Despite Paramount’s lack of faith in Annihilation (the international deal with Netflix wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence), Alex Garland’s sci-fi stunner performed fairly well at the box office — well enough that it’s still playing in some theaters over a month after its initial release. One of the biggest talking points (aside from that wild ending) all these weeks later continues to be the terrifying mutant bear that Natalie Portman & Co. encounter in the mysterious ecological anomaly known as the “Shimmer.” And thanks to some newly-revealed special effects photos, you can gaze upon the gnarly development of this particular brand of nightmare fuel.

In Annihilation, the expedition — comprised of Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tuva Novotny — first encounters the mutant bear at night. It drags Novotny’s character off into the forest before returning for a more horrific confrontation, where her voice — or some human’s voice — can be heard emanating from the bear’s mouth. Based on all biological and ecological evidence, the Shimmer has been acting as a prism of sorts, refracting and reflecting all matter, including DNA, back on itself…resulting in some really disturbing evolutions, like our old pal the mutant bear.

As you no doubt noticed while watching the film, the bear’s skull is partially exposed, but it’s also not entirely bear. An SFX artist who worked on Annihilation recently gave us a closer look at the bear via a series of photos showcasing the animatronic creature design:

Yep — although some VFX were used, the bear is mostly practical, as evidenced by these highly-detailed photos.

Terrifying? You bet. But it’s still beautiful in its own grotesque way, thanks to the handiwork of these genius SFX artists. Back in March, The Verge spoke with visual effects supervisor Andrew Whitehurst about the mutant bear and how this nightmarish creature was conceptualized (i.e. how they decided to meld it with a human skull):

We knew we were going to try to suggest the idea of the mutation causing sickness, but also causing pronounced physical change and transformation, which was true for most of the creatures. We wanted to suggest the idea that some of [Tuva Novotny’s character] Sheppard’s DNA is somehow added into the bear, and maybe other humans it has encountered previously are part of it also. So we were struggling to come up with a clear visual way of describing that. One of the concept artists, in a piece of 3D software, got a scan of a bear skull and a scan of a human skull, and literally just mashed the two together. We looked at that and went, ‘Yeah, okay, that’s horrible. That’s gonna work.’

And you can see the 3D concept that led to the animatronic design in the photo series above (it’s near the end, in black and white).

Just a little freaky fun for your Friday!

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