Tony Dyson, longtime special effects supervisor and the "father" of lovable Star Wars droid R2-D2, has died at the age of 68. In addition to his work on Star Wars, Dyson also worked on Superman II, built a miniature space battle for Bond movie Moonraker, and put together a huge robotic dragon for the film Dragon Slayer, but said that helping to make R2-D2 the cultural icon it is today was "one of the most exciting periods" of his life.
Dyson originally built eight R2-D2 units
While the tweetling robot was first dreamt up by George Lucas and drawn by concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, it was Dyson that gave it physical form. The robotics expert was contracted during Star Wars' production to produce eight cylindrical models to use in the film, some of which were hollowed out with a space for R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker, and some equipped with remote control capabilities. Another two R2s were ordered to act as stunt droids, ready to be launched from the maw of Dagobah's swamp beast during Luke's Jedi training with Yoda.
From those humble beginnings, Dyson's R2-D2 has been on of Star Wars' constants, appearing in all seven movies, hundreds of books, video games, and comics, and even making an appearance on the red carpet at this year's Oscars. Dyson watched his droid's success, and also lived to see the rise of R2's protégé: the ball-shaped BB-8. Like R2, the robot star of The Force Awakens was built by British designers, and like Dyson's droid, the spherical BB-8 has quickly rolled its way into fan's hearts. Speaking ahead of The Force Awakens' premiere last year, Dyson said he was particularly excited for the resurgence of Star Wars with Disney's purchase of the franchise. "When you build something that becomes world famous," he said in Helsinki, "it gives that warm feeling, doesn't it?"