The movie effects team at Weta (a multi-award winning conceptual design and physical manufacturing facility servicing the world’s entertainment and creative industries) have recently completed work on a rather unusual project – creating a fully functional Mermaid tail for Auckland woman named Nadya Vessey, who is a double leg amputee. Weta has donated staff time and expertise into making the tail, and Vessey has been able to cover the costs of the materials from a grant that she received from the Kerr-Taylor Foundation Trust.
The unique articulated construction of the tail will allow Vessey to propel herself through the water with an undulating movement as if she was a mermaid. Every aspect of the tail has been custom made to Vessey’s body using a blend of 3D modeling and milling technology, combined with Vi Vac vacforming, and a poly carbonate spine and tail fin. The skin of the tail has been made from a layer of neoprene and a lycra outer-layer digitally printed with a stunning ‘scale’ pattern that was designed by one of the concept artists.
Vessey was born with a condition that meant her legs would never develop properly, but began swimming after she had her first leg amputated at seven. Despite having her other leg amputated at 16, she swam competitively in high school and now swims as often as she can. Vessey says she is thinking of using the tail to help her complete the swimming section of a triathlon. “I thought rather than just having it as a plaything, I would take it further.” Vessey, who is in her 50s, was inspired to get a tail a few summers ago after an encounter at the beach. “A little boy came up and started asking all the `why’ questions about my legs (she was removing her prosthetic legs),” she says. Rather than having to go through the logistics of amputation with a four-year-old, Vessey said: “Do you know about the Little Mermaid? “He said he did, so I told him: `Well I’m a mermaid’.”