A Blue Groper, belonging to the ocean’s depths thriving in coral reefs, is the titular character within Robert Connolly’s aquatic adventure film, ‘Blueback.’ The film follows a mother-daughter sea activist duo, Dora and Abby Jackson, whose love and fascination with marine wildlife remains the driving force behind their quest to save the local bay area. In their story, Blueback, the Blue Groper, becomes familiar with Abby’s friendly underwater presence from a young age, establishing a pattern of recognition and companionship between the two. As such, after a pack of poachers begins circling the bay, threatening Blueback’s life, Abby’s efforts strengthen as she helps her mother stand up for what’s right.
Consequently, Blueback’s significance shines through within the narrative, with the sea creature’s screen presence inciting wonderment and awe among the audience. For the same reason, the Blue Groper’s character must have caught the audience’s intrigue, compelling them to wonder if the fish is real or a product of computerized special effects.
The Mechanics Behind Blueback The Groper
In ‘Blueback,’ the titular Groper fish is neither a real-life fish nor is it CGI-ed. Instead, an impressive feat of puppet work brings the captivating aquatic animal to life. Blueback’s character, on its own, remains a source of amazement throughout the film, depicted to convey the importance of reservations and sanctuary within the aquatic wildlife. For the same reason, the fish itself had to be realistic enough to evoke a sense of admiration within the viewers that would compel them to resonate with the story’s subject matter.
Therefore, in order to bring the fish to life, whom Writer/Director Robert Connolly refers to as “the puppy dog of the ocean,” the filmmaker wanted to present a specific image and chose the puppet route. When speaking about the same in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Connolly discussed how he looked into iconic cinematic Hollywood puppets of the past, citing ET and Yoda as points of inspiration. “I was looking for the way that cinema has kind of embraced the idea of using a tactile way of creating something rather than doing the usual VFX fish,” he said.
As such, Connolly ended up working with Creature Technology, a Melbourne-based company known for their work on the 1999 Documentary, ‘Walking with Dinosaurs.’ Expanding on the company’s dedicated work, the filmmaker said, “A lot of the work they did involved not just sculpting and shaping it, but swimming with Blue Gropers to understand how they react to things and how they move around people. I guess you could easily imagine a version of the film where it was all just VFX, but doing it this way in the real ocean felt true to the spirit of the story.”
Thus, although a lot of the marine creatures that the audience witnesses in ‘Blueback’ are filmed in the real-world ocean to capture a sense of authenticity, the central Blue Groper, who often interacts with characters physically, remains a work of puppetry controlled by puppeteers. In doing so, the film imparts a realistic image of the Groper. “It was evident when Mia Wasikowska said she just lost herself in all of the scenes we filmed with her beneath the ocean,” said Connolly. “Audiences are so used to wall-to-wall visual effects; you often can’t tell whether a film is a digital animation of a kind or was actually filmed in the real world. We just embraced reality with this film.”
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