His Dark Materials season 3: Mulefa design will please some, disappoint others

Photo: Dafne Keen in His Dark Materials.. Courtesy of HBO
Photo: Dafne Keen in His Dark Materials.. Courtesy of HBO /

HBO is in the midst of adapting Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials for TV, and the timing couldn’t be better. Not only is fantasy booming right now, but His Dark Materials specifically is about the multiverse, another buzzy concept. It follows two kids named Lyra (Dafne Keen) and Will (Amir Wilson) as they get caught up in an inter-dimensional conspiracy that will eventually bring them into conflict with a powerful being known as the Authority, who’s basically God.

The upcoming third and final season will adapt the third and final book, The Amber Spyglass, and introduce us to the mulefa, a race of sentient beings who inhabit one of countless universes existing parallel to our own. One of the great things about the mulefa is that, as described by Pullman, they are truly alien. I feel like a lot of alien designs in movies and TV boil down to “humans but their skin is a strange color or they have weird ears or something.” But the mulefa are like nothing we’ve seen before. Just ask His Dark Materials VFX supervisor Russell Dodgson, who talked about the creatures at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival. “For those who don’t know, they’re like kind of a giant trunked horse animal that has a diamond-shaped skeleton,” he said, per Radio Times. “And also rolls around on wheels.”

Technically they roll around on spherical seed pods, but close enough.

His Dark Materials has changed the mulefa from the books

So how do you render such unique creatures onscreen? As it ends up, with great difficulty. “It’s going alright,” Dodgson said of the process. “I mean, it’s tricky. If you ever want to get stitched up, read the description of the Mulefa in the book, and then go, ‘Cool, let’s have a go!'”

"It’s going well. I mean, everything is about adaptation when you’re doing this, and taking the essence of what something is. If we did exactly what is described in the book, you probably wouldn’t want to watch it. Because it would be too weird…And there’s a certain grace and elegance about them that we need to try and find. And that’s what we’re currently doing, day in day out until October."

I’m gonna call bulls**t right now on the bit about how people wouldn’t want to watch the mulefa if they were too weird. Give me all the weird you can! It sounds to me like Dodgson isn’t completely satisfied with what they came up with, and his defense, adapting these entirely unique creatures has to be very hard.

“At one point, one of our puppeteering team turned up with a Mulefa puppet head on the end of a bike, and went, ‘What do you reckon?’ And I’d be like, ‘It’s a cool idea but someone’s gonna die.’ So we didn’t do that,” Dodgson said. “But it’s going fine. It’s a cool challenge, and we’ll disappoint some people and make some other people really happy, I guess.”

There’s no release date for His Dark Materials season 3 as of yet, but color me intrigued.

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