Why the mulefa in His Dark Materials looked different from the books

Image: His Dark Materials/HBO
Image: His Dark Materials/HBO /

In the His Dark Materials books, author Philip Pullman describes the mulefa as strange beings with diamond-shaped skeletons and no spines. They’re highly intelligent and sympathetic. They get around the world using seedpods that only grow in their dimension, and they’re structured such that scientist Mary Malone, who finds herself in this dimension making friends with these creatures, can ride them like you ride in the back of a truck.

HBO brought the mulefa to the small screen in its His Dark Materials series, but there, they just kinda…looked like animals. Speaking to Metro, visual effects supervisor Russell Dodgson at Framestone explained why the mulefa have this look. To start, Philip Pullman himself gave the team permission to change things, although he wanted them to keep the seedpod element, which they did. “I think the minute details about how he described them was less important to him, but more their general overall theme and appearance,” Dodgson said.

The bit about their diamond-shaped skeletons in particular gave Dodgson’s team pause. “That one sentence, which sounds cool, could really derail the authenticity of the creature or character for the rest of the show,” he said. “So we decided that we weren’t going to try and come up with exactly that, because at the same time they were meant to be elegant. They were meant to be beautiful and seem super-intelligent. We didn’t want everybody to be distracted by unorthodox weird movement, so that you couldn’t land the other bit, which feels more important.”

"A big thing for us is authenticity. You very quickly have to fall in love with a character and believe that they’re real. So we always want something that’s authentic and grounded so that the audience can get there quickly."

I get the point about wanting the mulefa to look like something we could get our heads around, but just speaking for myself, their extreme weirdness is part of their charm.

Sure, the mulefa on His Dark Materials weren’t exactly like in the book, but could you do better?

Anyway, Dodgson and company ended up consulting a zoologist who specializes in prehistoric animals to help figure out how the mulefa would move, “what kind of spine structure it would have, where the muscles would be and how everything would work.” What they came up with works, even if whiny fans like me would have preferred something closer to the books.

“If people want something different, then I will really look forward to watching their version of it,” Dodgson said, calling me out. “But everything I have heard, seen or had people speak to me – and I have looked at some reactions – has all been very positive.”

"Even if people criticize aspects of the show because they veer away from the book, it’s all very valid. We made our choices to make our adaptation with as much passion as we could with the resources that we had. If you don’t do that with confidence and pride, then what are we doing?"

All three seasons of His Dark Materials are available to stream on HBO Max.

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