In a recent interview, creature and makeup effects supervisor Neal Scanlan discussed the process behind cooking up the Babu Frik in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
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.’
In a profile piece with Polygon, Neal Scanlan spoke at length about how this latest breakout character was honed and crafted into the memorable presence voiced by Shirley Henderson in director J.J. Abrams’ finale to Star Wars‘ Skywalker Saga. In particular, Ernest Borgnine is cited as an especially powerful source when it came to what the team were trying to do with Babu’s overall being.
Though, as Neal Scanlan’s further remarks on the matter highlight, the aim wasn’t merely to have Babu Frik mirror either of those two acting talents. Rather, he was a tribute to what makes them so memorable in the first place:
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.