"There's quite a lot," says creature-concept designer Jake Lunt Davies
Credit: David James/2015 Lucasfilm LTD

You’ve likely seen a few of the creatures debuting in Star Wars: The Force Awakens including Bobbajo, the desert trader with cages of little creatures but there’s a whole galaxy of characters that are about to blow you away. And they’re real, sort of.

“There’s quite a lot,” says creature-concept designer Jake Lunt Davies, who created Bobbajo and countless other characters. “We had worlds that we were asked to fill, like the desert planet you’ve seen [in the trailers]. It really was a blank slate.”

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The Force Awakens

creature designers did all they could to capture the spirit of the original Star Wars trilogy, often crafting realistic puppets to populate the foreground and background of scenes. Only rarely did director J.J. Abrams resort to CGI characters – specifically bad guy Supreme Leader Snoke and the Yoda-esque Maz Kanata – when the designs and actions proved too intricate.

The puppet creatures proved so lifelike that actors sometimes forgot they weren’t real. “We had a particular set of pirates that we called the Snooty Pirates in Maz’s castle,” says Neal Scanlan, chief of creature and droid effects, who helped imagine backstories for all these creations.

“You give them your favorite jewels and they give you money, but you always get ripped off. After one scene, an extra handed over coins, and these puppets [staying in character] turned on him and shafted him, as if to say, ‘What is this rubbish you’re giving me?!’ The extra decided to go stand somewhere else.”

Returning actors like Mark Hamill are more used to working alongside the puppets, costumes and droids.

“It was wonderful, not only for Mark, but also with Peter Mayhew, who plays Chewbacca,” Scanlan tells PEOPLE. “I think it was just a joy for them to step back almost in time and enjoy this movie in the way that they enjoyed [the first Star Wars movie] A New Hope. It was a familiar home. Then working with Mark, some of the things that we’ve made, I think it was a two-way joy. For them it was back to home, and for me, it was doing something that I’d always dreamed of. It was incredible.”