These Are The Droids You’re Looking For

The creation of the droids that saved a universe.
By  · Published on December 14th, 2016

The creation of the droids that saved a universe.

Luke and Rey might get all the attention as the savors of the galaxy, but without their trusty droids they would be lost. No one can question the importance of the small R2 droid or the hyper sensitive C-3PO. Even BB-8 made its contributions known throughout the galaxy in The Force Awakens. Created from the minds of Ralph McQuarrie, John Stears, and many others; these droids are so much more than the sum of their parts.

Without Ralph McQuarrie, Star Wars would be a far different beast. George Lucas had created the framework for these larger than life characters and places, but needed an equally talented artist to bring it all together. Lucas reached out to McQuarrie to create concept designs for Darth Vadar, the planets, and everything thing else in-between. The art was a pivotal catalyst for getting 20th Century Fox to sign-off on Star Wars in the first place.

Among the many drawings that McQuarrie created for the Star Wars universe is this picture that would become the basis for R2-D2 and C-3PO:

Ralph McQuarrie / Lucasfilm
This picture is known as the first completed painting for Star Wars. This one of many McQuarrie created for Star Wars, many of his other paintings can be found in a new book collecting his art. In this particular drawing, there’s a similarity between C-3PO and the Maschinenmensch in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. There was a need to have a droid that would be able to convey the emotional range of its human counterparts, but could also be a portable computer. In the background, the companion droid features many of the same qualities that would be found in the final design for R2-D2.

If McQuarrie is known for creating the initial concept art for R2-D2, it was the special effects of John Stears and craftsmanship of Tony Dyson that brought him to life. Stears was the special effects supervisor for A New Hope and while there isn’t much about his exact contributions to the franchise, much of his work can be seen in the finished R2-D2. Tony Dyson, on the other hand, was the creator of many R2 units.

An original blueprint for the “Star Wars” robot R2-D2. Tony Dyson
Dyson had to create various incarnations of R2-D2 to be used in specific instances. Popular Mechanics said that “Over the course of the original trilogy, Dyson built eight separate R2-D2 units four of which were remote controlled while the others were operated by R2-D2’s actor, Kenny Baker.” R2-D2 has been one of Star Wars most significant constant appearing in all seven Star Wars feature films.

The other droid that appeared in all the Star Wars films, was none other than C-3PO. It’s easy to forget that he isn’t an actual robot, but actor Anthony Daniels who has played the role since A New Hope. Daniels was drawn to play the character of C-3PO from the painting by McQuarrie featured above. Speaking to Vulture about the painting he said, “He seemed a bit lost. He had a vulnerability that attracted me.” Daniels also has the title of being Star Wars last human droid. Since Attack of the Clones, all the bots have been CG creations, making Daniels C-3PO the most human bot of all.

If C-3PO and R2-D2 represent classic Star Wars characters and design, it was important to make a droid for the new generation of Star Wars feel just as organic. So J.J. Abrams took out a napkin and drew BB-8. The basic idea was to have the droid be composed as two circles on top of each other.

J.J. Abrams’ early sketches of BB-8. Star Wars/YouTube
The hardest part was using this original concept for BB-8, but being able to turn it into a fully function member of the Star Wars universe. Lucasfilm concept designer Christian Alzmann said, “J.J. wanted something rolling on a sphere, so I tried a lot of different designs developing that idea. He would give direction on the kinds of shapes to use, and that led to a personality for the droid. Of course, 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. Ultimately, BB-8 developed out of a back-and-forth process with J.J. where he gave feedback on each iteration of the design.” He goes on to mention fans figured out his inspiration for BB-8 using Soccer balls. “When you’re on a project like that, you start looking at everything spherical for inspiration. I think I ran across a soccer ball, and I was just like, ‘Oh, it’s kind of perfect.’”
BB-8 Star Wars
When it came to to actually bringing BB-8 to life, the Star Wars team looked to Matt Denton and Josh Lee. J.J. Abrams really wanted a lot of the effects of The Force Awakens to be practical effects, so this meant creating a real-life BB-8 was the ideal. Similar to the creation of R2-D2, seven BB-8’s were created for use in the film. The biggest challenge Lee and Denton faced was getting BB-8 ready for his debut at the Star Wars Celebration event in Anaheim. John Lee said, “Matt and I built a proof-of-concept model and showed it to Neal Scanlan [the head of the creature shop]. He showed the producers, and they released a bit of money to make it look like an actual BB-8.” Turns out all the effort they put into BB-8 paid off because the little droid was considered a full-fledged cast member and won the hearts of millions.
K-2SO Star Wars
What is a Star Wars film without a droid in the mix? Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has audiences covered with the K-2SO. The new droid is security droid that has been reprogrammed to be loyal to the Alliance. Apparently he has a fondness for speaking his mind and dislikes being bossed around. Firefly alum Alan Tudyk is voicing the character, although it is a bit disappointing that it is a CG droid.

Without these trusty droids the Empire would’ve easily destroyed the Alliance. R2-D2, C-3PO, BB-8 have all contributed to the success of the rebels and the success of Star Wars in general. K-2SO looks to be another vital droid in the rebellion ranks. Thankfully, Ralph McQuarrie was able to create such iconic characters that have become the signature of franchise.

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News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.