‘The Shape of Water’: How Guillermo del Toro Designed His Latest Monster

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is a virtuoso maker of monsters—from the Pale Man of Pan’s Labyrinth to Pacific Rim’s Kaiju, they’re wondrous yet terrifying. But the star of his new film, The Shape of Water, is no mere beast, del Toro says: “He’s a leading man.” The Cold War fairy tale depicts a doomed romance between a captive fish-man and a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins). Del Toro collaborated with sculptors for three years to perfect his amphibian, from the creature’s Renaissance nose to his statuesque derriere. (It’s carefully shaped from foam latex.) We asked the beastmaster to dissect his work.

MIKE HILL

Gleaming Eyes
“In sculpting the white of the eye, the imperfections are important. His acrylic eyes are backed by a reflective material so they catch the light, like a coyote’s eye in a car headlight.”

Defined Nose
“I wanted to make the Michelangelo’s David of amphibian men, so we created this Greek-like nose. He has an amazing profile.”

Fierce Claws
“If you make him adorable, it’s boring. So at first he seems threatening, then he seems cuddly, then he eats a goddamn cat. It’s important to keep the aggressive design lines.”

Agile Legs
Doug Jones wears the ­creature’s foam latex suit. “He moves like an animal in some scenes and like a toreador in others.”

Expressive Brow
“We made an eyebrow ridge that looks angry, then painted a line near it to appear sad. Depending on how we light him, the expression can change.”

Artful Gills
“The body paint refers to a Japanese engraving from the Edo period of a beautiful black fish.”

Sinewy Webbing
“This webbing makes him buoyant. If the creature were swimming, it would be like a hydrodynamic skydiving suit.”


This article appears in the December issue. Subscribe now.

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