“Hellboy 2” may have more monsters than any film in recent memory, some 32 compared with the original “Hellboy’s” five. And these monsters are noticeably more –monstrous.
That grotesque look started with an epiphany writer/director Guillermo del Toro had on “Pan’s Labyrinth.” While long known for his eccentric imagination, the director discovered that he had been “prudish without realizing it” in his earlier films.
“It’s like after you come out of the closet, you find out what you were missing,” del Toro told a recent gathering at the L.A. Film Festival. “Same thing here. I sort of let my hair loose on ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ came out and said ‘Holy Crap, this is the world. and it’s much more ample.’ I attacked this movie in the same way I attacked ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ from a design point of view, from an enjoyment point of view.”
That led to a simple but challenging set of marching orders for his creature design teams: “The conception was, let’s not make movie monsters. If it looks like a movie monster, I don’t want to shoot it, I don’t want to build it.”
And what, exactly, does a movie monster look like? “A movie monster looks like other movie monsters. If I see a furrowed brow, which is a dead giveaway, I have to discard the design.”
According to Mike Elizalde, president of Special Motion Inc. and a creature and makeup effects designer on the film, del Toro wanted his artists “to reach into their most primal creative instincts and come up with something unusual for each character.”
Elizalde’s group and the other creature designers dove into their libraries to look up medieval woodcuts, paintings by Hieronymous Bosch, Victorian illustrations, anything to stimulate their imaginations.
“On the first ‘Hellboy,’ says Elizalde, “there was a lot of elegance and beauty in the creature we created, Abe Sapien. This was going in the other direction, making things that would verge on the repulsive. Some of those creatures are quite ugly.”
That was a deliberate choice by del Toro. “I say physical ugliness is very important,” the helmer says. “Let us be free in our ugliness, our fattiness, our smelliness, the unpleasantness. Whatever the fuck we are, let us be. Let us be whatever we are. Monsters can be that.”
What’s more, del Toro wanted to get as much in camera with practical effects as possible, limiting the use of CGI, notably on the Angel of Death, which Elizalde calls his team’s “marquee piece of work.”
“We were able to create wings that unfurled and flapped and had an array of raptor-like eyes that blink and look around. That was strictly speaking, as an artist, the most beautiful piece we designed. It was a dark scary image but also beautiful and sublime to look at.”
The angel’s filigree breastplate also reflects del Toro’s ideas, says Elizalde.
“He wanted to erase the line between the organicand the construct, the detail and the decoration of the characters, and the soul of the character.”
Del Toro identifies with directors who loved their monsters: Hammer Films’ Terence Fisher, Italian horror maestro Mario Bava and “Bride of Frankenstein” helmer James Whale are his faves.
“There are monsters side to side with angels in cathedrals for a reason,” says del Toro. “They occupy the same parcel in the imagination of mankind that angels occupy. So they are part of the most essential storytelling impulse of humanity. I am absolutely in love with them.”