‘Pirates of the Caribbean’: ILM delivers mermaids who are both beauty and beast

May 19, 2011 | 4:35 p.m.
mermaids1 Pirates of the Caribbean: ILM delivers mermaids who are both beauty and beast

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (Disney)

When Oscar-nominated director Rob Marshall came aboard as the new captain of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, he was immediately possessed by the siren call of one particular element in the script — beautiful mermaids.

No one needs to explain cinematic possibilities of dangerous lust and predatory women to the director of “Chicago” and “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and when he took over the Disney buccaneer franchise he zeroed in on the script’s presentation of the magical aquatic creatures as a place to make his mark. “They are beautiful, seductive women but they use that beauty to lure men to their deaths,” Marshall said with an approving grin. “They are women but they are also animal. These are creatures and carnivores and they want to feed.”

And when they feed, sailors in salt water are the main course. Marshall made the mermaids a paramount priority for Ben Snow of Industrial Light & Magic, the visual effects supervisor for “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which opens Friday. Snow said months were spent in the concept stage working out questions about vision and visage when it came to the deadly beauties.

mermaids4 Pirates of the Caribbean: ILM delivers mermaids who are both beauty and beast

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (Disney)

“It was a very long process and there were a lot of decisions,” Snow said. “In some of the concept art they became very beastly but Rob felt all along that they had to be attractive — even when they were about to kill you — although right before they strike you do get a sense of the predator.”

In many portrayals, the mermaid has a fish tail but is human from the waist up. Snow said the “Pirates” team opted to change that a bit — the division is more fluid, so to speak, with fish scales appearing over the body parts that are immersed. The waterline is the key — it’s fish scales below, human flesh above — although the opaque fish scales do not venture anywhere above the collarbone. There were, at one point, some concept proposals that gave the mermaids fearsome, fishy faces, but Marshall believed that would undermine the romance between a captured mermaid named Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and the handsome missionary Philip (Sam Claflin).

mermaids3 Pirates of the Caribbean: ILM delivers mermaids who are both beauty and beast

Sam Claflin and Astrid Berges-Frisbey in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (Disney)

“We knew they would have a giant, long, elegant tail but there was a lot of to and fro about the way they would look beyond that and it was important to Rob that they not look too icky,” Snow said. “The big question: ‘How creature-y should they be?’ In the end the decision was made that they should always be appealing … some of the people here at ILM found the beastly mermaids attractive, too, but that’s just the way people are in this building.”

Snow said the team came up with a mythology, physiology and “set of rules” for the mermaids that never reaches the screen but makes the movie “internally consistent.” For ILM, with the reduction in the number of effects shots and the subtraction of any sea-battle scenes, there was a lot invested in the mermaids in ambition, emotion and time and Snow said the payoff in the film is very satisfying. “For all of us, you like your work to support a good film above all else; it’s not about the number of effects shots or making everything huge, it’s about the storytelling.”

— Geoff Boucher


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24 Responses to ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’: ILM delivers mermaids who are both beauty and beast

  1. Mermaid Shelly says:

    So excited to see such a wonderful representation of the species :)

  2. I think it's great that a bunch of this movie was shot in Kauai. It'll really give those who haven't been to the island a wonderful depiction of the absolute brilliant landscape that this place has to offer. :-)

    With Love and Gratitude,


  3. Diane Epstein says:

    While i loved the new "Pirates" movie, it left me wanting for Orlando Bloom, & Keira Knightly, the ad-
    venture was great especially with the mermaids, and the ta-ta-tate between Johnny Depp & and
    Penelope Cruz was also great so all in all I give it a 8 out of 10. Thanks Disney for continuing such
    a wonderful series!

    • dude says:

      Good movie, i think having the two old actors would have ruined it. I mean this story was so fresh and new it gave a nice feel and got rid of overly serious characters hogging screen time.

  4. Clayton says:

    The mermaids were the most intriguing part of the movie! AWESOME!!!!

  5. Joseph says:

    I love the mermaids. They are super gorgeous. I want to see this movie again just for the mermaids. This pirates of the caribbean movie is 100 times better than the previous ones. The first half hour when Captain Sparrow is in england was kind of boring, but when they got to the mermaids part, wow!

  6. sdfgs says:

    i wish someone would just put all the part of the movie with mermaids in it together… cause that's the only part of the movie worth watching… I LOVE THE MERMAIDS!!!

  7. jayvee says:

    Astrid Berges-Frisbey is smoking hot!!!

  8. piratefan says:

    I just saw this movie last night. overall, I really enjoyed it and was surprised that I did not miss Keira and Orlando. However, there was something lacking. I would have liked the love interest of the mermaid to have more dialogue/interaction with Sparrow (much like Orlando did) and for better explanation in the end between the mermaid and her love interest. I sat through the credits thinking that perhaps it would be explained but it was not – theory is that a mermaids kiss prevents a man from drowning but it should have been better explained in the story. Both characters were intriguing enough to be in a 5th Sparrow movie if one is on the horizon.

  9. Lebui says:

    My two favorites are the 2nd pirates and this 4th saga. The new director did an awesome job with this one bringing a fresh new element to the series. My favorite about the movie was truly indeed mermaids, so lustful and alluring as deadly all at same token. I too was puzzled by the cliff hanger with the mermaid and missionary. I didn't like penelope's character nor did I think much of it. I cant wait to see the 5th. The dire tor Marshall should do a movie with just mermaids.

  10. kk13 says:


  11. annrose says:

    yehhh, the mermaid was very attractive, it cud be an angel or cud be a devil…..

  12. duane says:

    I ddnt really like the mermaids that much.Thrs more to playing a mermaid than wearing a convincing tail. these “mermaids” looked like swimsuit models, nothing more than. Generically beautiful women in water. That’s y Splash worked because actress Daryl Hannah has a kind of mystique about her. Another great mermaid movie was She Creature.

  13. pradeep says:

    Astrid Berges-Frisbey you are too much beautiful .and ur acting is also very good after ur entry i was freezed out. i saw twice this movie just to see u………….

  14. angelblast1997 says:

    I love this mermaids, they are the best I have ever since, especially by their long tails, And Syrena is hermosa. (beatiful)

  15. Adrayah says:

    I didn't care about the rest of the movie, I only wanted to see the mermaid romance!

  16. CarmenCOS says:

    I am sure the selection process to choose the actresses to play the mermaids were tough too. They had to find girls who were attractive but were also able to look ferocious. Understandably, they had to have some cosmetics that could work even when wet, so they would look good in the water.

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