Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Del Toro’s Creatures

“There is one aspect of me that is absolutely in love with what I call the Monster Movie,” says del Toro. “And in a monster movie, you want to see the creatures. I think you can have ambiguity for a while in the movie, but eventually you’ve got to show the monsters.”

The ten scenes with heavy cast / creature interaction were first constructed as visualization sequences prior to shooting. EP Stephen Jones explains: “The visualization is a simple cartoon computer version of the scene that the director signs off on. The crew look at it, and work out how to shoot it.” The pre-vis is an efficient method to work out which set elements are needed and what the visual effects crew need to do on the shoot day. “So it’s an integral relationship between costing and logistics as much as anything,” explains Jones. Scale versions of the creatures known as “stuffies” were used on set during the shoot to show the actors the creature positions and for cinematographer Oliver Stapleton to ascertain the framing and how the light and shadows fell. These scale versions could be manipulated into various positions and puppeteered on set, however they will be completely replaced in the finished film by computer generated creatures and visual effects.

Nixey says, “We knew we wanted the homunculi to be small, we wanted to have some inkling or some nod to the original version, and make them as scary as possible, these ancient, old, wrinkly little things. It was back and forth with ideas here and there until we came up with something we were all happy with, and we hope, scares another generation of kids.”

Bringing the creatures from concept into a physical reality and then to digital form was the responsibility of visual effect producer Scott Shapiro who came on board in the early days of pre-production. “Once Miramax had approved the maquette we went through different design cycles with a company called Spectral Motion in Los Angeles,” explains Shapiro. “A back and forth process between Troy and Guillermo and the producers took place basically figuring out what their design attributes would be. Then the artist sculpted these in clay.” Once the clay was approved it was sent to a Los Angeles company Gentle Giant where a very high-resolution cyber scan was carried out. “The scan picks up all details in the model, all the intricacies of the design, all the way down to the pore structure that was in the sculpture.” Shapiro explains: “What you end up with is a 3D head, it’s a very dense model… it’s that fingerprint of what this sculpture is, and from that we create a lower res model that’s lighter weight that the finishing company, Iloura, can use. And from that comes our 3D model.”

There were eight main homunculi, each personalized by the filmmakers with names and characteristics. The first one was aptly titled The One We Have – because in the early stages of pre-production, it was literally the only one they had to work with. The others include Jawbone, who has a misshapen jaw. “Troy liked the idea of a war veteran who had come back, and potentially Jawbone had his jaw set on the field and not in hospital, so yes it’s set badly, it’s horribly misaligned.” explains Shapiro. “We have Growth who has a horrible cauliflower growth on part of his head. We have Dent who fell out of his crib at a young age and has a dent in his head, we have Blackwood who is based on the actor who plays the role of Blackwood, and of all our homunculi, he’s the one who looks the most like someone we would recognize in the movie. And we have Digit who plays his son.”

Nixey’s inspiration was informed by numerous sources and he says, “There’s a lot of animal and nature influence to their movement in the way they attack en masse.” His research also included footage from the black and white 1967 documentary Titicut Follies about the treatment of patients at Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. Nixey said he was “looking at people who have mental problems and the mannerisms and tics they have, and adding that as well, so when [the homunculi] come up off all fours, and onto two legs, it’s going to be full on, it’s going to be very unnerving.”