Director Rian Johnson encountered an unusual problem when he arrived on Skellig Michael, just off the southwest Irish coast, to film Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The island, it seems, was infested by puffins. No surprise, since this blustery windswept retreat has long been a sanctuary for seabirds. But when you’re filming a movie set “in a galaxy far, far away,” you just can’t have recognizable Earth creatures hanging around in your shots. Removing every puffin digitally simply wasn’t possible; there were way too many of them. Johnson needed a new solution. Enter: the porg.
Puffin + Seal + Dog = Porg
Creature concept designer Jake Lunt Davies took it from there. Taking his inspiration from puffins, seals, and pug dogs, he set off to invent an entirely new animal. With their huge eyes, squat bodies, and drooping mouths, porgs quickly caught the imagination of movie-goers around the world. In the The Last Jedi, they are shown diving into the sea to catch fish, feeding their puffball babies, and just generally sticking their curious little faces into every situation. Even venerable Chewbacca eventually has to befriend these impish creatures. (Learn more about porgs from Star Wars: The Last Jedi The Visual Dictionary.)
What about the puffin that helped inspire them? Atlantic puffins live in far northern climates, spending much of their lives at sea swimming on the surface and diving for fish. They breed in colonies on rocky islands (like Skellig Michael), where they return to the same nesting burrows and mates each year. They lay a single egg in the underground burrow and pairs raise their chick together. On land, puffins waddle like penguins, and are frequently seen carrying large mouthfuls of fish back to the nest. Their comical appearance, including the bulbous bright orange and grey-striped beak, has led to nicknames like “clown of the sea.”
In North America, you can see Atlantic puffins off the coast of eastern Canada, down south as far as Maine. They abound in Iceland, Greenland, and Norway, and in many of these areas puffin boat tours are common. As for porgs… well, if you want to see more of those, you’ll have to buy a movie ticket – or perhaps build yourself a spaceship.