You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Colors Play a Key Role in Production Design of Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Shape of Water’

In Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” a woman and a humanoid ocean creature fall in love against the backdrop of Cold War tensions. While the Fox Searchlight picture, set for release Dec. 8, went to great lengths to capture its early ’60s period with stark realism, it highlighted the movie’s fantasy aspect as well, according to production designer Paul Austerberry.

In the movie, protagonist Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute who lives above a movie theater across the hall from failed artist Giles (Richard Jenkins). Austerberry reflected their friendship by designing their apartment interiors to be two halves of a whole. “Her world is water surrounded with cyan, blues, aged texture and furniture shaped with curves, while his place is bounded by gold and mustard colors to signify warmth and empathy,” says the production designer.

Rich detail went into the walls of Elisa’s place, where key scenic artist Matthew Lammerich layered a version of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s iconic “The Great Wave” over patterns of fish scales influenced by Anglo-Japanese wallpaper. “Everything inside her home hinted at water or the ocean,” Austerberry notes.

The concrete-heavy high-security government lab where Elisa works as a custodian is run by an abusive military man, Col. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). For that environment, Austerberry referenced Brutalist architecture from the ’50s to the ’70s. The lab, where the creature is kept in an indoor pool, is a mix of high-tech mid-century design. A myriad of heavy iron pipes (made of styrofoam) line the wall in a rising-sun pattern.

The lab’s interior is imbued with green hues, creating the unsettling mood and “grimy and steamy feel” that del Toro desired, Austerberry notes. The creature, captured in South America, arrives in the lab in an iron lung, according to the script — a cylindrical capsule that took two months to fabricate. “We did more aging to the sets than what would normally be required, but we wanted it to be slightly romanticized as a fantasy fairy tale,” Austerberry explains.

The color teal is spread methodically throughout the hallways and detailed in the tile of the lab to signify the future. It even shows up when Strickland purchases his new Cadillac, “the car of the future.” Strickland’s office is also tied into the theme, with greenish-blue tiles creating the backdrop to the glass-enclosed command center that sits high above the floor.

The interiors of the bathroom in Elisa’s apartment were constructed from aluminum over wood and plaster, allowing it to be magically submerged in water when she brings the creature home.

For other scenes, the visual effects department, led by Dennis Berardi, extended sets to let the storyline breathe, adding a chocolate factory in the distance or the finishing touches to the marquee above a theater.

Says Austerberry: “This was always a passion project for Guillermo. He wanted to do this film before ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising,’ and what we were able to accomplish on a tight budget shows how prolific he is as a director.”

More Artisans

  • Home Again Trinidad and Tobago

    Trinidad and Tobago Attracts Producers by Adding Hefty Cash Incentive to Visual Lures

    A dual-island Caribbean nation that fits fulfills the all visual requirements of a tropical paradise, Trinidad and Tobago offers a striking variety of shooting locales ranging from azure waters, white sands, thick jungle, sprawling savannahs and – on the urban side – bustling cities. Though the islands have predominantly housed local films, they are now [...]

  • Netflix Our Planet Sophie Darlington

    Netflix's 'Our Planet' Roars to Life With Work by Top Wildlife Cinematographers

    In terms of scope, production time and — very likely — budget, Netflix’s “Our Planet” is one of the most ambitious projects from the streaming service to date. Narrated by David Attenborough and made available worldwide on April 5, the goal of the eight-part series is to capture diverse habitats across the globe and highlight [...]

  • Les Miserables BBC

    BBC's 'Les Miserables' Recreates the Dark World of Victor Hugo's Novel

    Director Tom Shankland didn’t want his “Les Miserables” to be anything like the stage-musical version of Victor Hugo’s sweeping historical novel, nor like the 2012 Tom Hooper feature-film musical.  For the BBC limited series — a drama starring Olivia Colman, Lily Collins, David Oyelowo and Dominic West, which aired the first of its six episodes in [...]

  • Marsai Martin Little Movie

    How the 'Little' Production Team Created Look of Marsai Martin-Regina Hall Comedy

    What if you could return to a time in your childhood and relive your life from that point knowing what you know now? That’s the fantasy at the core of Universal’s “Little,” released April 12, in which Regina Hall’s Jordan Sanders, a character overwhelmed by the pressures of adulthood, gets the chance to relive the [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8 BTS

    How 'Game of Thrones'' Locations Have Expanded With the Series

    When the eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” debuts on April 14, the show’s millions of followers will once again be transported to the exotic lands and sweeping landscapes where the saga is set. From King’s Landing to The Wall, stunning locations have been woven into the fabric of “Thrones” since its [...]

  • In The Dark CW

    How 'In the Dark' Trained a Regular Dog to Act as a Guide Dog

    There used to be an adage in show business about never working with animals or children, but for Violetta Hessing, there’s nothing more fulfilling than finding a dog that wants to be on set and training it to deliver just as much emotion as its human scene partners. Hessing owns and is the head trainer [...]

  • Ryan Higa Youtube Star

    YouTube Star Ryan Higa Shows the Way to Maintain Independence With DIY Studio

    Hollywood creatives have always dreamed of having total control of their work. For most of them, it has been just that: a dream.  But that doesn’t hold true for a new breed of content creators: YouTube influencers. These individuals, with no corporate boss to answer to, and whose work is growing in scope and impact, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content