Hollywood’s monster man, Guillermo del Toro, is famous for his unique films that showcase monstrous creatures created using skilled motion actors, practical effects, and makeup.
Del Toro made his iconic monsters while using a unique analogy, comparing them to targets. The bullseye is a fantastical element, then circling out is the production design, wardrobe, and color/light. Del Toro used the idea of a target to propel character designs in his desired direction. He believed a character should never be stagnant in their looks so his creations could be seen making some sort of metamorphosis during the film. In Pan’s Labyrinth, the Pale Man puts in his eyes and the Faun becomes younger. The Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water is bioluminescent at the end of the film. Hellboy in Hellboy loses his horns.
Using the idea of a target and metamorphosis, Del Toro brought creatures to life.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Fantastical Features
A fantastical element is essential to the character’s story or function. It acts as a base for all other elements to build on.
In Pan’s labyrinth, the Pale Man’s fantastic element was the eyes residing in the center of his hands. He had to manually place them there and reach out his arms to be able to look around. This concept blossomed from the death of a different, more complicated concept. Originally del Toro wanted the monster to go through a full transformation. Similar to that of a werewolf. He didn’t have the budget for it, however, and was forced to come up with a more simplistic design.
Del Toro liked the painting “Saturn Devours the Sun” and wanted his character to be roughly based on the painting and blind. Hence, the cheaper option of eyes in the palms with the fingertips acting as long macabre eyelashes were born.
In The Shape of Water, the facial features of the Amphibian Man were taken into great consideration. A humanoid as the center of a romance called for the face to be the main focus. Years were spent working on the sketch. Del Toro was determined to have a handsome Amphibian Man with a face that could be seen as mystical to some and repulsive to others. This required the face to have duality. An eyebrow ridge was sculpted to look angry, but a painted line near it was used to soften the face and change the expression from angry to sad based on the lighting.
The Amphibian man was modeled after Michelangelo’s David and del Toro put a lot of emphasis on getting the Greek nose just right. Acrylic eyes were created enclosed over reflective material to give the impression that there was a soul behind them.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Perative Production Design
A character’s surrounding space contributes to the look and story of the character. Upon his first appearance in Pan’s Labyrinth, Faun was seen blending into the background. The stone and trees complimented Pan’s shape and his skin/clothing is embedded into the world. The water tank where the Amphibian Man was confined to the inside of the lab had steps leading up to it in the shape of a pyramid. It connected the Amphibian Man to his past where he was a god to the Amazonians.
The pipes behind the tank are rusted and give the appearance of a setting sun, much like the old civilizations worship of the sun. The creatures entire confinement compliments his story (even in the worst way). The personified Sharpe family mansion in Crimson Peak was built with the idea of layers. The Gothic mansion had many stories to coincide with the generations upon generations that reside in the mansion as ghosts. Production designer Tom Sanders, who worked with del Toro on the design of layering and making the mansion feel lonely, commented that the look of the movie needs to match the feel of the movie. In del Toro’s case, it’s eerie and mystical.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Whimsical Wardrobe
The character wardrobe isn’t always the classic meaning of “wardrobe.” Clothes can be taken out of the equation and “wardrobe” then means how the character’s skin looks sags. The Pale Man’s skin is created to look like someone old who has lost a lot of weight so the wardrobe is sagging skin. Four teams of artists worked on the look of the Jangly man in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Del Toro wanted to achieve the look of different levels of rotted skin.
Pale Lady of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark wore a dress that merged with her skin. A wardrobe in del Toro’s sense, tells can tell stories about where a creature is from, how old it is, and even its intentions.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Creative Color & Illumination
The third and final ring to the target. Light can portray different emotions and color can tell about the character’s conditions. If the character had been in the ground dead for years and had arisen it may have been a brown, rotten color. If the character had been living in a cave and hadn’t seen sunlight its entire life it may be a pale, fleshy color. Hellboy was painted with different reds to add depth and make the character feel very real. The Amphibian Man’s paint was modeled after Japanese painting from the Edo period of the blackfish.
Guillermo del Toro brought together all of these elements to create stunning, realistic creatures on film. All of the little details make the creatures and the fantastic worlds that they live in something humans can connect with. Del Toro’s audience is able to look at his monsters and see their humanity reflected back at them as the creatures experience sadness, horror, excitement, and love.
Guillermo del Toro films are truly something special.
Doug Jones is the actor inside many of Guillermo del Toro’s monsters. He plays the Faun and Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth, the Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water, and Abe Sapien in Hellboy. Besides Jones’ impressive skills at creature movement and contortion, he also is praised for his ability to patiently wait for hours in the makeup chair to be transformed into the monsters. After that, he spends hours on set in uncomfortable conditions with no complaints.
The Amphibian Man suit was exceptionally difficult, with the latex being tight and heavy in the water. Jones wasn’t able to hear, see, or feel much in the suit but delivered an astounding performance anyway. The dancer stepped into the suit in Jone’s place for a musical number and instantly became sick from the weight. It’s easy to see why Guillermo del Toro often chooses Doug Jones as his leading man!