Guillermo del Toro is a director whose work has always showcased a supreme level of artistry. While most directors in the 21st Century have relied on CGI, del Toro has always used massive hand-crafted sets and intricate practical effects. As his imagination tends to be way ahead of that's technologically possible, del Toro had to wait 14 years before he could do justice to the Angel of Death.
While Hellboy drew heavily from Mike Mignola's Seed of Destruction, Hellboy 2 was an original script that gave del Toro the liberty to create a plethora of other-worldly creatures. However, the movie's most haunting yet beautiful character, the Angel of Death, had a divine inspiration behind it. While speaking at the Annecy Festival, del Toro elaborated on how he conceptualized the mystical being from a Mexican painting he had seen in a church,
"For example, the Angel of Death in Hellboy 2, which has the eyes and the wings, that was created originally for a project in 1994. And it was inspired by a Mexican painting in a church, where arch angels have eyes in every feather. I took a note. I was in a church and I drew it in my notebook and it stayed there. It was dormant until I was able to afford the mechanical eyes and the wings, and all that stuff. I thought, 'That would be a great Angel of Death.'"
Guillermo del Toro has always portrayed his stories on a surrealistic palette and although Hellboy had a heavy dose of the steam-punk aesthetic, the Angel of Death certainly acted as a bridge between those styles.
The canned movie where del Toro had initially planned to debut this beast was Mephisto's Bridge, where we might have been seen bargaining for a man's soul. However, fans will certainly be thankful that the director showed restraint and used him in the most perfect scenario possible.
How Did The Angel Of Death Make The Jump To The Big Screen?
Other than being a director who has created entire realms of his own, Guillermo del Toro nurtures an artistic flair that he has shared with fans through his 'Cabinet of Curiosities'. From Mr. Wink to the Elemental Forest God, del Toro's famed diary has it all. So, when it was the Angel of Death's turn, designer Norman Carberra was called in. During an interview with Make-up Artist Magazine, the legendary make-up artist who has worked with the likes of Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill: Vol 1) and Ang Lee (Hulk) recalled meeting with Guillermo.
"Guillermo had a meeting with some of the key people at Spectral Motion, myself included, where he said, ‘I want you to come with some wild stuff. I don’t want to see familiar things I’ve seen in other movies.’ For this character, he basically said, ‘Think of every angel of death you’ve ever seen and don’t do that! Do something really out there and bizarre.’"
Although del Toro's urge for originality must be lauded, Carberra had a hard time giving the harbinger of death a touch of reality, but everything began to take shape as soon as he formed an early model of the creature,
"Once we decided on a direction, I sculpted a maquette of the Angel. Right off the bat, I did this ornamental-looking stuff on his chest that sort of looked like faces and Guillermo was sold on that, but the face was more of a challenge because he didn’t want any eyes."
"I started with stuff that had more bone shape to it and Guillermo didn’t even want empty sockets; he just wanted it to be blank. I did one version of the head and he said, ‘Do you mind if I mess around with this a little bit?’ and smushed the eyes down into a really weird flattened-out shape. At first, I couldn’t totally wrap my head around it, but after I started playing with it, it all came together."
One of the most spine-chilling aspects of Pan's Labyrinth was the Pale Man, who had his eye-balls in the palm of his hands. For Hellboy 2, del Toro took it a step further by completely removing the eyes from the Angel of Death and adding them onto his wings. While most directors would have left that to the VFX artists, del Toro relied on electronics wizard Mark Setrakian, along with Bud McGrew, Scott Millenbaugh and Fred Frehley, to complete his vision,
"When I saw the design I thought, ‘This is going to require an interesting joint mechanism!’ so I came up with a series of what I call ‘gear hinges,’ which are similar to the way a human knee works. That allowed me to fold these wings up very tight, but it was a fairly complicated arrangement.
The other problem was all these eyes, because they were in the middle of where the structure of the wing should be, so the structure itself had to be open in the center for the eyes to lay in, and that’s a lot of mechanisms. And finally, the orientation of the eyes actually changed as the wings opened and closed, so when the wings are folded, we’ve got some eyes that are looking left and right. When the wings open, the ones on the lower part of the wing have now turned completely upside down but they still needed to look left and right in sync with the rest of them.”
Finally when the time came for the Angel of Death to save Hellboy, it resulted in a scene that will be revered as one of the most hauntingly stunning sequences of cinematic history. In a mere 3-minute conversational scene, the combination of del Toro's vision, Carberra's artistry, Setrakian's electronic wizardry and Doug Jones's impeccable performance gave birth to a powerful representation of Death.
As the franchise has now been handed over to David Harbour (as Hellboy) and director Neil Marshall, it is unlikely that the Angel of Death will make another big-screen appearance. Although Marshall has promised that he'll be using the R-rating to its fullest with the help of practical effects, it'll be up to the fans to decide how the reboot fares in comparison to del Toro's masterpiece.
Do you want the Angel of Death to make a reappearance in Hellboy: Rise of the Red Queen? Sound off in the comment section!