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Mulefa from The Amber Spyglass

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By JamesMargerum   |   Watch
Published: January 19, 2008
© 2008 - 2020 JamesMargerum
3DS Max.

From The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman.
A slightly tweaked version of an old model. I'm still not entirely happy, but it's better than it was.

Sky from ~CHOAMstock


I think I need to include a little extra information about this image because it has turned out to be one of my most popular, even though it's technically not a very good model even by my standards. I do, however, have to defend its basic accuracy against some criticisms it has received.

It's only natural that people are going to have their own image of these creatures in their heads, and the model lacks a lot of realistic anatomical detail (it's not even rigged), but I did base the model on the exact description in the book.

If you read it carefully, the measurements for the seed pods, and the trunk, are given in relation to a human hand and arm. It was fairly simple to use those measurements in Max and then extrapolate for the rest of the body.
The legs, for example, had to be long enough to hold the seed pod away from the body, but making them any longer than necessary risked making the creature's centre of gravity too high.

I've never been happy with the feet, but they had to be very simple and unable to grip: These creatures do every task with their trunks, even though it means working as a pair to tie knots. I positioned the claws on alternating sides because it seemed like the way natural symmetry would work on a diamond framed creature, and it could help with balance.

And, finally, they absolutely do have horns - some even wear gold rings on them (read the book).

Oh, and one more thing. When I originally made the model, some years ago, I sent a print to Philip Pullman. He wrote back confirming that I had got it right, except I had the legs bending the wrong way (with knees like an elephant).
I had to guess about the leg bend, and had tried to imagine how Philip Pullman had come up with the design. I started to think about him walking around Oxford, watching cyclists passing by ... the bike and rider merging into one creature … the cyclists legs becoming the creatures lateral legs. I was wrong.

This is the corrected version of the model, with better rendering and some hair.
Image size
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anonymous's avatar
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ItsAnneChickenNugget's avatar
I came back onto Deviantart to look at all the old HDM art I loved because it has been on my mind with the new HBO/BBC adaptation coming out. I always had trouble imagining the mulefa, so this was what I tried to picture. It's awesome artwork. It will be interesting to see how they are adapted for the show.
NotATameLion's avatar
NotATameLionStudent General Artist
Ohhh I love it
williamtoaoftrash's avatar
williamtoaoftrashHobbyist Digital Artist
I always wondered how these looked. The ending of the book was so depressing, though.
TheSnowe's avatar
TheSnoweHobbyist Digital Artist
I always wondered what the heck they looked like...
Cassiopeae's avatar
CassiopeaeHobbyist Artist
It is so... so realistic!
kiml42's avatar
kiml42Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is very close to how I imagined them, especially since I re-read the trilogy recently, making my mental image more accurate.
It's rather ugly, but also kind of cute.
Their claws for holding the seed pods look a bit short for me, I can't imagine it rolling well without its wheels falling off.

Did the book describe them as being this elephantine in skin colour and texture, aswell as their foot shapes?
I imagined the only similarity between them and elephants being the trunk, and the rest of them being more like a deer or something like that.
JamesMargerum's avatar
JamesMargerumHobbyist Digital Artist
This is old, so without re-reading the book, I really can't remember my thinking on the skin.
If New Line hadn't killed the film trilogy we would have a much better visualisation of them by now.
kiml42's avatar
kiml42Hobbyist Digital Artist
It is a shame we didn't get more films, though, having watched the film quite recently I see why. It feels long and slow, and I don't quite know why.
If they had made them all, we may not know what the mulefa are meant to look like better, I head that Philip Paulman didn't care what people did with it.
When My brother's a famous screen writer, I'll ask him to make the trilogy, he'll do it right.
Borabee's avatar
BorabeeStudent General Artist
This is EXACTLY how I pictured them, except my ten-year-old mind never really figured how the seed part worked and I guess I thought it was like a small broken brown hairy sphere their feet was inside (?) and it slid because of oil underneath... even though that surely wouldn't work in real life...
Pauerkraut's avatar
PauerkrautHobbyist General Artist
I first read the His Dark Materials trilogy years ago when when I was 12-13ish... I had a really hard time imagining the Mulefas, partly because I forget a lot of details when I read. I imagined them green with antlers and since I couldn't figure out how their legs worked, I didn't bother. Haha.

Anyway, I know this is an old model, but it does what it's supposed to do, which is represent something that's only described in literature. You did a great job.
owlblock's avatar
You're freakin awesome. I had a lot of trouble figuring out how they worked! And this is perfect!
ItsAnneChickenNugget's avatar
I really like this, and I've had it in my Faves for a while. That's interesting about the way the leg is supposed to bend! I was thinking how their legs look almost broken, when I saw that Pullman said they were supposed to bend like that!
JamesMargerum's avatar
JamesMargerumHobbyist Digital Artist
I only mean it's bending in the right direction. The broken look is down to my poor organic modelling skills and lack of anatomical knowledge.
ItsAnneChickenNugget's avatar
It's still interesting that they would bend that way..
greatsilverdeath's avatar
greatsilverdeathHobbyist General Artist
Holy shit, this is STELLAR!! I've always had some trouble picturing them, but you've cured me!!
JirachitheGreat's avatar
JirachitheGreatHobbyist Traditional Artist
Awesome! Now I can get an image of what they look like!
SangoTsubasa's avatar
SangoTsubasaStudent Digital Artist
Wow, this looks almost exactly as I had imagined it! Great job!
ItsAnneChickenNugget's avatar
I read the passage so many times, trying to get an accurate picture in my head...
Anyone who says you did something wrong, f them...
Epic win, getting Pullman's approval! The British cyclists are wary of Philip :)
Chinmoku000's avatar
Chinmoku000Hobbyist Photographer
Thats a very well done piece of work! Mulefa were amazing! as such if the third book is made into a film, they will remove them. and Dr. Malone =/ simple cos they are a sub plot with nothing to do with the main story (according to what I have read on the Wikipedia.)
gexpert's avatar
This looks honestly amazing, the creature in the book is really hard to picture which you had successfully interoperate very well. This is so close to the one in my head, greta job!
BridgeToTheStars's avatar
BridgeToTheStars Photographer
Hello. I'm Bee and I'm a part of the staff at BridgeToTheStars.net, a His Dark Materials and Philip Pullman fan site/community.

I really like your work here, and wanted to suggest that you submit it to our fan art collection. You can submit creations to fanart@bridgetothestars.net.

You can check out the whole site and community at [link]
Adella's avatar
AdellaProfessional Artisan Crafter
Holy shit this is amazing!!!! *_* I've been struggling with a mental image of these creatures so I did a DA search and this is the one that stuck out to me the most because of the awesome job you did at making it photo realistic! I'm going to imagine this concept now when I read the book because I'm only in the very middle of it now when Lyra is woken up finally by Ama and Will. That's so cool you got the author's approval! Congrats!!!
kageoushu's avatar
It was really weird in my mind to imagine an animal being with wheels but holy shit you took the image right out of my mind.
cozmospark's avatar
I had such a hard time picturing them. This is beyond awesome. Thank you for making this at all.
anonymous's avatar
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