Cast your mind back to last week, when the first image from behind the scenes of Star Wars: Episode VII hit via the Bad Robot Twitter feed. That picture, above, featured writer / director / producer J.J. Abrams, producer and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, noted Astromech droid R2-D2 and two gentlemen who were not immediately identifiable. Now, thanks to the official Star Wars site, we’ve learned that Artoo will definitely be back in the new film and how he has those two men – Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples – to thank for it.
Towersey and Steeples are members of the R2-D2 Builders Club, a worldwide organisation of people who love to… well, that should be obvious. A chance meeting with Kennedy at this year’s Celebration Europe event in Germany led to a job working as part of the Creature Effects team for Episode VII.
They’ll be responsible for building and maintaining the physical Artoo units seen on film, and are aware of the challenge. "We know the pressures of filming, prepping, and being able to assure reliability throughout the shoot,” says Towersey, who built the droid seen in the tweet. “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.”
Their biggest challenge? Building a better version of the beloved tin can. “What we do need to do is improve on the mechanics,” says Towersey. “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.”
It’s all seemingly in keeping with Abrams’ drive to have a good portion of the film created through practical effects… And as we now know, Star Wars: Episode VII will arrive on December 18, 2015.