Contrary to popular belief, the Porgs of Star Wars: The Last Jedi aren’t purposeless balls of fluff.
According to the film’s creature concept designer Jake Lunt Davies, the web-footed critters were created as VFX cover-ups for an adorable avian species that inhabits Skellig Michael, the location off the coast of Ireland where The Last Jedi‘s Ahch-To scenes were filmed. As it turns out, the island is a a World Heritage Site that protects and pays home to hundreds of puffins. This means that by law, the cast and crew of the Star Wars film wasn’t allowed to mess with the puffins in any way.
Lunt Davies explained to StarWars.com that writer-director Rian Johnson invented the Porgs as a way to work around having the puffins on Skellig Michael while shooting The Last Jedi–without having to painstakingly remove them digitally in post-production.
“From what I gathered, Rian [Johnson] had gone to shoot this sequence on Skellig Michael, which is the real island location that stands in for Ahch-To, and that island is covered in puffins. It’s a wildlife preserve and everywhere you look there are hundreds of birds dotted around the landscape… Rian, in a positive spin on this, was looking at how can he work with this. You can’t remove them. You physically can’t get rid of them. And digitally removing them is an issue and a lot of work, so let’s just roll with it, play with it,” said Lunt Davies. “I think he thought, ‘Well, that’s great, let’s have our own indigenous species.'”
At the time of the Porgs’ inception, Lunt Davies and the film’s art team had already begun working on another new creature: the Caretakers, an amphibious, all-female fish-bird species. (Johnson once labeled them as “big matronly creatures” with “little skinny little bird feet.”) Lunt Davies stated that Johnson gave the artists a brief for the Caretakers first, then for the Porgs, which were dubbed as “puffin people” in the formal request but described by Lunt Davies as “so cute Lisa Frank will be pissed she didn’t invent [them] first.”
As for how Lunt Davies came up with the sad-mouthed, wide-eyed Porgs, he explained that he drew inspiration from a number of different sources. “I drew some various ideas. Some cute, some were ugly. It was mainly sort of playing around with different avian [concepts]. I tried to look at aquatic sources, so I remember doing things which riffed off of beavers and seals and, obviously, sea birds,” Lunt Davies said. “I probably got the porg within the first [few attempts]. I did about four or five pages of totally different sketches, and the porg was probably in one of those sketches. It was influenced by a seal and a pug dog and the puffin. The big eyes of a seal or the big eyes of a pug dog and the sort of funny, ugly face [of a pug].”
He added with a laugh that “something like a pug dog is actually quite cute,” and “like a pug, Porgs have this very sort of sad, neutral face.” Perhaps that’s why we can’t resist them.
All things considered, it sounds like Johnson made lemonade out of lemons–and gifted the Star Wars canon with yet another adorable creature.