Ever since the original Star Wars was released in 1977, the hairy, ram-horned beasts the Banthas have captured the imagination of fans of the franchise. The traditional mounts of the Tusken Raiders/Sand People, they’ve popped up throughout Star Wars lore over the decades and have once again found themselves in the spotlight with the recent Disney+ series The Book of Boba Fett. As fans may recall, the original version of the Bantha for the first Star Wars movie was actually an Asian Elephant inside a costume, but since then the proliferation of visual effects and other techniques have made that method obsolete. What may surprise you to learn though is that the Bantha is nearly just as real now as it was in 1977, though no animals are wearing the costume this time.
Speaking with his collaborator and friend Kevin Smith on his FatMan Beyond podcast, The Book of Boba Fett cinematographer David Klein pulled back the curtain on the Bantha at Smith’s request. “No my man, we don’t have elephants. We have one Bantha that’s filled with about four puppeteers and another four people on little remote controls and the other three or four or five (Banthas) are CG. And it’s on a Motion Base and it does this (moves hands) and it goes across the backlot and we shoot it….It’s on track and its motorized but a Motion Base can be programmed to animation. So you animate it in the pre-viz to do its little walk and they program that into the Motion Base and it does its little walk.
When asked by Smith why they would even bother building a Bantha when they could just make one using CGI, Klein revealed the full philosophy on the shows, noting the influence that George Lucas retains on the productions at Lucasfilm.
“Our methodology always goes back to ‘How would George have done it in ’77?’ and that’s where we start,” Klein said. “Of course he didn’t have Motion Bases and things like that so we cheat a little bit obviously, but he also didn’t have VFX like we, so we cheat a lot actually. But it always needs to start with that in mind and even when we’re doing visual effects work and CG work it starts with that, it has to feel real. You can’t just put the camera anywhere you gotta to put it where he could have put it in ’77, you have to move it like he would have moved it in ’77. So that’s why it’s puppets, it’s practical shit everywhere. We always try and do it real until it becomes financially ridiculous. So, Bantha, it’s just four guys in a Bantha.”
The Book of Boba Fett is now streaming on Disney+ with new episodes debuting every Wednesday on the service.