Avatar: The Way Of Water's Early Organic Scuba Creature Designs Were Too Close To Alien's Facehugger

"Avatar: The Way of Water" has officially conquered the box office with no sign of stopping any time soon. The second film in the franchise sees Jake Sully (now fully Na'vi), Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), and family on the run. A newly reborn Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) has had his consciousness implanted in an avatar body alongside his similarly reborn unit of spacebound colonizers, and they're hunting the family across Pandora. With Jake Sully and co. escaping to the ocean reef village of the Metkayina Na'vi clan, it's a whole new world for our protagonists and a brand new slice of the Pandora ecosystem for audiences to explore.

With a new ecosystem comes all manner of novel aquatic creatures for the Na'vi to ride and interact with. We meet the massive Pandoran whale called the tulkun, the sleek and rideable ilu, and the intimidating gliders called skimwings. One of the most unusual creatures, however, is the gill mantle, an invertebrate that latches to the back of a Metkayina and provides them with oxygen as they navigate the Pandoran seas. The creature went through an elaborate set of designs in its early development, including some that looked a little too similar to one of the most well known creature designs of all time: the facehugger, another alien creature that is known for attaching to someone and providing oxygen (in that case, to its victims). The book "The Art of Avatar: The Way of Water" chronicles these early design discussions.

In space oceans, no one can hear you breathe

In the book "The Art of Avatar: The Way of Water," we discover that, with the gill mantle functioning like "an organic scuba apparatus," early concepts looked a little too close to the iconic and facemask-esque facehugger early on. Creature designer Dylan Cole explains: 

Jim wanted something diaphanous and beautiful. Legacy Effects did some beautiful early designs, but some looked a little too invasive, and we joked that it was too similar to the face hugger from "Alien." And then creature designer lan Joyner was doing some cool stuff where it was starting to get a little bit more diaphanous and beautiful, almost like a piece of wardrobe. 

The end design became a "ray-meets-jellyfish thing that would swim in a very sinusoidal movement," which lead to the final gill mantle design (by Constantine Sekeris).

In its final iteration, the gill mantle became a fluid, back-mounted creature whose flowing fins appear (once attached) like a pair of water wings. This avoided the visual similarities to the facehugger, ever-clasped over a human victim's face like a demonic Harlem Globetrotter would palm a basketball. The final mode of attachment took inspiration from the gecko, where "Jim talked about gecko feet to hold onto the ribs so that you believe that it's latched on," the creature sticking to its Na'vi transports as they traverse the water at high speeds.