What is the secret behind Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water and how has it captured many hearts in the cinemas and much recognition in recently concluded awards nights?
The Shape of Water has won four out of 14 nominations at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, won Best Director and Best Score out of seven nominations at the prestigious Golden Globe Awards, and is nominated in 12 categories in the upcoming British Academy Film Awards on February 18.
But more than the accolades that the film took home, The Shape of Water has entranced many moviegoers because of its riveting plot, protagonist Sally Hawkins’s one-of-a-kind performance as Elisa Esposito, and her heart-grabbing love story with The Asset, the amphibian-humanoid creature in the film played by actor Doug Jones.
The Asset in The Shape of Water is easily this season’s biggest and most artistic film project. It really was a huge feat for both Jones and the people tasked to bring to life such a grandiose concept for the character. This is why painstaking attention to detail, reworks, revisions, and a brilliant marriage of effects and skillful makeup were instrumental to The Asset’s creation.
There were two main cinematic inspirations for the creature that was to star in the movie. According to NZ Herald, Director del Toro’s childhood favorite Creature from the Black Lagoonwas the main inspiration for the Asset and he has been very vocal about this in various press interviews and special screenings. Del Toro told Timeout that his compassionate and obsession with the Creature from the classic horror film started when he was six years old.
“When I saw [Creature’s leading lady] Julie Adams swimming in her white bathing suit and the Creature swimming underneath it, I was 6 and I felt overwhelmed with emotions I couldn’t explain. I thought they would end up together. They didn’t. It became a home invasion movie – this creature is pottering around in its river and in came these guys to capture him, kill him. I thought what an unfair movie this was. What a beautiful creature. And it stayed with me.”
In an interview with Deadline,The Shape of Water creature designer Mike Hill, Legacy Effects Supervisor and co-creature designer Shane Mahan, and visual effects supervisor Dennis Berardi also shared that a Disney movie made its mark into the creation of The Asset.
According to Mahan, Beauty and the Beast was the model they followed in creating a creature that the audience can relate to, and even learn to love. Del Toro revealed that creating the movie during the start was a challenge since they had to successfully sell the idea of a woman falling in love with a fish man, in a way that Beauty and the Beast was able to do it with Belle and the Beast.
In the end, Del Toro felt that because the creature is not an animal per se, but a river god, they were able to get away with it.
“I think that’s the view the movie has about human nature – can we break through the barrier of the idea of ‘the other’? If the movie was prurient and winking and perverse about it, then yeah, you have a problem, but the movie is so natural about it. I think perversity is in the eye of the beholder.”
According to Hill, it’s additionally tricky to create a fish man creature when there have been so many prior fish-human hybrids in different media. That’s why he wanted to focus on the face–the big eyes, the tiny nose, and the fish lips–and create a unique color scheme based from various fishes.
Hill reveals that his major inspiration for the color palette of The Shape of Water’s creature came to him when he was eating in a Thai restaurant. While having lunch, Hill noticed a goldfish inside the tank that was colored black and blue, with black and gold underneath it.
They also experimented with a lot of varieties such as a salamander-based hybrid creature and a piranha concept for The Shape of Water’s creature’s mouth.
In the end, the team was able to come up with a digital rendering and a real suit that the actor Jones would wear. Their primary goal was for The Shape of Water audience to not be able to tell the difference when it’s Jones or a digital rendering–and they did that pretty well.
“To commend Jones, he’s probably one of the world’s favorite canvases to put this stuff on. To put on a wet suit—a soaking wet sponge—and then have to go out in below-zero weather, in the rain, that guy deserves an award just for being who he is,” Hill added.
The Shape of Water is still set to screen in various cinemas around the world and Del Toro hopes that his movie could tackle today’s most pressing issues despite setting the film in 1962.
“It’s about now, it’s about today. It’s about gender marginalisation, toxic masculinity, dominance, overbearing power, racial divisions. It’s about everything we’re experiencing now. But if I set it today, it’ll take one ping-pong of arguments to lie ourselves into silence. We will nullify each other really quick. But if it’s ‘Once upon a time in 1962, there was a woman who could have no words, and there was a creature that spoke none’, then you’re in. Then you can lower your guard and listen to the fairytale.”