A mythical creature, said to live in the deep, tumultuous waters of Saint John’s Reversing Falls, is going to be featured in a new live-action and animated children’s series.
The Ug Wug is expected to air in November on Bell community television and the Fibe TV app. Principal photography starts next month.
Rothesay artist and animator Brian Finlay is the show’s writer, producer and director.
Finlay has about 20 years experience as an animator, including past work for Disney, creating TV spots and shorts to promote the Club Penguin online game brand. He’s also done a lot of video game art for David Pilkey, the author and illustrator of the children’s book series, Captain Underpants.
Finlay wants his Ug Wug series to look something like Disney’s recent remake of Pete’s Dragon.
He got the idea for this project a couple of years ago, after reading an article about the Ug Wug legend on the CBC New Brunswick website.
It described a 30-metre-long creature — half salmon and half seal — visible on spring full moons when the tide is out and the shad are running.
“I had no idea that I was living with such a famous legend,” said Finlay, who grew up in the area.
The Ug Wug’s “fame” is limited to only a handful of written accounts. It was possibly invented in the 1950s by the operator of a Reversing Falls tourist attraction.
Marketing ploy or not, Finlay was enthralled.
At the time, he and his son, Evan, now 16, had just completed a docuseries on animation and were thinking of doing something about New Brunswick UFO and sasquatch sightings as their next project.
The Ug Wug story got Brian’s creative juices flowing.
“I went to sleep that night, and I basically dreamt the entire storyline,” he said.
A little girl on summer vacation with her mother meets the Ug Wug while beachcombing, makes friends with it and has to save it from a nefarious businessman who wants to put it in an aquarium.
Brian said he finished a pitch the next day and a green light came back from Bell almost immediately.
He’s done work for the company before and has produced shorter videos of the same sort, but these seven, 10-minute episodes are his largest scale project to date.
“It’s finally happened,” he said. “I’m very excited.”
Evan is also stoked about the project. He’s director of photography and supports grip work and Unit B directing.
“Filming something like this is pretty unreal,” said the teen, who wants to continue a career in filmmaking.
Some other Finlay family members are also very involved in The Ug Wug.
Eight-year-old Ariel’s first acting gig will be starring as the little girl.
And real-life Mom, Kris Ann, will also be her on-screen mom.
“I would never in a million years have thought I would be acting in a show,” said Kris Ann, who works as an assistant manager at a Wal-Mart, but has done some voiceover work before.
“But when your little girl asks you to be part of her show, you kind of have to say yes.”
Kris Ann said she loves that this is a family project and her husband has always had an amazing imagination for storytelling.
“It will be fun to see it and participate in it coming to life on film,” she said.
They all laughed their heads off, said Brian, at the screen test sent in by comedian James Mullinger, who will play the villain.
Mullinger has done stand up, hosted shows live and on film and written and edited for GQ magazine.
But this is something new and enticing, he said, as well as a good fit for some of his natural attributes.
“I will now use the accent of my evil ancestors for some good,” quipped the British expat.
And his “extremely bushy,” “well-trained-caterpillar” eyebrows will get a chance to show off some new tricks.
“In comedy I kind of use them for emphasis,” said Mullinger. “But it turns out they can also be used for villainy.”
Kidding aside, Mullinger said he likes Brian’s The Ug Wug story and is pleased to be working with such a talented animator on a series that will showcase the region.
“I love the fact that there’s going to be people all over Canada and hopefully all over the world seeing how beautiful it is here.”
The Ug Wug will be filming up and down the New Brunswick coast, said Brian, but mostly in Chamcook, where they’ve secured a location at a family cottage on a private beach.
Shooting should be done by late July, he said, and visual effects will be overlapped in post-production.
Brian’s computer generated Ug Wug is expected to be another star attraction of the show.
Pre-production work is taking place now, he said, “getting the computer animated beast all set up with fur and texture and rigging everything.”
The legendary Ug Wug has sometimes been described as a scary monster with “big red eyes” and a “massive appetite.”
Brian aims to make his version less terrifying and more endearing.
“We’re going with more of a cute puppy-esque, golden retriever type of personality,” he said.
“It’d be nice to have a positive kind of a fictional character that the city is known for, that the kids are like, ‘Yeah, we love the Ug Wug’.”
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