Despite her passion for swimming, it was never Nadya Vessey's dream to be a mermaid. She started swimming after losing her first leg when she was seven, and continued to swim competitively after the second was amputated at the age of sixteen. Vessey picked herself back up on two prosthetic legs and, unlike many Disney fans, didn't give in to any mermaid fantasies. She's used these legs for decades, until now that she's received some assistance from Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop.
It all started on the beach where a four-year-old boy questioned her lack of limbs when he saw her taking her fake ones off. She replied that she was a mermaid and the boy said, “Wow, that’s cool!” The idea stuck with Vessey after that day, so she contacted Weta Workshop, the company responsible for the special effects of King Kong and Chronicles of Narnia. When the New Zealander asked if they could help, they said yes and assembled a tail from plastic moulds and wetsuit materials over the course of two years. Vessey hoped it would be both functional and beautiful and she wasn’t disappointed. Costume designer Lee Williams added, “We wanted Nadya to be beautiful and sexy and it was important the tail looked realistic.”
The peeps at Weta let us in on how exactly the tail works. “The unique articulated construction of the tail allows her 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 her body and includes a poly carbonate spine and tail fin that has been digitally printed with a stunning 'scale' pattern designed by one of Weta's concept artists.” Vessey was extremely happy with the outcome of the project, but it took some getting used to, obviously. “A prosthetic is a prosthetic,” she says, “and your body has to be comfortable with it and you have to mentally make it part of yourself."
Now that she’s been whipping her tail back and forth for a bit, Vessey plans to use it for the swimming section of an upcoming triathlon.