Why Is Guillermo del Toro Obsessed with Fish Men?
Hey guys, I’m Mike and I’m in love with ‘The Shape of Water.’ Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming film is already generating Oscar buzz, and his story about a fish-man and the woman who loves him has been a dream project for decades. Del Toro been obsessed with the aquatic antagonist of ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ for his entire life. And even though his new movie isn’t officially about Universal’s iconic Gill-man, ‘The Shape of Water’ is about as close as copyright law will allow. I want to take a look at the original marine menace, and how it’s followed Del Toro throughout his entire career, with ‘Guillermo and the Gill-man.’ Let’s start the with the classic look of the original Creature from the Black Lagoon The film was inspired by myths about a race of fish-men that lived in the Amazon River, along with a healthy helping of Beauty and the Beast. Disney illustrator Millicent Patrick designed the Gill-Man, even though she never received credit, because the studio didn’t want it getting out that a woman had designed their terrifying sea creature. [SCREAMS] Patrick based her design on 17th-century woodcuts of a fantastical fish called the Sea Monk. Originally, the creature was going to have a slimy, smooth appearance in the vein of an electric eel, but the final Gill-man sported a bumpy, scaly look instead. The costume itself cost $15,000, and was made from airtight latex. It was extremely hot and impossible to sit down in, so between takes the performer had to rest in a lake on the studio backlot. When the movie was made in 1954, technology had progressed a lot from Universal’s early monster films, but the Creature’s suit was extremely primitive by today’s standards. It had a squeeze bulb built into the arm to flutter the gills, a mouth that opened slightly when the performer inside tilted his head back, and eyes that didn’t move at all. The Gill-Man only appeared in three official Universal monster movies, but he left such a huge impression on everyone who saw him, that he quickly became one of cinema’s most Famous Monsters As a young boy in Mexico, Del Toro learned to speak English through Forrest J. Ackerman’s legendary magazine ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland.’ ‘Famous Monsters’ instilled a lifelong awe of cinematic creatures in the young filmmaker, and the Gill-man had the biggest effect by far. As a kid, he was fascinated by the Creature’s grace and beauty as it pursued its prey, but he couldn’t understand why it didn’t wind up with the girl at the end of the movie. He spent days drawing the monster and its co-star, Julie Adams, eating ice cream, having dinner, and living together in wedded bliss. He’d eventually get a chance to give the Gill-man a happy ending, but first he had to turn his monster obsession into an impressive career. In 1985, he founded a Mexican special-effects company called Necropia, And he soon transitioned into directing his own films, starting with 1993’s ‘Cronos.’ Del Toro’s filmography contains too many monsters to count, from towering kaiju to the petrifying pale man. But he’s always had a soft spot for the Gill-man. No. That’s one of the reasons he jumped at the chance to adapt Mike Mignola’s ‘Hellboy’ comic in 2004. Del Toro’s favorite character was an intelligent fish-man with more than a slight resemblance to the Creature, named Abe Sapien Starting with Mignola’s art, Del Toro and effects house Spectral Motion re-envisioned Sapien for the big screen. Instead of the gross green Gill-man,
they made him smooth like a dolphin, with gorgeous fish
markings across his shiny skin. The suit itself was built around performer Doug Jones’ unique frame. At 6’3, with a thin build and long neck, Jones seems custom made to fit inside any kind of monster Del Toro can dream up, which is why they’ve worked on six films together so far. The Abe Sabien makeup took up to six hours to apply. After a vacuform faceplate compressed Jones’ nose and other features, You’re in love. Have a beer. My body is a temple. the crew attached a facemask and neckpieces with Abe’s animatronic gills. Each set consisted of three separate servomotors that undulated in sequence for the most organic animation possible. The makeup fit so closely to Jones’ face that they couldn’t stuff any extra mechanisms inside, so Abe’s eyes, and his trademark three-lidded blink, were entirely CGI. For the sequel, the design was altered with different markings, a lighter color scheme and a more muscular build. Fortunately for Jones, Spectral Motion streamlined the application process while they were at it. In the first movie, the makeup left sections of Jones’ body uncovered, which means artists had to painstakingly airbrush his skin to match the prosthetics. In ‘Hellboy II,’ the team built a pre-painted pull-on suit to avoid that problem, which also saved time wasted on applying individual pieces. Del Toro was absolutely in love with his Abe Sapien design, calling it ‘the most beautiful creature ever committed to film.’ The ‘Hellboy’ series is in someone else’s hands now, but that doesn’t mean Del Toro is over his fish fantasies. He actually had the opportunity to oversee Universal’s doomed ‘Dark Universe’ project, which would have included a reboot of ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon.’ Del Toro wanted to do the film from the POV of the Gill-man, and when Universal said no, he lost interest in the offer. But this year, he’s finally going to give the Creature the happy ending it deserves… Sort of. The monster in ‘The Shape of Water’ isn’t the Gill-man, and it’s not Abe Sapien, either. Instead, Del Toro’s latest and greatest fish creature is known only as The Asset For ‘The Shape of Water,’ Del Toro didn’t specifically do research on the original Gill-Man. The classic design was baked into the entire concept of a humanoid fish monster, so he didn’t see any point in trying to emulate it. Instead, he turned to nature for inspiration, and based the Asset’s design on ancient Japanese depictions of Koi fish, with black scales and brightly colored stripes. Looking at the Asset side-by-side with Abe Sabien, they’re pretty similar on a surface level. I mean, there’s only so many ways to design a dude that can live underwater, and Doug Jones is the performer behind both characters. I asked Doug to join the movie because he’s an actor. If you don’t have an actor inside that suit, you don’t have a movie. But that’s where the similarities end. Where Abe Sapien is intelligent, eloquent, and extremely polite, The Asset is an animal. Forgive me, I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s a creature from the Amazonian wild, not a highly educated secret agent. Three decades… I’ve only completed two sides. For his performance, Del Toro had some pretty specific instructions for Jones I said to Doug, you’re gonna stand like a toreador. It’s very masculine, the way they find their center. It can’t be easy making a guy in a rubber fish costume seem sexy, But it anyone can pull it off, it’s Doug Jones and Guillermo Del Toro. Even though I do look freaky on my own, I do need help sometimes when becoming a fish man. Hey guys, thanks for watching. We’re big fans of GDT here, but he’s made so many monster movies we had to stick with just the fish. What’s your favorite GDT monster? Hellboy? The Pale Man? Knifehead? Let me know in the comments and
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