Need to create a giant CG octopus? Why not start with the real thing

How a trip to the fish markets helped Scanline VFX deliver this fearsome creature in ‘Meg 2: The Trench.’ Read a new excerpt from issue #13 of befores & afters magazine.

When Scanline VFX visual effects supervisor Sue Rowe was tasked with overseeing the creation of the giant octopus in Ben Wheatley’s Meg 2: The Trench, she went straight to the closest thing possible: a real one.

“I went to my local fishmonger and I said, ‘I want your largest octopus.’ The fishmonger was like, ‘Oh, do you know how to cook it?’ I said, ‘No, no, no. I’m going to defrost it and just study it.’ He found the largest octopus that he could. I defrosted it, took it out into my garden, and photographed it in every way I could think of.”

“I grossed out my whole team by photographing the octopus,” continues Rowe. “In fact, I also took a little model character that I use for when I’m doing storyboards, and I wrapped a tentacle around it. I’d be pulling it and tightening it. We had to show how strong this octopus was.

“My animation supervisor, Christian Liliedahl, and I just loved it. It really inspired us. It just goes to show that you think you know something, but you don’t know it until you actually put your hands on it.”


The giant octopus–which needed to be 100 feet in height–is seen both above and below the water line in the film, wreaking havoc at a tourist beach, bringing down a helicopter with its tentacles, before eventually being despatched by the Megalodon Haiqi.

Scanline visual effects supervisor Sue Rowe purchased an octopus from her local fishmonger and used a figurine to help imagine scenes of the octopus grabbing and snaring people with its tentacles. (Courtesy Sue Rowe)

That kind of menacing action requirement also informed Rowe and her team in gathering reference, aided by production visual effects supervisor Pete Bebb.

“We watched a ton of reference from online of large octopuses and squids, plus there was a David Attenborough documentary, and that doco My Octopus Teacher had also just come out,” recounts Rowe. “The thing is, we had to make it look like an angry octopus, and not this beautiful octopus that was in all that reference. It was killing people, we weren’t feeling sorry for it.”

While the CG Octopus Scanline built in the film is a more traditional reddish brown color, the original design had the massive beast as orange. “Giant octopuses do have that orange skin, and we were basing it on that,” says Rowe. “It was actually quite a lovely contrast with the teal and orange look. But at some point there was a concern that it felt too bright, so about halfway into the production, we then changed it to a more desaturated look, maybe leaning into the prehistoric idea.”

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The art of tentacles

Tentacles proved to be a defining feature of the octopus, especially in terms of picking off tourists and later when the helicopter chops one tentacle off. For Scanline, the tentacles were approached almost as if they were individual creatures in themselves.

“Each one of the eight tentacles has its own senses, its own brain, if you like,” discusses Rowe. “We really leaned into that on the animation side. Especially for one part of the sequence where it’s lurking underneath the cabana. The idea is that the octopus is like, ‘I’m going to have some lunch’ and it uses its tentacles to feel its way around for people and pull them underneath the water. The sequence was even called ‘lunchtime’!”

Rowe found this Shutterstock reference of an octopus versus shark that she shared with the overall VFX supervisor and the director, which was used directly as reference for animation in the film.

“Ben Wheatley was quite involved in this,” adds Rowe. “He said, ‘Just imagine, it’s like you’re getting up in the morning. You’re trying to find your keys on the table that’s above your head.’ That was perfect. My animation team just loved this idea that it’s not just a slap down and a weight of the tentacle. It always needed to be searching and looking around. That note was a beautiful thing for us to work into in animation.”

Another fun tentacle moment occurs when the octopus reaches out to a hovering helicopter above, with the rotors chopping off one the appendages. “Again this was one of Ben’s ideas,” relates Rowe. “We had some fun with that. We had versions where the blood hits the camera and dribbles down. In the end you see it dicing the tentacle and if you look really close you can see the cartilage, the muscle and fat in there.”

Read the complete and full coverage of Scanline VFX’s work for Meg 2: The Trench in issue #13 of befores & afters magazine.

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