Do you know the story behind Nike’s logo or what Leonardo da Vinci was saying about simplicity as being the greatest form of sophistication?
THE STARTING IDEA
The story of the little droid BB -8 begins with a simple sketch on a napkin: two circles atop one another, with a tiny dot for an eye.
This sketch belongs to J.J. Abrmas, director of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, when he was trying to imagine what this new droid might look like. His idea was to get something rolling on a sphere, a practical and functional robot.
In the French Magazine “Robots’ Planet” we learn that, while The Force Awakens episode was in pre- production phase, the concept of a spherical robot was already being studied in some universities, however it was not far enough advanced to be able to put that into a droid or into a robot that could be used in the film world.
J.J. Abrams said he named it BB -8 because of its form of B and/or 8.
“It was sort of how he looked to me, with the 8, obviously, and then the two B’s.”
THE DESIGN PHASE
BB -8 was built by Neal Scanlan and his team in Pinewood Studios Creature Shop.
In order to figure out the droid’s movements, the animatronic designer, Joshua Lee, first created a little puppet version made of polyester.
“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.” concept designer Christian Alzmann said.
The final design, a dome head with the bulk of its body made up of a ball that the droid’s head rolled on is quite imaginative yet functional.
The team in charge of the project had also planned to add other aspects to the initial design such as an extendable neck in order to have BB-8 work as a practical effect. But BB -8 was so expressive that there was no need for any other movements.
“There’s so much expression and character actually in the shapes and in the way the head sort of arched over the sphere” said Joshua Lee.
BB-8’s voice includes digitally altered sounds created by actors Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz by using an IPad and a sound effects application. You can create yourself the same sounds by using Bebot application. “It looked ridiculous but it made BB-8’s voice” said Hader.
According to the site The Mirror, BB -8 is supposed to be a female droid! ” J.J. Abrams was committed to the idea of “a cute, courageous … and feminine robot. “
Then Scanlan mentioned:
«I’m still not sure, dare I say, whether BB-8 is male or female … 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.”
Once the design was validated, BB-8 was performed by the two puppeteers Dave Chapman and Brian who also did camera filming tests in order to figure out BB-8’s character and movements (he can cock his head over and look away, he can look scared, he can look angry,) as well as his personality and emotions (to convey joy, sadness, curiosity, and fear).
DIFFERENT BB-8 UNITS
Seven different BB-8 units were used in the making of Episode VII for various scenarios: a static BB- B that could twist and turn on the spot, two were on trikes, one with a stabilizer on the left, the other the right, a radio controlled unit that could interact with the actors and controlled remotely for specific reactions and movements , the “Bowling Ball” unit (motorless, but a BB-8 version that could literally be thrown into a shot and never fall down) and finally “the Puppet” unit, controlled by puppeteer Dave Chapman and Brian Herring (one controlling the head, adding nuance and attitude, and the other the body).
A full functioning, self-contained robotic unit was not practical for shooting. Later a self-standing remote-controlled unit was constructed by Neal Scanlan’s team and used at promotional events. It’s this last version that appeared at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim for the great fans’ joy, thus confirming BB-8 was not a simple 3D effect.
MINI BB-8: KEY FIGURES
Orbotix society (which have already been developing Sphero for 4 years) developed the mini BB-8 in 10 months.
The marketable version of BB -8 had to be delivered on time for the ” Force Friday” event, the official launch of all merchandise for The Force Awakens.
Put up for sale in September 2015, BB -8 has sold 150,000 copies worldwide in just 15 minutes.
The interactive mini BB- 8 has the size of a medium orange.
Height: 11.4 cm / Width: 7.3 cm (body) / Width: 3.5 cm (head)
Weight: ~200 g
Inductive charging: over 1 hour of play on a full charge before placing it back on its base
Maximum speed: 8 km/h (depending on the surface)
Maximum distance via the smartphone or tablet app: 100m.
The user experience will be improved with the addition of new app features and updates BB-8 will soon be able to react when simply touched.
Its designers are also working on the possibility to send messages between users and on an Apple Watch version of that application that will enable us control the little droid by moving the wrist in one direction.
Already waterproof, I would suggest a feature that will allow BB -8 to swim or at least to have a specific reaction when in contact with water.
And you, what do you think of BB-8? What are the new features for the BB-8 application that would you like to see soon?