10 Things You Didn't Know About Guillermo del Toro's Monsters

Illustration for article titled 10 Things You Didn't Know About Guillermo del Toro's Monsters

The New Yorker has published a long and amazingly in-depth article about the modern-day godfather of monsters, Guillermo del Toro. Here are the 10 coolest bits, including a look at the new Frankenstein, and what GDT's Smaug could have been!

Illustration for article titled 10 Things You Didn't Know About Guillermo del Toro's Monsters

1) What his Frankenstein monster looks like (now)

Inspired by the 1983 illustrations of Bernie Wrightson, the concept designs of GDT's creature lacked a nose, and seemed far more gruesome than past Frankenstein creations (even the Robert De Niro version):

In accordance with Mary Shelley's description, the head appeared to have been stolen from a cadaver: there was exposed sinew around the jaw, and the cheekbones looked ready to poke through the scrim of flesh. Most appallingly, the Creature lacked a nose; a single bridge bone protruded over an oval breathing hole.

Granted, this could all change as GDT spent a lot of time asking for a more Boris Karloff-esque chin along with new variations of the nose hole — perhaps make it semi-crushed and "about to slide off."

2) His High School short film about a toilet monster MUST be released

"In high school he made a short about a monster that crawls out of a toilet and, finding humans repugnant, scuttles back to the sewers." Where is this film, where can we watch it, and why isn't this being sold to the masses?

3) The Mountains of Madness monsters (The Shoggoth and The Old Ones) could be the most complex del Toro designs to date.

Just the explanation for the Shoggoth creatures in GDT's next film have us scratching our heads. We have no idea how he will execute this.

"Let's say that creature A turns into creature A-B, then turns into creature B, then turns into creature B-C. And by the time it lands on a guy it's creature E." He discussed one grisly Shoggoth transformation: "It's like when you grab a sock and you pull it inside out. From his mouth, he extrudes himself."


And that's not all the director goes into great detail about "abandoned coral reef" world he's building for the monsters in which the Old Ones will "torpedo through tubes" to get from one area to another.

"A coral reef is a shitload of skeletons fused together, right? All the technology those creatures have, all their technology is organic. You and I use metals, plastics. These creatures don't have weapons or chisels. They create other creatures as tools."


In the early stages GDT referred to the The Old Ones as "cucumbers with wings," but later on the author got a much better look at the concept designs for the beasts which will open up like a "Swiss Army Knife" revealing wings and tentacles.

The oceanic motif was particularly evident in the design of the Old Ones. Del Toro's enthusiasm for the lionfish had endured, and the aliens' wings echoed their flamboyant fins. In motion, he explained, the Old Ones would appear buoyant-"unbound by gravity." As the camera tracked them caroming around the city, the viewer would feel disoriented, like a panicked scuba diver inside a cave.


But bringing to life H.P. Lovecraft's Shoggoth is much more complicated.

Since the Shoggoths could mutate into anything, there was no fixed silhouette, but many would feature a "protoplasmic bowl," an abdomen-like area from which new forms could sprout. One maquette was a disorienting twist on classic Lovecraftian form. It looked like a giant octopus head with tentacles jutting from the top and the bottom-a fearful symmetry. "That's my belly in the middle," del Toro joked. In another maquette, the Shoggoth had sprouted two heads, each extending from brontosaurus-like necks. Their skulls could be smashed together to destroy victims. "The idea is to create craniums that function as jaws," he said. The Shoggoths would often create ghastly parodies of human forms; as they pursued the humans, they would imitate them, imperfectly.


4) He Keeps his journals locked in a safe in his bathroom

For each film GDT creates an amazing "Leonardo codex" that is stuffed with creatures designs, notes and story details.


5) What The Hobbit's Dragon Smaug could have looked like!

One of those books was filled with production notes on the dragon Smaug from The Hobbit — the project which GDT sadly abandoned. Still, this dragon sounded absolutely amazing:

I paused at what looked like an image of a double-bitted medieval hatchet. "That's Smaug," del Toro said. It was an overhead view: "See, he's like a flying axe." Del Toro thinks that monsters should appear transformed when viewed from a fresh angle, lest the audience lose a sense of awe. Defining silhouettes is the first step in good monster design, he said. "Then you start playing with movement. The next element of design is color. And then finally-finally-comes detail. A lot of people go the other way, and just pile up a lot of detail."

I turned to a lateral image of the dragon. Smaug's body, as del Toro had imagined it, was unusually long and thin. The bones of its wings were articulated on the dorsal side, giving the creature a slithery softness across its belly. "It's a little bit more like a snake," he said. I thought of his big Russian painting. Del Toro had written that the beast would alight "like a water bird."

Smaug's front legs looked disproportionately small, like those of a T. rex. This would allow the dragon to assume a different aspect in closeup: the camera could capture "hand" gestures and facial expressions in one tight frame, avoiding the quivery distractions of wings and tail. (Smaug is a voluble, manipulative dragon; Tolkien describes him as having "an overwhelming personality.") Smaug's eyes, del Toro added, were "going to be sculpturally very hidden." This would create a sense of drama when the thieving Bilbo stirs the beast from slumber.

Del Toro wanted to be creative with the wing placement. "Dragon design can be broken into essentially two species," he explained at one point. Most had wings attached to the forelimbs. "The only other variation is the anatomically incorrect variation of the six-appendage creature"-four legs, like a horse, with two additional winged arms. "But there's no large creature on earth that has six appendages!" He had become frustrated while sketching dragons that followed these schemes. The journal had a discarded prototype. "Now, that's a dragon you've seen before," he said. "I just added these samurai legs. That doesn't work for me."


6) GDT published a book just about Alfred Hitchcock

He published a book-length essay on Alfred Hitchcock. (Discussing "The Birds," del Toro notes that "in the terror genre, an artist, unbound by ‘reality,' can create his purest reflection of the world-the cinematic equivalent of poetry."


7) Why GDT no longer lives in Mexico

In 1998 his father was kidnapped. After 72 days and two ransoms, they released Federico and GDT moved the entire family to America.

"I highly recommend you save your father's life. You don't see yourself as somebody's child anymore. You become a man saving another man." He claimed that the experience had ended his "perpetual puberty."


8) GDT's "Bleak House" is better than Disneyland

The Bleak House, where the man does most of his work has over 5,000 comic books, a kitchen full of fetuses, Edward Gorey illustrations, concept art from the original Fantasia, giant statues from the original Hellboy films, and a pool. When can we come visit?


9) The Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth was originally inspired by folds of loose skin

The infamous Pale Man demon was originally going to look much different, much more wrinkly and loose — inspired by the way skin hangs when after someone has lost a lot of weight. You can see the images from his journals in this video (a long with a lot of other early monster sketches and concept art).


Click to view

10) As a kid GDT befriended the local embalmers (as you do) at a mental hospital. This explains a lot.

"I saw a guy with a split skull walking down the street," he said. "The guy wasn't mentally stable, because somebody had hit him, and I took him to the hospital. And they said, ‘We'll take care of him.' I came back the next morning, and they said, ‘We returned him to the mental ward.' So I went there, and they said that he escaped in the night. I went to the director and I said, ‘What kind of hospital is this?' And she said, ‘Look, if you have something to say about it, come and volunteer.' So I got to know the embalmers. One day I visited, and there was a pile of fetuses, new arrivals. Maybe it's magnified in my memory, but I remember it being this tall." He lifted his arm to his waist.


Read the entire article by Daniel Zalewski at the New Yorker.


Pope John Peeps II

In accordance with Mary Shelley's description, the head appeared to have been stolen from a cadaver: there was exposed sinew around the jaw, and the cheekbones looked ready to poke through the scrim of flesh. Most appallingly, the Creature lacked a nose; a single bridge bone protruded over an oval breathing hole.

It's actually my pet peeve when people talk about this book, but this description is absolute, total horesecrap. He's not a zombie. His skin "barely" covered the play of muscles and tendons underneath, but it did. He certainly HAD a nose, there's absolutely nothing in Shelley's text that suggests he didn't. He in fact had features that were chosen for their beauty. Here, take a look at the actual description:

His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.