The Ningyo


A 1911 Faustian tale about losing oneself in the process of achieving our goals. Told through the world of cryptozoology.

Episode One:
Professor Marlowe finds a piece of a map pointing to the place where the Ningyo, a mythical Japanese creature, could be found. The legend claims whomever consumes its flesh will attain remarkable longevity. He presents the project to his peers, who mock and dismiss him as a fraud. He decides to risk everything and go after the Ningyo on his own in hopes to bring to light what could be one of the greatest contributions to science. What he could not anticipate is that, in his search, he is confronted with a choice that puts the very foundations of his morality to the test.

Created by: Miguel Ortega and Tran Ma

Directed by: Miguel Ortega
Production Design: Tran Ma
Representation: CAA
Management: Traverse Media


  • The Ningyo took 3 years to make
  • We quit our jobs and worked on this FULLTIME every day 15 hours a day
  • The majority of the VFX were done by Tran and I with a few good friends jumping in to do an asset here or there.
  • We shot on all still lenses. The focus puller was whoever was standing by
  • We only used a handful of broken 1970s Mole Richardson lights we bought on craigslist and repaired them ourselves.
  • We shot on the red epic which we own.



KU: How did Ningyo come about? Were you into Cryptozoology before taking on this project?

We (Tran and I) have been creature sculptors for the past 10+ years so knowing anatomy, zoology, and cryptozoology just comes with the territory. Our house is filled with animal skulls, anatomy books etc.

KU: When you first conceived Ningyo did you force the size and scope of this project?

We didn't force the size, it grew on us. The ningyo was really created to NOT be festival friendly (at 27 minutes long) but really geared at getting us better representation as filmmakers and attracting producers.  We knew as VFX artist that we would be expected to make a film with explosions or two guys chasing monsters with guns.We wanted to avoid this and keep it more grounded story driven. The Edwardian era as well as it being half Japanese didn't help to make it easier but hopefully, it shows how we were able to manage something of this scale on a budget.


KU: What Kessler tools got the heaviest use on this job specifically? And how did you use them?

The Kessler Cinedrive was used the way John Dykstra would have used it back in 1977, It was used as a way of getting multiple passes of a shot. We use a lot of smoke and a lot of green screens. I hate green screen (believe it or not) and I love the real atmosphere. By breaking these shots into passes we are able to use a pass just to generate the greenscreen (essentially an alpha mask pass) and then another pass where the green screen is turned off and covered with black drapes. we can then run the motion control camera again and now get the alpha from the green screen and the real atmosphere. We would also do a pass with the actor in the foreground and a smaller green screen behind him. Whenever we didn't need that kind of control we just used the larger slider as anyone would.

KU: What was the biggest mistake you made when starting out on this project if there was one?

I think we should have kept it more simple. The next few things we do (short form) will be very minimal VFX. We really want to focus on being the best filmmakers we can be. We're gonna let the VFX take a back seat.


KU: How have you evolved as a filmmaker since you first started out?

I think we have become better storytellers. When you work on a project for this long and you're in post for as long as we were, you see all the mistakes and you wish you could go in and fix them. There is so much we wish we could change or improve. The best stuff we shot is the later stuff. I am more proud of our Japanese sequences than I am with the rest of the film. These were all the things we filmed later. We were more efficient and precise.
But I guess we will have to wait for the next one.


KU: What’s next on the horizon for you and the film?

The Ningyo got us the attention of CAA and that led to the film being picked up as a feature. So we should be announcing with whom shortly. It's a really well-known producer so we won't have to do this in our house anymore. Thank god! or else Tran would leave me!



Q&A with Julian Tryba of Alinia Media

Q&A with Julian Tryba of Alinia Media