
The primary focus of the panel was to take us through the long and arduous process of designing, approving and implementing a creature for a Star Wars film. Scanlan likened it to the audition process for an actor. A creature design has to get through many stages of approval and can get the axe at any point in the process with only the best making it to the end. Scanlan spoke at length about the process of not only learning the preferences and vision of JJ Abrams, but for also selling the director who had previously used mainly digital effects in his movies, on the appeal, usefulness, and benefits of puppetry and animatronics in creating these creatures. By the end, Scanlan said, Abrams had become a much stronger believer in these practical creatures.
After taking us through the initial design process the panel went down the line to detail their place in the process. From the difficulties in converting a two dimensional drawing in to a sculpture to taking the approved designs and converting them to practical, useful, forms for making a film Scanlan’s crew spoke with love and pride about the creations they are responsible for. You could see the joy they take in their work and in being able to recreate this world that they love so much.
After the majority of the artistic process was covered, fans were treated to a nice surprise as Scanlan brought “Space Monkey” a new creature from Rogue One on stage. You’ll recognize him as one of the particularly memorable creatures from yesterday’s Rogue One sizzle reel. “Space Monkey” who apparently has an actual name that none on the panel could remember, was performed by Nick Hennings on stage and brought a bit of humor to the end of the panel by throwing a Wicket figure and panel host Warwick Davis.
The panel finished off with Brian Herring talking about the process of realizing BB8 for the screen. Herring, who puppeteered BB8, said he always knew that BB8 would be a big hit with fans. From the moment he saw the design he felt as if was completely familiar while being very new. He also mentioned that the character was a big hit with the crew, which led everyone to believe that he would be one of the true breakout characters of the film. And right they were.
Some other highlights of the Panel:
- Scanlan likened the process of creating a working face sculpt to an extremely complicated jigsaw puzzle. On one side you have to have the correct artistic representation of the design and on the other a perfectly sculpted structure that fits to the actors face. If anything is off by even a millimeter it can ruin the realism of the creature.
- Davis noted that the materials they use to sculpt these creatures has come very far since his time in Return of the Jedi, noting that the foams and silicon used are far cooler and more breathable than they used to be. Vanessa Bastyan, supervising animatronic designer fabrication CFX, agreed and said one of the most important roles for her is in making sure that the actors still have full range of movement and are not in any danger of being injured or getting sick due to the costumes.
- Bastyan noted that Simon Pegg’s Unkar Plutt costume was a particular problem for heat, and that the actor had a great deal of difficulty staying cool in the costume.
- Chris Clarke, key animatronic designer , noted that the team can have some difficulty in designing characters due to the secrecy around these films. They are often asked to design a character from the movie without beig able to read the script, so they need to rely on second hand information in order to design the character.
- Maria Cork, hair department supervisor: creature effects, mentioned that they needed 3 complete Chewbacca costumes, each completely covered in individually placed hairs, for the three actors who played Chewie. Due to the sweat and wear and tear involved in a day of filming, each day the workshop would need to work hard to get the suit used in the previous day’s filming back to its original state.
- The nightwatcher worm briefly seen on Jakku was actually just a hand puppet controlled by Neal himself, ho was laying buried under the sand for that shot.
- Scanlan also mentioned that Rogue One will have interesting characters representing the tonal difference between directors Abrams and Edwards. Scanlan also mentioned that due to Edward’s predominantly hand held style on Rogue One, there were additional challenges in making sure all background creatures were ready to be on camera at all times. With a handheld camera, they would never know what will be in the shot, so everything needed to be ready just in case.
Stay with us through out the weekend for more panel coverage from SWCE16.