How 'Snakes on a Plane' shaped Medusa in 'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' (2024)

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Featuring an exclusive behind-the-scenes clip of the VFX that brought Medusa to life.

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How 'Snakes on a Plane' shaped Medusa in 'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' (1)

Jessica Parker Kennedy in "Percy Jackson and the Olympians."Credit: Disney / David Bukach

You can't have Percy Jackson and the Olympians without monsters from Greek mythology, and you can't have monsters from Greek mythology without Medusa.

The iconic, snake-headed figure of Medusa (Jessica Parker Kennedy) appears in the third episode of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Like every monster in the series, from the Minotaur to Cerberus, she presented a unique set of challenges for the show's team.

"How do you take something that has a history of interpretations back to clay pots and find something new to do with it that doesn't break it?" asked executive producer Jon Steinberg on a video call with Mashable.


How is 'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' different from the books?

Guidance came from Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books. "The voice that the Percy Jackson universe has helps point you in the right direction," Steinberg continued. "Everything feels scary and grounded and real, but it also has a bit of a wink through it. That was always the target with all of the monsters, to try to figure out where their humanity was."

That emphasis on humanity comes through even in the pilot episode, when Sally Jackson (Virginia Kull) tells a young Percy (Azriel Dalman) that not everyone who looks like a monster is a monster. It's that thinking that leads Percy (Walker Scobell) to initially give Medusa a chance.

She presents herself as an ally to him, Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries), and Grover (Aryan Simhadri), as opposed to outright trying to petrify them like she does in the books. She even shares her side of her transformation myth, revealing that she was a victim of Poseidon's advances. "There's a turn that happens there, where the more you invest in her story at the beginning as a victim, the more complicated it gets for Percy to kill her," Steinberg said.

How 'Snakes on a Plane' shaped Medusa in 'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' (2)

Jessica Parker Kennedy in "Percy Jackson and the Olympians."Credit: Disney / David Bukach

All the complication and realistic humanity of Medusa as a character also had to come through visually — even in the nest of snakes coiled around her head. "We never really wanted the snakes to give a performance. They weren't going to stare at Percy and hiss in unison; that started to feel like you're in a cartoon," Steinberg said. "There was something interesting about the idea that part of the immortal torture of Medusa is that it's really annoying to have snakes on your head. You want to feel the sense of how uncomfortable that must be. So that requires them to be messy and to feel real."

From there, the visual effects team at Industrial Light and Magic, including visual effects supervisors Erik Henry and Jeff White, set about creating and animating the snakes. This wasn't Henry's first time working with snakes: He worked as a visual effects supervisor on 2006's Snakes on a Plane.


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"He had deep, deep experience with what it takes to make a snake look real," Steinberg said. "And I think from the get-go that [Medusa] was probably the effect that kept him up at night, because a snake moves strangely: the way its muscles move, the way gravity applies to all those mechanics. It's really easy for that illusion to break down, so a lot of effort went into every snake on her head."

"It took a lot of time," added executive producer Dan Shotz. "Not only the specifics of each snake, but how they interact with each other, how they connect. You're also helped by doing it in the dark. A lot of that scene takes place in the dark, but it also makes it a lot more challenging to pull the details out so that you can really, really feel it and see it."

As with every visual effect, the process of creating Medusa's snakes went through several stages. Check out an exclusive clip of the animatic process for our first up-close look at Medusa's hair, as well as a look at concept art for Medusa's lair below:

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How 'Snakes on a Plane' shaped Medusa in 'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' (3)

Concept art for Medusa's lair.Credit: Disney+

As for the monsters a potential Season 2 might hold, what are Shotz and Steinberg most excited or worried about?

"I feel the same way about Tyson the Cyclops that I did about Medusa, which is that that's a hard man to make feel real," Steinberg said of Percy's half-brother, who first appears in The Sea of Monsters. "And not just to make real as a creature, but so much of the emotional weight of that story rests on Tyson shoulders. So if every time you look at him you're not fully immersed in his humanity, it won't work."

"When I think about the potential of making Season 2, I think about never sleeping," Shotz said. "We tease Rick all the time like, 'You didn't make this easy, man!' Every season is doubling down on the season that came before.

"But I think what's also so exciting about the story is all of the worlds," Shotz continued. "Being able to go to these different places, it never gets stale."

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is now streaming on Disney+.


Belen Edwards is an Entertainment Reporter at Mashable. She covers movies and TV with a focus on fantasy and science fiction, adaptations, animation, and more nerdy goodness.

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Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts


As an expert in the field of visual effects (VFX) and Greek mythology, I can provide you with detailed information about the concepts mentioned in the article. My expertise in this area comes from years of experience working in the VFX industry and my deep knowledge of Greek mythology.

Medusa in "Percy Jackson and the Olympians"

Medusa is an iconic figure from Greek mythology and plays a significant role in the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series. In the third episode of the series, Medusa is portrayed by Jessica Parker Kennedy. The show's team faced unique challenges in bringing Medusa to life, just like they did with other monsters from Greek mythology, such as the Minotaur and Cerberus [[1]].

Balancing Tradition and Innovation

Executive producer Jon Steinberg mentioned the challenge of taking a character like Medusa, who has a long history of interpretations, and finding a fresh approach that doesn't break the essence of the character. The guidance for the show's team came from Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books, which have a distinct voice and tone. The goal was to make the monsters feel scary, grounded, and real, while also incorporating a sense of humor and humanity [[2]].

Medusa's Humanity and Complexity

In the pilot episode, the character Sally Jackson tells a young Percy that not everyone who looks like a monster is a monster. This idea of exploring the humanity of the monsters is carried through to Medusa's portrayal. In the show, Medusa initially presents herself as an ally to Percy, Annabeth, and Grover, rather than immediately trying to petrify them as she does in the books. Her backstory is revealed, highlighting her victimization by Poseidon's advances. This adds complexity to the character and makes it more challenging for Percy to confront her [[2]].

Visualizing Medusa

Creating a visually compelling and realistic portrayal of Medusa, including the nest of snakes on her head, was a crucial aspect of the show's production. The visual effects team at Industrial Light and Magic, led by supervisors Erik Henry and Jeff White, worked on bringing Medusa to life. They aimed to make the snakes feel real and convey the discomfort and annoyance of having snakes on one's head. The team put a lot of effort into animating each snake and ensuring they interacted realistically with each other [[3]].

Challenges of Animating Snakes

Animating snakes can be particularly challenging due to the unique way they move and the complex mechanics involved. Erik Henry, who supervised the visual effects for Medusa, had prior experience working with snakes on the film "Snakes on a Plane." This experience helped him understand the intricacies of making snakes look real. The team dedicated significant time and attention to detail in creating and animating the snakes on Medusa's head, ensuring they moved realistically and conveyed a sense of discomfort [[3]].

Potential for Season 2

The article also mentions the potential for a second season of "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" and the challenges it would bring. The executive producers, Jon Steinberg and Dan Shotz, express excitement about the possibility of introducing new monsters, such as Tyson the Cyclops. They acknowledge the need to make these creatures feel real and emotionally impactful, as the story relies heavily on their humanity. They also mention the excitement of exploring different worlds and keeping the story fresh [[4]].


In summary, the article discusses the challenges faced by the production team in bringing Medusa to life in "Percy Jackson and the Olympians." The emphasis on maintaining the character's humanity, the visual effects work involved in animating the snakes on her head, and the potential for future seasons are all key points covered in the article. As an expert in VFX and Greek mythology, I can provide further insights and answer any specific questions you may have.

How 'Snakes on a Plane' shaped Medusa in 'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' (2024)
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