In James Gunn's Peacemaker, John Cena's titular hero of sorts is forced to join a mysterious black ops ARGUS squad on a mission to eliminate a parasitic butterfly-like alien race that have taken over human hosts around the world. When viewers finally get their first look at the creatures outside a human host in the series, it becomes very clear exactly why they are called Butterflies. They're delicate, surprisingly beautiful creatures, something that makes for an interesting juxtaposition with how brutal their possession of people actually is and according to Wētā FX VFX supervisor Guy Williams, the beauty of the creatures is on purpose — and reveals some of the inspiration behind their look.
"The thing to remember… one of the things you enjoy about the way James tells stories is that, outside of Auggie being a straight up supervillain racist, most of his characters aren't so black and white. Peacemaker definitely isn't Superman or Captain America," Williams said. "He's not your ideal version of a human being. He's much more relatable person. So, even villains to some degree can have some good traits. So, for the butterflies, yes, they do kill humans. Yes, they are killing humans even without possessing their bodies but at the end of the day, you have to remember that the butterfly race is a dead race."
He continued, "They don't have a planet anymore. There's not that many of them left and instead of just going off and dying on a party barge somewhere, they've decided to go to another planet and try to steer it away from its own oblivion. So, in some ways, there's a great nobility to what the butterflies are doing but at the same time, they're still bad because they are taking away our choice to screw it up or succeed on our own. So, there is this constant struggle of you don't want them to be so horrible. It's not obvious that they're the bad guys. Even when you think through all of it, you can understand that there is some good to them."
Williams said that aspect of good within the butterflies is what makes the delicate and beautiful nature of the creatures work really well.
"So, it kind of works for them to actually be delicate and beautiful and vulnerable and frail, because to some degree, they're showing traits just like us," Williams said. "They're trying to do something good, but they're doing it in a fairly bad way. The art department on the production side did a fantastic set of designs on it and gave it to us. We had to realize the wings. The body itself was pretty well realized. We had to legitimize it just because when you get into animation, you have to make sure that a really cool leg has to be able to bend in its joints. So, we had to insert little fleshy bits here and there so that we could actually bend the joints wherever we needed to, without it looking magical."
"But for the wings, we thought kind of like a dragonfly wing, where it had some sort of translucency and iridescence to it," he continued. "But at the same time, it'd be a cross between dragonfly wing and a butterfly wing. So, it had the broad surface area and the patterning of a butterfly wing, with a little bit of the translucency and the iridescence of a dragonfly."
He also explained that outside of the wings, they wanted to make it both look like a real bug, but not something so real that people would think they'd seen it before, and they ultimately used references from a lot of other different kinds of bugs to create something with real elements.
"It's just taking a bunch of parts of bugs and bending the characteristics together to create a new bug, so it looks real, but not," he said.
The first season of Peacemaker is now streaming on HBO Max.