ByRoselyn, writer at
Lover of cinema old and new, connoisseur of wit and style, and seeker of the unusual and extraordinary

As a self-professed lover of creatures great and small, del Toro's movies all involve otherworldly monsters. From the iconic Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth, to the Kaijus in Pacific Rim, del Toro's monsters are always memorable and magnificent. However, the amphibious man in his most recent movie, The Shape of Water, is his most remarkable creature yet. So, let’s take a look at how del Toro’s came up with the design for the creature, and how he brought him to life on screen.

A Leading Man

In , the creature falls in love with a mute cleaning lady, Eliza, after being brought to an American government facility to be studied during the Cold War. In order for this relationship to be believable, del Toro was challenged with designing a creature that could, without being too humanoid, work as a leading character.

In GQ Magazine, del Toro recounted what he told his designers:

“We are not doing a movie creature but a leading man. Let's construct him as a beautiful work of art. Let's not build him as a creature, but as something that looks precious. Something that, if you look at it the right way, you want it to live. You want it to exist in our world.”

Having watched The Shape of Water, I can confidently say that achieved this perfectly. From the first moment the amphibious man is introduced, you never view him as ‘it’, but rather as a unique character. His design strikes a delicate balance between remaining inhuman enough to be otherworldly while also being human enough for you, and Eliza, to connect with him.

'The Shape of Water' [Credit: Fox Searchlight]
'The Shape of Water' [Credit: Fox Searchlight]

It’s surely difficult to deliver a unique design for a creature due to the sheer number of monster movies already in existence, but del Toro managed to do just that, as his amphibious man is a wholly original and intricately beautiful character. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, del Toro explained his process.

“It took three years to design it from beginning to end because I didn’t want to reference either the creature I created in 'Hellboy'…or the 'Creature From the Black Lagoon'… I would reference Japanese engravings of black carps, I would reference salamanders and natural animals, but at the same time we would reference… swimmers’ bodies and bull-fighter bodies.”

Doug Jones Brings The Creature To Life

'The Shape of Water' [Credit: Fox Searchlight]
'The Shape of Water' [Credit: Fox Searchlight]

Doug Jones has worked with del Toro on a number of his movies, from Pan’s Labyrinth, and Hellboy to Crimson Peak. For The Shape of Water, Jones deserves praise for the emotional intelligence he is able to bring to his role as the amphibious man. Though the creature is unable to speak English, you are able to understand him perfectly - which is a key component to the film's acclaim.

In order to bring the amphibious man to life, actor Doug Jones was painted with layers of make-up and special effects prostheses. In a Q&A session at The Toronto International Film Festival, del Toro discussed how he was able to create such an incredible creature with minimal technology. He explained that first you sculpt models of the creature out of clay, then “you do an experiment with the light, you move the light around and find all the possibilities that shape has”.

'The Shape of Water' [Credit: Fox Searchlight]
'The Shape of Water' [Credit: Fox Searchlight]

Depending on how the light bounces off the shape, and depending on which color of light is used, different facial expressions emerge.

Del Toro also explained that they used a variation of morphing, a technique that morphs one image into another seamlessly, to generate the facial expressions that could not be achieved traditionally. It was used to “blink the eyes and do micro expressions with the brow or the top of the mouth”. The result is a creature that truly looks like a living, breathing being.

The Shape of Water arrives in theaters on December 8, 2017. So, be sure to check out Guillermo del Toro's newest creature on the big screen!

(Sources: The Hollywood Reporter, GQ Magazine, TIFF)


Latest from our Creators