The fifth episode of The Terror finally revealed what, exactly, has been hunting and killing the crew of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. The Tuunbaq, as it’s called, is a spiritual beast with the general shape of a gaunt, powerful polar bear, but with humanlike hands and eyes. It’s an uncanny, scary monster. And, although The Terror is in no way part of the Cloverfield movie series’ confusing continuity, there’s still a connection between the Tuunbaq and the kaiju that decapitated the Statue of Liberty.
As IGN notes, the look of the Tuunbaq on the show was created by concept designer Neville Page, the same person who designed creatures for Cloverfield, Avatar, and the Star Trek movies and TV series. The visual effects team then took this sketch and created a fully realized, three-dimensional and somehow sympathetic beast.
“We wanted to make sure he looks human,” VFX supervisor Frank Petzold told IGN during a press event.
“The animators, at some point, really take him on as a being,” Petzold said. “I would discuss shots with animators and quite often an animator would say, ‘Oh, he wouldn’t do that.’ He’s talking about bits and bytes, but to them, it’s a creature.”
Page’s initial, effective design for the creature differs from what’s described in the book the series is adapted from. In Dan Simmons’s 2007 novel, the Tunnbaq is still polar bear-like, though it’s described as having a long neck. Page’s design sticks much closer to the basic bear body shape, and it’s an effective choice. That the monster is almost just a normal bear makes it feel more grounded and unsettling.
The Tuunbaq, for what it’s worth, is a fictional entity, albeit one that’s heavily based on aspects of actual Inuit lore and religion. For his book, Simmons looked at the real mythological concept of a Tuurngait, a “killing spirit.” These Tuurngaits behave in similar ways as The Terror’s Tuunbaq, in that they’re spirits that can be harnessed and directed by a spiritual healer known as an Angakkuq, though there can also be rogue or evil Tuurngait.
We’ll see more of the Tuunbaq next week when The Terror airs on Monday at 9 p.m. Eastern.