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Tuesday, October 11, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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In Lake Union, a slippery star is born

Seattle Times staff reporter

A sea serpent shouldn't look like Barney the dinosaur.

Not too Disney, either, said William Boggs, throwing open the lid of a trunk to reveal his vision of a creature with the screen name Willatuk.

Inside are the makings of a good Halloween costume: two green latex heads, vaguely gatorlike in shape and size, with golden eyes.

Not exactly an epic movie monster on a par with Godzilla — but that's not really the effect Boggs is going for.

"It's going to be ethereal," he said yesterday, attaching one of the heads to an aluminum boom before lowering it into the choppy waters of Lake Union from the back of a loaned cabin cruiser. "Like, it's there — but it's not there."

On a second boat, director Oliver Tuthill filmed the action, aiming to capture the monster's head, the Seattle skyline and a trio of actors paddling by in a dugout canoe.

After working as a singer, a boxing promoter, an actor and an educational film-maker, Tuthill is turning his boyhood fascination with the Loch Ness monster into a movie. The mostly unseen star is a benevolent reptile, revered by Native Americans and stalked by a villainous white hunter. A primordial inhabitant of Puget Sound, Willatuk also makes occasional forays into Lakes Union and Washington.

How?

Secret subterranean passageway, natch.

Though embellished, the fable roughly parallels those of several Northwestern tribes, whose artwork and elders recount sea-serpent encounters.

Howalpid "Les" Green is a Makah tribal member who portrays a Native American leader in the movie. His grandfather told of spotting a sea serpent while fishing off Neah Bay, and of the rich harvest the creature seemed to foretell.

Sea-serpent sightings have surfaced for decades throughout Washington and British Columbia, where the supposedly resident monster goes by the name Cadborosaurus.

"They've been around since things started," Green said, before climbing into the canoe.

Tuthill has been filming for several months, but yesterday marked the monster model's debut. Boggs, of the Oregon-based special-effects company FXWest, worked with a sculptor and studied salamanders and dinosaurs to get the look he wanted.

"I made four different eyes," he said, displaying one orb mounted on a rod for shots where the monster's eyes shift.

Boggs has fabricated many monsters, including the Bigfoot used in Big O Tire commercials. As Halloween approaches, he's spending a lot of time on "heads dripping gelatinous slime," and other haunted-house showpieces.

Dan Schwert is both the movie's executive producer and one of the lead actors. He plays Grip Davis, the hunter who — it is a movie, after all — comes to embrace the Native Americans' spiritual link with the natural world.

"Executive producer" means Schwert, who recently received a small family inheritance, is paying the bills.

"I've been told to say the budget is under $1 million," Tuthill said, like a true Hollywood player. Quite a bit under, he added.

His target audience is Asian television.

"It's the Godzilla factor," Tuthill said. "So many people there grew up watching those movies."

He's even written a theme song and knows who he wants to record it.

Eddie Vedder, are you reading?

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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