We figured everyone's favorite astromech (sorry, R5-D4) would be back for Star Wars: Episode VII. What we didn't figure is that the little droid would be built for the film not by some big Hollywood effects house, but by fans. That's exactly what's happened, however, and the story of how it came about is pretty cool.
Remember that Twitter pic that went around last week featuring J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy posing with R2-D2?
The two other men in the photo are Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples, English Star Wars fans and members of the worldwide R2-D2 Builders Club, an organization dedicated to ... well, building R2-D2, along with other droids from the canon. They didn't apply through conventional means for their new job constructing and maintaining R2-D2 models for Episode VII, choosing instead to take the less-traveled route of being so awesome that the filmmakers had no choice but to put them on the payroll. We'll let Steeples tell the story:
"It all started when Kathleen Kennedy toured the R2-D2 Builders area at Celebration Europe this past summer in Germany. She posed for pictures with us, looked at all the droids we'd built and was very complimentary. I mentioned that the R2-D2 Builders in the UK were available if required, as a semi-joke. When I was contacted to work on the film by [executive producer] Jason McGatlin, it was on her recommendation."
From those humble beginnings, they were whisked off to a galaxy far, far away -- or Pinewood Studios -- and officially made part of the creature effects team for the upcoming film. Quite a heady experience for a couple of fanboys, but fear not; these guys aren't your run-of-the-mill model makers. Says Towersey:
"We have a good knowledge of Artoo, with a large stock of parts for reference and drawings, plus we know what is involved throughout the whole building process, as well as potential problems we need to avoid...we're currently in a research and design phase where we're looking at drive options for reliability on all possible terrains, whether it be a one-motor-does-all, or a system which is easily adjusted depending on terrain. We have a few mocked up ideas which we hope to road test very soon."
See? It's all under control. Needless to say, the two consider it a dream come true to work on their favorite franchise ... and it bodes pretty well, by our lights, for the way Lucasfilm is going about making Episode VII that they'd snag talent of this kind from outside what one might consider the usual circles.