Are you ready to meet BB-8? Well, sorta. Puppeteer Brian Herring, one of the people who brought to life the adorable droid BB-8 in both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, stopped by the main stage of Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle to talk about his time working on Star Wars and the art of puppetry.
After working on Prometheus with Neal Scanlan, Herring luckily ended up with every Star Wars fans’ dream: working on a Star Wars film. Well, and meeting Han Solo on the Millennium Falcon. Yes, that actually happened. Herring worked 16 months from inception (literally a drawing on a napkin) through the performance of BB-8, who in the script at one point had the code name “Snow Globe.” Just when we thought BB-8 couldn't get any more adorable, he does.
The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams wanted to use practical effects and puppets throughout the film, hence the hundreds of people who ultimately worked on bringing these beloved characters to life. It's easy to forget just how many people are involved because they're behind-the-scenes. But Herring was able to bring some insight into the art and nuance of puppeteering.
Herring noted that when it comes to BB-8, sometimes the smallest moments made the biggest impact. After all, “puppetry is like acting from the elbow up,” making every move count. A small head tilt or thumbs up can say more about the character than speeding through the sand in Abu Dhabi. Just think about how much character BB-8 has despite not saying a word. Much of that can be attributed to small movements of the puppeteers.
In The Last Jedi, BB-8 got some new skills, which Herring said were practical effects as well. His favorite? Shooting out coins and being under the trash bin on the First Order base. And in case you wondered how BB-8 has gone through so much and managed to come out on the other side, Herring says there were actually seven different versions of BB-8 made for different needs in the films. For instance, the one Finn has to pick up isn't the same as the version of BB-8 known as "The Wiggler," which has a huge amount of movement options, but is fully-animatronic and used mostly for close-ups.
And while BB-8 inspires and delights, there's one other feat of puppetry that still impresses Herring: Kermit the Frog playing the banjo at the beginning of The Muppet Movie. Still, it's obvious he's just as much a Star Wars fan as the rest of us, and that passion really shines through in BB-8.
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