THE SHAPE OF WATER
About The Production (Continued)
THE HEART OF THE CREATURE
Taking a role that exists on the border between human, animal and myth is Doug
Jones, who utilized both a
meticulously-designed prosthetic costume and an extraordinary knack for physical
expressiveness to forge the
creature. Jones has a rare skill set, having worked repeatedly with del Toro
embodying his creations. Jones was the
unforgettable Pale Man in PAN'S LABYRINTH, Abe Sapien in the HELLBOY series and
an ancient vampire in
"The Strain." But, like Hawkins, he never imagined he'd be the lead in a love
Says Hawkins of Jones: "Doug gives such an ingenious and beautiful performance
and it had to be, because
it's such a fragile thing we explore. We're two different species falling in
love, but it had to feel real, and it had to be
right. Luckily, I couldn't help but fall in love with Doug the way he embodied
There was never a crumb of doubt in del Toro's mind that Jones would be the
creature. "We've been working
together for 20 years and he's done some of the most crucial roles in my
movies," del Toro notes. "He is one of the
few guys who does creatures who is also a full-fledged dramatic actor. Often
those are two separate gifts, but Doug
has them both. He's a fantastic actor with or without makeup."
Del Toro adds: "If you don't have an actor inside the creature's suit, you don't
have a movie - and Doug is not
a performer, he's an actor. I think of such moments as when he enters the movie
theater and you realize the creature
has never seen a movie before. Those are actor moments. I also remember before
Richard Jenkins did the bathroom
scene where he is getting to know the creature, Richard was worried he would be
acting with a monster suit.
Afterwards, Richard came to me and said 'the moment you said action, I was in
front of an ancient water god.' He
felt all the pain and the confusion of the creature in Doug."
The only way in for Jones was a kind of imagination-fueled empathy, trying to
intuit in his bones what life
might be like for a keenly intelligent, amphibious creature hunted and dragged
from its home to be studied by an alien
species. "He's very, very alone because he's the last of his species," Jones
describes. "He's also never been outside
his river so he doesn't understand where he is or why. He's being tested and
biopsied all because the government
thinks, 'we're going to use this thing to our advantage somehow.'"
But there is much more to the creature than the government agents can see. Jones
perceives the enigmatic
character as having a unique power to reflect people's desires back at them.
"Even though he's this freak of nature,
he has an angelic kind of quality," he observes. "He comes into people's lives
and he seems to expose and amplify
whatever is going on inside a human being."
As he seeps into Elisa's life, emotions unspool for both of them. "Their
communication is by necessity beyond
words, entirely based on vision and feeling," Jones muses. "Both characters are
out of their element in the larger
world but when they're together that disappears."
Physically, Jones used an image that del Toro gave him to base his movements
around: "He said the creature
has the bearing of a sexy, dangerous toreador -- but with the fluidity of the
Once he started working with Hawkins, rehearsing for a month before shooting
began, their characters moved
from the abstract to the alive. "It was just gorgeous to explore with Sally how
much you can say to one another without
any verbal dialogue," Jones says. "And then you see how the power of their love
inspires Elisa to buck the system, to
step way outside her comfort zone."
Their love scene took Jones himself way out of his comfort zone. He admits he
never foresaw doing a sex
scene, no matter how artfully, in a monster suit -- but it also took him into a
place of pure physical communication.
"In that scene, I'm thinking as a being who's never before experienced touch or
intimacy. He and Elisa are both
experiencing this for the first time, so it has a very unique kind of
Jones especially relished the unbreakable trust he found with Hawkins. "We're
both playing such
unconventional characters without any precedent so we bonded over that," he
notes. When the camera rolled, their
connection was palpable. "I would get so lost in watching Sally that I'd forget
what I was doing. There's something
so real, so raw about Sally, I just fell for her, much as the creature does."
Octavia Spencer, who plays Elisa's friend and coworker Zelda, recalls the sudden
emotions of seeing footage
of Elisa and the creature interacting for the first time: "It was so beautiful
and touching, I didn't realize I would have
the type of response I did: I just started sobbing watching it."
AMPHIBIAN MAN: THE CREATION
There have been human-fish hybrids or mermen seen on screen before - including
Guillermo del Toro's own
Abe Sapien from HELLBOY - but for the creature in THE SHAPE OF WATER, del Toro
wanted to leave all
predecessors behind. He envisioned raising the bar to a new level of realism,
crafting a being of such biological
plausibility it might inspire a human woman's mad passion.
Three years before THE SHAPE OF WATER began shooting on sound stages in Toronto,
del Toro hired Guy
Davis and Vincent Proce to begin design work on the lab and the water cylinder.
The next year he hired two sculptors,
David Meng and Dave Grosso to begin working on the design of his Fish Creature
at his Bleak House workshop at
his own expense.
Del Toro was so committed to getting the creature right, he financed the design
of the creature from his own
pocket, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in a process that took some 9
months of gestation. "I knew I wanted
the creature to feel real but at the same time for it to be beautiful which is a
very hard line to tow," confesses del Toro.
"I knew it was going to take a long time, so I didn't even put it in the film's
budget. This is truly the hardest creature
design I've ever done."
Early on, he assembled a crack team of artists who are pros at infusing life
into the imaginary, including Shane
Mahan of Legacy Effects, a creature designer extraordinaire and visual effects
supervisor known for his awardwinning
work bringing the superhero IRONMAN to life and for PACIFIC RIM; and Mike Hill,
a renowned sculptor
who specializes in ultra-realistic models of monsters from classic horror movies
and has worked on such films as
THE WOLFMAN, APOCALYPTO and MEN IN BLACK 3.
The team worked tirelessly from sketchbook to maquette to the fully-realized
creature suit that transformed
Doug Jones. Says Hawkins of what they achieved: "I feel the creature is one of
the most beautiful things I've ever
seen. I had to be reacting to someone who feels alluring to Elisa and because of
their work that came naturally. I
didn't see Doug at all; I saw this incredible, mysterious specimen. Others might
see a monster but Elisa sees
something else entirely and that comes across."
Del Toro had his own way of testing whether the design was attractive enough.
"Every night, I took it to my
home and got the female vote: enough ass or not enough ass, enough abs or more
abs, shoulders bigger or slimmer?
It just had to be a creature you could love fall in love with."
The initial inspiration for the creature came directly out of nature, with his
bioluminescent skin, layered eyes
and strong, sucking lips merging into a sleek, humanoid-style form. For those
whose love is sculpting new life forms,
the proposition of creating something so original was jaw-dropping.
Explains Shane Mahan: "The idea from the beginning was to really push the idea
of an aquatic form of life that
has existed for millennia, to make it feel like a living creature from the sea
with the kind of shifting, phosphorus colors
you would see in tropical fish, but in a fleshy form that is compelling."
Looking for someone to blow the whole process open, del Toro recruited Hill,
having recently been wowed by
his life-like monster sculptures at a horror film convention. "Mike has a
connection with monsters that is uncanny,
and I thought we needed that level of insight," says the director. "The
difficulty with this creature is that we were not
just sculpting a creature - we were sculpting a leading man."
Hill recalls the mission del Toro set for him: "He said he wanted me to give the
creature a soul. He wanted it
to be something a woman could fall head over heels for in every way. So I
started sketching a handsome looking
version of a fish man, giving him kissable lips, a square jaw and doe eyes and I
went from there."
The process got so intense, Hill spent night and day collaborating with del Toro
on clay sculptures, each
sketching and scratching and revising the forms over and over. "After weeks and
weeks and weeks of sketching with
the clay, we finally nailed it," del Toro recalls.
The creature was now reinvented in a more sinewy form. "I wanted to make him a
bit more caliph like, and
because Doug is so slim, I thought let's not waste that, and let's not build
bulk," explains Hill.
Hill and del Toro perused an encyclopedia's worth of real-life fish as they
worked. "We wanted him to look
like something that you might see washed up on the shore of a beach and at first
think, oh, that looks kind of like a
fish, so it was important to use realistic fish colors that are familiar to
people," Hill says.
The enchanting tropical lionfish, a vibrantly colored, venomous creature native
to the Pacific became the model
for how the creature would eat - with its internal membrane that allows the fish
to swallow its food in record time.
Hill also looked to the natural world for the creature's translucent
bioluminescence. "People with aquariums are often
attracted to glowing, see-through fish so we wanted to echo that idea," he
elaborates. "Later, Legacy came up with a
way to re-create that idea in an opaque suit that looks fantastic."
Even with the clay designs completed, only half the work was done. The next step
was equally tough: turning
the models into a series of practicable latex suits that a human being could
move inside. Legacy transformed Hill's
maquettes into a magnified, digital image, which was then sculpted further,
etching in more muscularity and
vascularity. Work also began on the creature's facial elements, especially his
eyes. Recalls Mahan: "One of the
early conversations was that Guillermo wanted the eyes to be changeable on set
in order to change the mood or look
of the creature. Since you can't take Doug's makeup off to change them, we ended
up coming up with a magnetic
system to interlock the eyes. It was the only solution. Once we were shooting,
we would change the eyes four or five
times a night."
The most minor seeming details - for example, creating a working set of gills
for the creature - garnered
tremendous time and thought. Says Mahan: "His gills were especially challenging
because we were dealing with a
lot of water in some scenes. But they were also exciting, because the gills
gives the creature an additional way of
reacting without words and we could use Doug's breathing to enhance emotions
like excitement, anger or affection."
As early renditions of the suit were put through their paces, del Toro was a
constant driving force for the Legacy
team. "He has a love for our craft that is infectious," says Mahan. "He would
meet with us anytime, late on a Friday
night or on a Sunday, and he was involved at every turn. It's very rare that you
find that kind of interest in being so
super refined and for us, that kind of obsession is inspiring. You end up
wanting to invest more and more into making
it as great as it can possibly be."
Finally, four spectacularly intricate suits, each capable of getting
waterlogged, were made for the production.
Says del Toro: "Shane and the whole team at Legacy were incredible partners in
the design. They were instrumental
in developing the color, solving the logistics and reconciling the beauty of the
design Mike and I did with something
that would be truly functional."
Painstakingly constructed as it was, the suit proved to be a daily challenge for
Jones, who had to not only learn
to live in it, but to fall in love inside it. Legacy made it as pliable as it
could possibly be, though it still had the quality
of a constricting vise. "The suit is super tight and inside it there are actual
corsets to make it even tighter. But we
segmented the abdominal plates so that they do give and move a little bit. It's
not solid, so it can create the graceful
motions the story demands of Doug," Mahan says.
The skin-tight fit and athletic nature of moving in the suit pushed Jones to
"get into the best shape of my life"
at age 56, he says. "I knew this would be my most physically demanding role, so
that spurred me. Just wearing the
suit, which has foam latex rubber and silicone designed to always spring back to
the position it was sculpted in, was
an intense work out. Every movement is like doing a pushup or a pull-up."
Jones's extensive transformation also meant spending two to four hours daily in
the makeup chair. In some
scenes, he was entirely blinded by prosthetic eyes. The suit also took four
people to hoist Jones into it. "It was a daily
comedy of tugging and pulling and baby powdering as well as shoving, shifting,
zipping and snapping as four grown
men pulled on my arms and legs," Jones laughs.
SHAPING THE VISUAL EFFECTS
The film's visual effects supervisor, regular del Toro collaborator Dennis
Berardi, became another key partner
in crafting the creature's full existence. When Berardi read THE SHAPE OF WATER
he says he was overcome with
feeling - and also excitement about what lay ahead. "I could see how my team
could make a real contribution to the
film's core emotional components and I was all in," he recalls.
Berardi began by creating an exacting digital double of Doug Jones in the
prosthetic suit. "Guillermo wanted
the creature to not only be able to emote like Doug but to also move underwater
in a certain way so we did a lot of
early movement tests with our Animation Team at Mr. X and we got to the point
where we could do a digital version
of the creature that could match up with Doug's beautiful performance," he says.
Crafting the underwater movements was a research-intensive process that involved
looking not only at
Olympian human swimmers but such aquatic species as sharks, puffins, otters and
penguins. "We looked at anything
that moves very gracefully through the water in order to base it all in
reality," Berardi explains.
The result was a digital mirror reflecting Jones's powerful acting with the
added dimensions of a creature that
doesn't exist -- the real and the unreal aligning in synch. Berardi even played
with the creature's colors, shifting them
with his mood. "Our hope is that the audience can't distinguish at all between
the digital version of the creature or
the Doug Jones version. Doug's performance informs our animation and I think our
animation has also informed how
Doug was photographed. If the audience can't tell which is which, we will have
succeeded," says Berardi.
Del Toro's encyclopedic knowledge of cinematic history, especially monster movie
history, was a constant
resource. "He knows creatures like the back of his hand," Berardi muses. "I can
show him any reference from any
movie and he can destruct the method used to create it. So that gives him a
unique ability to communicate what he
wants based on stuff that he's seen and also what's in his mind. He gives you
magical inspiration, then challenges
you to bring your own ideas to the table, which is so rewarding."
SHOOTING THE UNREAL FOR REAL: THE CINEMATOGRAPHY
THE SHAPE OF WATER's shadowy atmosphere drops the audience into the depths of
the story - and Dan
Laustsen's creative cinematography was vital to achieving del Toro's vision.
"The final design of the creature is done
with light," del Toro emphasizes. "If I did not have a D.P. who understood that
it wouldn't work. Dan also
understands it's not just about key light, cross light, rim light, etcetera.
He's not technical; he's emotional. I think all
great cinematographers are emotional. A great cinematographer is like an
orchestra conductor - he transmits emotion
with light instead of musical notes."
Laustsen recalls that as he read the script he wondered aloud: "How are we ever
going to shoot this?" He goes
on: "But then I talked to Guillermo and his vision was so strong, I started to
believe it was possible. This film was
both a big challenge and a fantastic experience for me."
The rich silence of the film's two leads especially tantalized Laustsen. "That
whole idea of two mute characters
connecting is very cinematic," he muses. Equally inspiring was the idea of using
a kind of visual liquidity to make
the whole narrative ebb and flow like water. "Everything's in motion in the
film," Laustsen describes. "Guillermo
wanted lots of camera movement, and he likes very precise movement, so we worked
with all kinds of cranes, dollies
and Steadicams, and it was very exciting."
Laustsen put the much-loved Arri Alexa digital camera through its paces, using
Arri/Zeiss Master Prime lenses,
which allowed for maximum precision. He explains, "Guillermo wants crisp, crisp
images where everything is sharp,
and you can really see the details with this combination."
Early on, del Toro and Laustsen flirted with shooting the film in a classic
black & white, but they reversed
course - and both agree it was a catalytic decision. Working instead with
monochromatic tones of color, they
meticulously shifted light and texture to craft a more modern, yet desaturated
look, full of deep-sea tones. Explains
del Toro: "I knew I wanted the film to be monochromatic, so most of the palette
is blues and greens with amber as a
counter-balance. Red only comes in as the color of blood and love."
An almost architectural lighting design formed a centerpiece of the work. "Dan
is a genius with light," muses
del Toro, "and he was able to light the film as if it was 1950s black & white
even though we use color. The light is
very expressionistic and full of shadows and I think feels very classic."
Lighting was especially vital when shooting the creature. "He's not really a
terrifying character, but he is
fascinating and the camera is fascinated with him," says Laustsen. "Is he an
animal? Could you call him a person?
In terms of the cinematography he had to be lit very, very carefully, because of
course as an audience member you
want to see every part of him, but we also wanted to keep him a bit mysterious."
For some of the underwater sequences, Laustsen went Old School, harking back to
the technique of shooting
"dry for wet," creating the illusion of water. This involved utilizing heavy
smoke, wind machines and projection to
create a dripping, pulsating atmosphere akin to water -- while allowing the
actors to work with their eyes open, vital
to their expressions. Says del Toro: "We did a lot of research on how to do dry
for wet well - from how many frames
per second to use to how you can create floating particles. We knew the key was
to create a video projection of
caustic light on the characters that is very operatic."
Recalls Doug Jones: "When we did the dry for wet scenes, Sally and I were
working in fog with lights
zigzagging around like waves. It was quite unusual, but when I saw the video
playback, I was like, 'dang that looks
Real water also played a role in the bathroom sequences, which meant challenging
tank work. Summarizes
Laustsen: "Shooting underwater is always a big challenge because of the lack of
communication. But the underwater
part of things was the really the least of our worries in those scenes. Most of
all, we wanted Elisa to look amazing
and the creature to look a little scary and the whole thing to be very, very
THE LOOK OF WATER: THE DESIGN
Del Toro is as much a world-builder as he is a director, and for THE SHAPE OF
WATER, the world he wanted
to create was a blend of historically authentic Cold War America with the patina
of a timeless legend. The design was
ambitious. Elisa might lead a quiet, nearly invisible life but she roams through
realms that are epic: from the covert
government laboratory where she works to the apartment leaking flickering light
from a B-movie theatre below to the
Maryland coast where the film reaches its climax. Like the fluidity of the
camera, the design features curves and
serpentines set against a world where hard lines can be drawn in men's minds.
Says J. Miles Dale: "Guillermo is undeniably a grand visualist. From the sets to
the costume to the camera, no
detail is too small for his attention. So that also makes him a kind of catnip
for designers. With Paul Austerberry, the
process started early, designing the lab, Strickland's office and home, Elisa
and Giles's apartments and the bathroom
that becomes so important to the story. He spent a lot of time really nailing
the palette, and it was the same with Luis's
costumes. Guillermo always has very specific ideas about colors and textures and
Luis just ran with that, coordinating
with Paul and Dan the whole way."
For del Toro, bringing in Austerberry - who is also working on the forthcoming
PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING -
was a must. "I fell in love with the fact that Paul has a very strong opinion of
design, meaning he could counter
anything I talked about with new ideas," del Toro says. "But even though Paul
has great ideas, he's also very practical
and that was important because this film had such a big scope, with complex sets
and underwater shooting. He had
to be able to orchestrate and manage all that."
Research and realism were the twin poles of Austerberry's work, which helped
transport cast and crew. "The
sets were like stepping into a painting," says Sally Hawkins. "That's what it
felt like to me."
Austerberry began by rooting his designs in the actuality of the early 60s, with
its mix of futurism and sleekly
functional mid-Century design. "Guillermo and I talked about basing the design
in reality so I started with a ton of
research, looking through books and archives of all kinds of government research
labs, pulling lots of references," he
says. "Guillermo always says you first need to make a place grounded in reality
in order for it to become fantastical,
so we were as authentic to the period as we could be in the story."
The laboratory, where the creature is housed in a secured, indoor pool,
establishes the mood with its blending
of emerging high tech with a timeless hall of horrors. "We didn't want a lab
that would come off too sterile and bright,
which is what you usually see, so we went the other way with a laboratory where
you feel lots of unsettling things
have gone on in there and it has some dark history," Austerberry explains.
The creature's room is a maze of pipework, ducting and cylindrical chambers.
Says del Toro: "For the creature's
compound, I wanted the feeling of a dungeon with all the chains, surgical tables
and the steampunk pipes. It is not a
pleasant, well-lit lab -- I wanted it to feel almost more medieval than modern
to add to the fairytale feeling."
Continues Austerberry: "The pipes you see look like heavy cast iron pipes, but
they're all done out of
Styrofoam. That set was such a complicated jigsaw puzzle, we were working on it
right down to the wire. On top of
everything else, we had to design everything to endure lots of water and steam
and for a huge lighting job as well."
Austerberry had in mind Brutalist architecture - the concrete-heavy,
function-based style that flourished from
the 50s to the 70s -- for the compound. Searching for a less angular version, he
found reference photos from a concrete
French sanatorium that was more rounded. "I didn't want hard, rectangular lines
which felt too modern sci-fi," he
Then there is the capsule in which the creature first arrives. "It's described
as an iron lung in the script so I
pulled lots of historical references of iron lungs. There was one in particular
Guillermo loved. He loved the color, the
shape and language of the materials. It was one of the first things we designed
actually because it took over 8 weeks
to fabricate. The idea is that the chamber is on wheels so it can then be
attached onto the larger pressurized cylinder
in the laboratory to transfer the creature."
For the laboratory's NASA-like "command center," Austerberry crafted a typically
1950s glass tile mosaic -
but out of tile-board, which allowed for rapid deployment. "I went looking in
the research for 50s wall murals and I
discovered a Lisbon tile mosaic that had a really amazing green-blue color
palette that Guillermo loved. You see a
lot of it because Strickland's office is so high up and otherwise fairly stark,
but there's this beautiful color palette
going on behind the big glass panes of windows."
Strickland's office floats above the command center, an eye in the sky, full of
surveillance equipment. "He
overlooks the minions working for him through the glass via an early
closed-circuit camera system we based on 1960s
TV studio set-ups. When you see Strickland behind this wall of images it really
speaks to how he sees himself as
above everyone and privy to all information he can take" Austerberry reflects.
The laboratory's bathroom and locker room each host key scenes and these were
shot in Toronto's massive
Hearn Generating Station, an old power station that has become an icon of a
bygone industrial age. "We looked at
Hearn because it has tiled rooms. Unfortunately, the tiles in Hearn are cream
and Guillermo was like, 'we can't have
that color in this movie,' so we ended up still using it but hand-painting every
tile to be in our palette," Austerberry
Austerberry especially loved designing Elisa and Giles's apartments sitting atop
a classic bijou-style movie
theatre. To forge the exterior, he used Toronto's Massey Hall -- a designated
National Historic Site of Canada, which
was designed in the neoclassical tradition by architect Sidney Badgley in 1894
and extensively refurbished in the
1940s to become a now popular performing arts theatre. Though it was never a
cinema it evoked the elegance of an
old movie palace and, with a lit marquee, fit the bill.
The interior is where Austerberry really took off creatively. Del Toro wanted
Elisa and Giles's apartments to
be two halves of a whole, much like their essence as friends, divided by an
The director describes: "Their apartments are like two hemispheres of the same
globe, but we lit each half
differently. With Giles, even if the scene was at night we lit it like sunset in
very warm tones. The color-coding of
Elisa's apartment is aquatic, with cool lighting and lots of cyan. Hers is
corroded by water, while his is not corroded
at all. His is full of wood and golden light, very grounded colors because he is
the grounding for Elisa, whereas Elisa's
apartment has the magical light of the cinema below."
Elisa's apartment was a favorite of both director and designer. "We talked a lot
about the idea that once this
was a grand room but at some point there was a fire and it never got repaired so
it looks very aged with that patina
Guillermo loves," says Austerberry. "Guillermo brought us an image he had from a
photography competition in India
with an old lady in a darkened room with a really aged textured and a cyan blue
wall in the background and that
became a big inspiration."
The walls were a major focus and an exhaustive quest led Austerberry to a
vintage Anglo-Japanese wallpaper
pattern featuring little curves that subtly resemble fish scales, similar to an
ancient Japanese engraving. He then
merged that pattern over a faded cresting wave reminiscent of 19th Century
Japanese artist Hokusai's iconic
woodblock print, "The Great Wave of Kanagawa."
"We had a scenic artist paint a beautiful version of the Great Wave in textured
plaster and then we just layered
and layered and layered over it until it's basically gone but you still sense
there's this shape of water on this wall,"
Austerberry describes. "Guillermo wanted the wall to be stark and subtle but to
tell a little story if you knew what you
were looking for. So that's how it became so finely detailed."
All of the walls in the apartment were created as "wild walls," meaning they
were all on quick-releases so that
could be moved at a moment's notice to accommodate a roving camera. In addition,
the windows each had to be
plumbed for the deluge of rain that leads up to the film's climactic moments.
When it came to the floor, Austerberry
crafted leaks in the subflooring so that light from the cinema penetrates
through, merging Elisa and Giles's daily life
with the movie fantasies running down below.
Then came the most challenging set of all: the modest, retro bathroom, which is
Elisa's oasis from the world -
and then becomes the creature's refuge and the site of their deepening romance.
Ultimately, Austerberry knew his
set would become a pool. "Our sets are generally made out of wood, Styrofoam and
plaster. But for this one we had
to make everything out of aluminum and Bondo instead of plaster because it all
would ultimately be submerged in a
tank. At one point, we actually lowered the sets slowly into the tank so that
you can see the water rise. It was all
very, very tricky to pull off," he describes.
Tricky as it all was, the pay-off was generous. "Elisa's flat simply took my
breath away," says Hawkins. "The
richness of it and the colors - it was like working inside a poem or incredible
piece of art."
Adding to the production design, visual effects supervisor Berardi helped to
place the story in a now-vanished
1960s Baltimore, recreating the city digitally from archival photos. "The idea
was that it should feel photo-real, yet
with that fableistic component -- which is a tough balance to strike," Berardi
notes. "What helped is that Guillermo
is so collaborative. Even when we came up with something pretty good, he was
always asking 'OK, what can we do
now to make it great? What's the next level?'"
The fuzzy line between fable and reality is also woven into the fabric of
Sequeira's costumes for THE SHAPE
OF WATER. "In Luis's work, every piece reflects the interior of a character,"
says del Toro, "from the beautiful
shark-skin suit for Strickland that is almost James Bond perfect to Elisa's
Sequeira has worked with del Toro on "The Strain," but this process was new. "On
this film, we didn't have a
lot of concept art so it all started from discussion on each of the characters
and their different worlds. Hundreds of
photos and images were collected and from that, we started really refining the
look of each character as part of the
storytelling," he explains.
Elisa's costumes were informed at once by her working-class status but also by a
subtly buoyant aquatic theme.
"Elisa isn't a person who has a lot of clothes, so she needed just a few pieces,
but very special pieces," says Sequeira.
"She is in blues and greens, watery colors, for the most part. There is a little
red only near the end of the film,
signifying a shift in her resolve."
Octavia Butler's Zelda is in contrasting colors. "I wanted to do a kind of a
bruised fruit palette for Octavia so
it would feel very different from Sally's character and different from all the
other female characters in the film as
well," says Sequeira.
Sequeira's team did a lot of their own crafting, creating everything from
Michael Shannon's hats to vintage
shoes, jewelry and undergarments. "One of the important things to Guillermo was
that the clothing not only be
accurate to the period but look as though it has lived a life," Sequeira says.
Watching his costumes in action on Austerberry's sets really brought it all home
for Sequeira. "That's the
beauty of film -- when the costumes combine with the hair, makeup, lighting,
sets and the actors it becomes something
magical," he says. "Suddenly, it's 1962, only it's Guillermo del Toro's unique
version of it."
DANCING IN THE DEEP
The film's entire collaborative circle - including cinematographer Dan Laustsen,
production designer Paul
Austerberry and costume designer Luis Sequeira - combined their creative
energies for one of the film's most unusual
sequences: a Golden Hollywood style song-and-dance number that could be out of a
1940s black-and-white feature
but for the fact it features a mute cleaning lady and piscine creature. Like the
classic movie musicals, the number is
reserved for a moment in which emotions burst out beyond the boundaries of
"The creature only knows about six words and Elisa wants to tell him, 'you'll
never know how much I love
you,' so she wonders how do I say it? That's when she starts singing," Del Toro
describes. "I knew this was a big
gesture for a film of this size and we would need to allocate the resources very
carefully. So we had just half a day
to shoot the musical number."
Rather than emulate the more static MGM musicals of the '40s, del Toro looked to
the more energetically fluid
style of Stanley Donen, famed for his debonair symbiosis with Gene Kelly on such
films as SINGIN' IN THE RAIN
and IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER. "Donen did all these sweeping cranes, so I thought
I'm going to mix the
aesthetics of a classical black-and-white musical with those cranes. It's a
combination of the two styles - and it comes
at a moment in the story when everything is so dire that it kind of breaks up
that energy and sets things flowing into
the last movement of the film," del Toro explains.
The scene was literally like a dream to Hawkins, a dream she's had since
childhood. "I was obsessed with
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as a child," she notes. "I watched nothing else.
But I never thought that I would ever
experience that kind of magical cinema myself. Yet here I was living that dream
and I got to wear the most beautiful
dress and glide into the air. Honestly by the end of the scene, I was so happy I
felt I never needed to work again. I
thought I might just go work in a bookshop for the rest of my life!"
Doug Jones was a bit taken aback by such an unconventional turn for a non-human
character, but he knew it
would work in del Toro's hands. "This movie musical moment is the most unusual
I've had as a creature but it's one
of those things only Guillermo could pull off," he reflects. "I could not wait
to do the scene. Sally and I were both a
bit terrified and excited, but that only seemed to unite us more."
Shot in color with vintage lighting, the sequence was later processed into a
time-warping black & white.
Meanwhile, Sequeira found joy in designing Elisa's vintage 1930s dress for the
dream dance number. "Ginger Rogers
was the inspiration but then there was a lot of working with the intensity of
the color and how it would respond to the
lighting to really maximize the impact," he describes.
Del Toro also brought in a full orchestra for the number, but notes it was
likely not what they were expecting.
"I think the orchestra probably thought they had been booked in a gig from hell
because they come in with their
tuxedos and their instruments and they sit down and then comes a fish-man and
woman in a sequin dress and they
start dancing," he laughs, "but it was a great day."
SOUND OF WATER: THE MUSIC
Guillermo del Toro collaborates for the first time with Oscar-winning composer
Alexandre Desplat on THE
SHAPE OF WATER - and both were immediately on the same page about all that the
music might convey in a film
where two characters use everything but words to connect to each other.
"This is probably the easiest relationship I've ever had with a composer because
Alexandre truly understood
the movie and its essence and his music is completely imbued with that," says
del Toro. "A good composer flows
with the camera moves and the emotion of the moment -- and I find Alexandre's
punctuation of those things is
impeccable and never obvious. Great scoring always adds another layer to the
story, and Alexandre knows how to
integrate music with dialogue, action and sound design."
Desplat says watching an early cut of the film hit home with him in a deep way.
"I think it's a beautiful,
beautiful love story - and I felt you could transpose this situation in the film
to any type of difference between
human beings. But the crucial thing for me creatively is that I was really
stunned by the fluidity of the camera," he
recalls. "The camera never stops. It's always in motion so you have a sensation
like water in the flow of the movie.
There's nothing more inspiring for music than a story that flows because you can
just surf on it. This story was very
special on that level."
As he began talking with del Toro, Desplat discovered they both admire many of
the same composers --
especially Nino Rota, who composed for the Italian masters Fellini and Visconti,
and George Delerue, who
composed for Truffaut, Godard and won an Oscar for George Roy Hill's A LITTLE
ROMANCE. "They were
composers who never forced emotion," observes Desplat. They were always trying
to bring true, deep feeling to
their music without overdoing it. And that was the approach here. The music is
not pushing you, not manipulating
you. Rather, it's the music of Elisa's heart beating and that's what we were
trying to achieve. It's not simplistic at
all, but it's meant to be something simple in an organic way."
They chose to develop a distinct theme for each of the main characters in a
back-and-forth process. For Elisa,
del Toro always heard a waltz, with its lively one-two-three rhythm and Desplat
suggested the accordion as a
vibrant and distinctive way to work with that idea ... the del Toro suggested
adding a whistle. "I always thought
Elisa's rhythm and tempo would be very waltzy," says del Toro. "But I also felt
we need something more than the
accordion and I thought, why don't we use a human whistle? Whistling is not used
enough in movies, but is
eminently human. So we did it."
Desplat found the instrumentation brought him deeper into Elisa and her
wellspring of vital energy. "There's
an innocence that we tried to capture with her thematic music. She's smart yet
she's somehow innocent. She likes
sex but at the same time she wants pure love. So there's something ambiguous
about her, something romantic and
lyrical, which was beautiful to play with in the music."
The fact that she is mute only made his compositions that much more significant.
"With a character who
doesn't speak, you have more space," Desplat explains. "You can expand the sound
more and say things with many
different colors in the instruments. In a way you can be more talkative
For the creature's theme, flutes dominate. "So much of the creature is about
breath, about oxygen or the lack
of oxygen, so flutes seemed to me to reflect the creature," says del Toro.
Desplat ran with that idea. "I suggested we change the lineup of the orchestra
to have 12 flutes -- alto flutes,
bass flutes and C flutes -- but no clarinets, no bassoons, no oboes. There's
very little brass, only in a few cues, so it's
really the strings and the flutes that bring the qualities of fluidity and
transparency that water has. We added to that
some piano, harp and vibraphone, instruments that have a pearl-like quality."
Then, Desplat composed a love theme for the duo. Says del Toro: "We wanted the
love theme to be very
emotional, not sentimentally artificial, so it's a variation on Elisa's theme."
Del Toro doesn't usually attend recording sessions, but this time was different.
"Alexandre said to me I
would love for you to be there to say 'more emotion' or 'less emotion.' And we
had such a unique collaboration
that I felt I was not an intruder into the process but could bring more ideas to
The day of recording the orchestra was a highpoint for Desplat. "I loved it," he
says. "Being on the floor
with the musicians and sharing my ideas and adjusting things was a great
pleasure. It's always amazing to hear an
orchestra blowing your own music back at you."
As for his rapport with del Toro, Desplat says: "For me Guillermo is as much as
an artist as a director. It is
the way in which those two things combine in him that makes his work so
That rare combination is what gave the entire cast and crew the courage to take
a dive into this underwater
story of such swirling cultural, political and personal resonance. Sums up Sally
Hawkins: "Guillermo has a unique
ability to go straight to the heart of things. He grabs you by the heart and
doesn't let you go. That's the experience
I went through making the film and I hope that's the experience people have
If I told you about her, the princess without voice, what would I say?
Would I tell you about the time...? It happened a long time ago in
the last days of a fair Prince's reign... Or would I tell you about the place?
A small city near the coast but far from everything else...
Or perhaps I would just warn you about the truth of these facts
and the tale of love and loss and the monster that tried to destroy it all...
--Giles, THE SHAPE OF WATER
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