HomeNews & VideoMemories of Legendary Actors Inspired the Creator Behind Babu Frik

Memories of Legendary Actors Inspired the Creator Behind Babu Frik

The Rise of Skywalker was a monumental feat for creature and makeup effects supervisor, Neal Scanlan, who decided to call upon some inspiration from legendary actors such as Ernest Borgnine and Joe Pesci in crafting a unique character like Babu Frik.

“So you take someone like Ernest Borgnine, or Joe Pesci. You say, ‘What is it about these actors that draws you to them? Do they have a particular look to their face, or a particular expression, or a particular mannerism?’ When we were working on Babu, we started with actors who could play him, if you put them in a costumes. ‘Let’s find influences from other movies or roles that feel like what J.J. [Abrams] has articulated to us.’ And then it’s, ‘Now we have to make him 8 inches tall.'”

Neal Scanlan

Was Babu Frik actually based on Borgnine and Pesci?

“No, not directly, but he came into the conversation, absolutely. As did many actors. So it’s not based upon him, but he comes from my memories of Ernest Borgnine’s expressive range. I would have quoted him when we were having chats, and other actors would be quoted back to me. So they were influences, among many, many others who helped us create a kind of verbal language for we think that character should look like. We do that wherever we can, with as many characters as we can. It always helps if we can refer them back to our world.”

Neal Scanlan

You have to admit, Babu Frik is an interesting little creature. Something almost more unique than his facial characteristics is his identifiable laugh or cackle. Believe it or not, that was actually based on one of today’s actors – Shirley Henderson.

“That’s all Shirley [Henderson], the actress who voiced and helped perform him. Shirley came to our workshop and learned how to use the controller for Babu’s mouth, his smile, his lips, and other servos that had to do with his ability to do to pronounce words. And then she found the voice from her own relationship to the little puppet. When we rehearsed Babu, Shirley would voice the lines, and that laugh came from her. The puppeteers responded to her laughing, and she responded what they did with the laugh and brought it into future rehearsal. It was the first time we’ve done that, to have a person outside of our traditional puppeteering team come in and learn how to use our puppet controllers, and have them on the set, and have them be part of the performance on the day. And we were in stitches most of the time. She’s hilarious. Wait until you see the outtakes.”

Neal Scanlan

As you can see, it’s no wonder why Babu Frik quickly became one of the rising stars from The Rise of Skywalker. The process for creating such a character like Babu is more than just how it looks, but how it moves and interacts.

“Behind Babu were five puppeteers, dressed in green suits. So you can imagine that there was very little of the set left — there was very little of anything left, except for this sea of puppeteers in green suits. Without the fantastic work of ILM and the ability to be able to literally digitally wipe those people out and replace the background, we couldn’t have done it.

So the first thing is that digital technology allows us to do things we have not been able to do before. But the other side of it was just literally miniaturization. The tiny motors we can now use, the animatronic engineers I have working with me, the little batteries. Babu’s fingers were unbelievable — every single joint moved in the same way ours would, through a series of tiny cables that ran through his arms to a little servo pack which sat on the rod that controlled his elbow, which was held by the person doing his right hand. And then that was controlled using radio control to allow us to be able to move the fingers. There’s a tremendous amount of technology in Babu. Some of it’s on the outside, because it’s too big to fit on the inside. But a lot of it is on the inside — his face had 23 motors, in order to do the little blinks and eye movements. Technology has moved along, and we take advantage of it. But fundamentally, the ability to be able to work alongside the digital medium allows us to do practical characters at that size, who are way too small to do any other way.”

Neal Scanlan

Babu Frik almost seems real. But, that’s the point. If you look close enough, Neal Scanlon’s inspiration for Babu comprises the spirits of actors such as Borgnine, Pesci, and more. This is what makes Star Wars unique: respecting the past, while paving a new future.

Make sure to read Polygon’s full interview with Neal Scanlan.

Start the discussion on our forum and chat room. May the Force be with you!

Indiana Jones
“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” — Yoda

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