Award-winning VFX company Framestore produced a number of daemons and polar bears for the HBO/BBC series “His Dark Materials.” The project was overseen by senior effects designer Russell Dodgson. 

The team worked alongside studio Painting Practice to cast many of the creatures in the series, which were then brought to life by Puppetry legend William Todd-Jones. 

For close-ups, some of the puppets like Lyra’s daemon Pan, were sculpted heads. Other slinky-body styles of puppet were used for quadrupedal or bipedal animals. Some “flappy” puppets were used for daemons that were in flight or had to land on actors’ arms.

When actors needed to demonstrate the weight of daemons, the team made gray furry cushions called bucks. These had weight and shape to make it look like actors were holding daemons or pressing their face to them.  

For the polar bears, a series of large rigs were made. There was the “basher bear” to ram into stunt people and push actors to the ground, a riding rig for Dafne Keen (Lyra) to sit on, a backpack rig for her to get on top of someone’s shoulders, and a four-legged fiberglass standing puppet to show a polar bear’s height. The team also used a “couch bear,” which was a gray buck to lean against. 

Even though the animals look incredibly real, the only “animal actor” on set belonged to Ariyon Bakare’s Lord Boreal and is played by an actual snake.

We caught up with Russell at Framestore in London to explain the process.