How Indie Creature Feature ‘Sting’ Got ‘Lord of the Rings’ Visual Effects Legends to Make Scary, Disgusting Spiders

Special effects legend Richard Taylor has five Oscars under his belt, but he just wants to make big, gross puppets.

Taylor is the founder of Wētā Workshop, which, among countless other titles, created the indelible effects for “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, MCU movies and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” He lights up when discussing “Sting,” a new low-budget giant spider movie. He says that despite the company’s comfort in handling large-scale effects work, there is room for the team to flex their creative muscles on smaller projects.

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“There’s a misconception that we only work on large-budget mega-movies,” Taylor says. “We want to do lower-budget horror movies. We’ve maintained a business infrastructure that allows us to do that. In the same year that we did ‘Sting,’ we did ‘The Tank,’ which was a low-budget New Zealand horror movie. We love working on practical effects films, and the major ones getting made are lower budget horror movies.”

“Sting,” a slick creature feature about a teen (Alyla Browne) who befriends a rapidly-growing alien spider with a taste for humans, is the brainchild of writer-director Kiah Roache-Turner, who was inspired by his fear of eight-legged creepy crawlies.

“I have raging arachnophobia because I’m an Australian, and everything in Australia is trying to kill you,” he says. “We’ve got giant crocs, great white sharks, some of the most poisonous snakes in the world, and spiders the size of dinner plates. Some of those spiders can kill you — if they bite you and you don’t get to a hospital in three hours, you’re dead. My job as a horror filmmaker is to take my greatest fear and throw it at you guys and hope it sells tickets, and there’s nothing scarier in my head than a spider the size of a bulldog that can drag you into an air conditioning duct and eat you.”

Roache-Turner was able to turn his spider nightmares into a reality through a collaboration with Taylor, and the duo got so into the planning that they would spend time on Zoom crooking their hands to show the angle of what the mandibles would look like.

“It’s like getting a chance to work with Superman,” Roache-Turner says of his collaboration with Taylor. “I was so nervous that in our first meeting I was going to have to convince him of the artistic merit of what I’m doing. And he just burst in and went, “Kiah, it’s so good that you’ve given me a giant spider movie to make. I’ve been wanting to do this for decades and decades.’ His energy is beautiful. This is a guy who makes $300 million movies for breakfast. But this seemed like the most exciting thing that he did that year.”

STING, 2024. © Well Go USA Entertainment / courtesy Everett Collection

The result is a showstopping giant animatronic puppet that took six people to control, allowing the legs, body and mandibles to move independently.

Although she was acting against puppets, Browne, who is set to play Young Furiosa in the upcoming “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” was able to get in the right headspace thanks to some A-list advice. She simply called up her good friend and “The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart” co-star Sigourney Weaver, whose Ripley in 1979’s “Alien” is one of the best extraterrestrial fighters ever committed to film.

“One of the scenes was based on a scene from ‘Alien’ I asked her, ‘How should I play the scene?'” Browne says. “She told me, ‘Just react to the spider and what’s in front of you, and be scared because of the spider, not because of acting. There’s a massive spider in front of you, and you have to react to the other actors around you and react to puppets if you have them.'”

Ultimately, Taylor says their shared enthusiasm for cinema created a shorthand with Roache-Turner to execute the vision.

“When we first met, we didn’t even talk spiders,” he says. “We just spoke ’80s horror movies, things that we love, things we grew up on, things that did work, things that didn’t work, things that caused us to be scared when we were in the cinema. We laughed and joked and had a great time talking about early filmmaking. You instantly know he has it streaming through his blood, and you want to work with him and do the best job you can do, concoct a character that will be memorable and fun. It’s so much more enjoyable if the filmmaker comes with a gut instinct of what they’re aspiring to do and a deep love of their craft.”

And if “Sting” is a success, Roache-Turner has mapped out a sequel.

“I already wrote the treatment,” he says. “It’s called ‘Children of Sting’ and it’s awesome. It’s like ‘The Raid’ meat ‘Sting.’ It’s crazy. If somebody would let me make it…I don’t wanna spoil anything, but Alyla’s involved. If ‘Sting’ is ‘Alien,’ ‘Children of Sting’ would be ‘Aliens,’ and it goes up to 11. We notch it up.”

“Sting” is playing in theaters now. Watch the trailer below.

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