Watch Star Wars’ new droid, BB-8, win the day at The Force Awakens movie event

Star Wars fans are still buzzing about the new trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, but one of the most entertaining moments in yesterday’s lead-up to the trailer’s premiere was the live, on-stage debut of BB-8, the latest addition to the franchise’s cast of memorable androids.

Originally glimpsed in the first teaser for The Force Awakens that was released last year, the ball-shaped droid with its rolling body and stationary head was expected to be a creation of the digital-effects team rather than a practical element in the element. To the surprise of nearly everyone gathered at yesterday’s Star Wars Celebration event in Anaheim, however, BB-8 proved to be more than just a computer-generated effect by rolling onto the stage and engaging in a bit of back-and-forth beeping and whirring with franchise veteran R2-D2.

“We talked originally about how to do this — how to best have BB-8 in the film — and there were a lot of discussions about how having a computer-generated BB-8 would be so much easier for shooting,” said The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams of Star Wars’ latest droid celebrity. “But we also knew it would be better for the film — for the actors, for the sets, [and] for the look of it — if it were performed.”

Those extra bits of realism could turn out to be a big part of what makes this film different from the heavily criticized prequel trilogy directed by George Lucas.

While Abrams didn’t reveal any details about BB-8’s creation or his role in the film, he did credit animation and special-effects expert Neal Scanlan for bringing the little droid to life. Scanlan previously won an Oscar for his visual-effects work on the 1995 film Babe, and served as the creature and special makeup effects supervisor on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. His resume also includes quite a bit of work with Jim Henson’s hallowed Creature Shop, among other projects with memorable creature and puppet effects.

“Neal Scanlan and his unbelievable team built and puppeteered BB-8 in the movie and did an extraordinary job,” said Abrams.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters December 18, 2015.

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