For the overall character design for this version of 20,000 Leagues under The Sea I pursued a very comic book/Supermarionation look of the old “Thunderbirds” puppets, simply because I thought they were always cool and lend that aesthetic well to this novel.
Captain Nemo—also known as Prince Dakkar, is one of the best known antiheroes in fiction. Remaining somewhat of a mysterious figure, he is the son of an Indian Raja and a scientific genius who roams the depths of the sea in his submarine, the Nautilus. Nemo tries to project a stern, controlled confidence, but he is driven by a thirst for vengeance and a hatred of imperialism focused on the British Empire. He is also wracked by remorse over the deaths of his crew members and even by the deaths of enemy sailors.
Nemo avoids dry land, except when it’s uninhabited, as with Antarctica and desert islands. In keeping with his contempt for the nations of the surface, he uses no products that are not marine in nature, be it food, clothing, furnishing, or even tobacco. Little is revealed about his political opinions except an almost maniacal hatred of oppression, with which he identifies all the imperialistic nations of the world. He therefore identifies himself with those oppressed, be they Cretans rising against the Turks, Ceylonese pearl divers, or even black whales attacked by sperm whales. When Professor Aronnax alleges that Nemo violates maritime and international law by sinking war-ships, Nemo responds that he is merely defending himself from his attackers, and that the laws of the world on the surface no longer apply to him. In one scene, Nemo exclaims:
“On the surface, they can still exercise their iniquitous laws, fight, devour each other, and indulge in all their earthly horrors. But thirty feet below the (sea’s) surface, their power ceases, their influence fades, and their dominion vanishes. Ah, monsieur, to live in the bottom of the sea! ….
There I recognize no master! There I am free!”
Nemo is devoted to his crew and grieves deeply when one is killed in the giant squid attack in the Caribbean Sea, or after a midnight encounter with a surface ship. He retains a strong attachment to his deceased wife and children, whose deaths are thought to have been caused by his British oppressors. Though short-tempered, he rarely expresses his anger. He is also a man of immense courage, in the forefront of every activity, from releasing the Nautilus from the Antarctic ice to fighting squid in the Caribbean; and notable for having worked consecutive eight-hour shifts without a break, with little oxygen, to free the Nautilus from the ice. He was also identified as having discovered Atlantis.
An extraordinary engineer, Nemo designed and built the Nautilus, besides inventing her electric propulsion and navigation systems. He has an exceptional mastery of underwater navigation, taking upon himself the most difficult submarine passages, such as those under the Isthmus of Suez and the Antarctic ice sheet.
He has a comprehensive knowledge of marine biology, and it is his respect for Professor Aronnax’s expertise in the field which led to his befriending the professor when the latter was cast upon the Nautilus. Further, he is said to have read and annotated all the books he possessed in the Nautilus’s vast library.
He has very fine taste in art, possessing several masterpieces of both painting and sculpture, from ancient and modern European masters, all of which are housed in the Grand Saloon of the Nautilus, along with his collection of pearls, corals and other such marine products, which he had gathered himself. An underwater eccentric genius, hell bent on revenge.
Using Verne’s description as someone with a large, strong frame and an East Indian appearance with a pronounced nose, I tried to make my version of Nemo a distinguished ruffian, tailored uniform to command respect, but a trimmed beard in an ode to the U-boat commanders of World War 2. His uniform resembles something from the US Civil War, of which Nemo takes great interest in. Wearing sealskin boots made by himself, Nemo sports a mix of respectful military naval uniform with practicality. His piercing eyes and stature demand the respect of both his crew, and the captive passengers.
A doctor from France, Professor Aronnax provides the scientific mind and explanation behind the many wonders of the deep experienced throughout the novel. Compassionate, knowledgable and with impeccable manners, Aronnax is torn between his love of knowledge and the his feelings for the victims of Nemo’s tactics of revenge.
Given full permission to use the many pieces of scientific equipment aboard the Nautilus to study the new underwater world put before him, Aronnax has a hard time figuring out the mysterious Nemo and his marvels, but longs to return with the knowledge he experiences on the Nautilus. Aided by his trusty assistant, Conseil, Aronnax epitomizes a French professor from 1867, sporting a goatee, a crushed purple velvet suit and tie.
Faithful, courageous and the trusted assistant to Aronnax, Conseil is an element of youthful wonder aboard the Nautilus. Described by Verne in the novel:
“Conseil was my servant, a true, devoted Flemish boy, who had accompanied me in all my travels. I liked him, and he returned the liking well. He was quiet by nature, regular from principle, zealous from habit, evincing little disturbance at the different surprises of life, very quick with his hands, and apt at any service required of him; and, despite his name, never giving advice–even when asked for it.
Conseil had followed me for the last ten years wherever science led. Never once did he complain of the length or fatigue of a journey, never make an objection to pack his portmanteau for whatever country it might be, or however far away, whether China or Congo. Besides all this, he had good health, which defied all sickness, and solid muscles, but no nerves; good morals are understood. This boy was thirty years old, and his age to that of his master as fifteen to twenty.”
I drew Conseil to look like a young Rob Lowe type, youthful but ready for adventure. Clothed in linens and cotton shirt of the period, Conseil seems like he could be a son to Aronnax.
Unbeknownst to many, Ned Land is a Canadian that hails from Quebec. The Disney film adaptation strayed from this important detail, but Verne makes a point to refer to Mr. Land as “The Canadian” almost exclusively throughout the novel.
Hot tempered, compassionate, and a skilled harpooner, Ned is the quintessential 1860’s sailor; robust, adventuresome, brave, and ready to fight when the need arises. His demeanour befits someone of Scottish ancestry so that’s why I made him a Scottish/French Canadian, a mix of temper and passion. Red hair for temper, muscles for strength and an outfit that showcases a whale harpooner of the 1860s.
The devoted crew members aboard the Nautilus have been trained by Nemo to operate the vessel with the utmost of precision and professionalism. Their full numbers never known, the crew members nationalities range from Scandinavia, France, Spain, India, England and other countries, but their spoken language is a unique dialect invented exclusively for use board the Nautilus. Quiet, obedient and skillful, the crew members follow Nemo’s orders without question, devoted to their Captain no matter what the cost.
Their uniform resembles a mix of US Civil War uniform with a science fiction/Star Wars slant. Like the crew of WW2 tanks, their uniforms have covered buttons and laces so nothing will get caught up and tangled in the many parts and equipment of the Nautilus machinery. Nemo rewards their devotion with respect, burying the dead with an elaborate underwater funeral worthy of himself. They are the life of the Nautilus despite their infrequency of mention in the novel.